Mortal sins are sins of serious or grave matter. “Mortal” means death; they are sins that cause death to the soul. Mortal sins completely sever one’s relationship with God and the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (commonly called Confession) is necessary to restore this relationship.
Venial sins, on the other hand, are less serious sins.
Are all Sins the Same?
Some people will argue that there is no difference between sins that all sins offend God and therefore are equally bad. However, scriptures tells us that there are sins that are deadly and sins that are not deadly in 1 John 5:16-17.
“If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.”
Conditions for Mortal Sins
Three conditions must be met to classify a sin as a mortal sin. All three of these conditions must be met otherwise the sin is considered a venial sin.
- Grave Matter – If the nature of the sin itself is not grave then it’s not a mortal sin.
- Sufficiently Full Knowledge – If you don’t know that it’s a mortal sin then it’s not.
- Full Consent or Freedom – If you are not doing it freely then it’s not a mortal sin.
Grave matter means that the sin must be of substantial significance. It must be a serious sin. The Catholic Church uses Mark 10:19 as its guideline for what defines grave matter. “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that “The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.” (Paragraph 1858)
Sufficiently Full Knowledge
Sufficiently full knowledge means that one must fully know that the sin they are committing is serious and have the intention of breaking the relationship with God. Pretending not to know that the sin is wrong or having a hardness of heart actually magnify that the sin was a personal choice.
Full Consent or Freedom
Full consent or freedom means that the person must fully and willingly commit the sin. If the person is being coerced to commit the act then it is not a mortal sin. It must be a choice made completely of one’s own free will, a conscious choice. This kind of choice is available to us through God’s gift of free will. God’s desire is for us to love him and making a conscious choice to commit mortal sins is the opposite of loving God.
Mortal sin deprives the soul of sanctifying grace. It kills one’s receptivity to that grace hence the reason it is important to go to confession to cleanse the soul of mortal sins.
The Unforgivable Sin
The only sin that cannot be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mk 3:29; cf. Mt 12:31; Lk 12:10). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the final and obdurate rejection of God’s forgiveness itself, stubbornly refusing forever to accept God’s outpouring of forgiveness.
Here are what some others say about Mortal Sin:
What the Vatican says about sin: “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” and about Mortal Sin, they say: “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.”
Sounds pretty serious, right?
Well, there is the possibility that your culpability for these sins could be reduced based on circumstances and the conditions for a mortal sin. For example, unintentional ignorance of the fact that something is sinful could reduce your culpability. That’s based on condition #2, full knowledge. As for condition #3, full consent, there are other issues that could reduce someone’s personal responsibility such as mental illness or addiction.
Here’s a good reminder about the relationship between mortal and venial sins: Remember venial sin merely weakens the soul but doesn’t break the relationship with God. However, it’s still good to go to confession from time to time with venial sins to unburden your soul. With mortal sins, on the other hand, it’s much more serious and it causes a break in your relationship with God.
If unsure, Seek Guidance. It can be difficult to ask about sin because of the shame attached to it. However, the best way to ask would be to go to your local parish for confession. While in confession, you can ask about it and get helpful tips on how to proceed. Most parishes offer anonymous confession that allows you to talk with the priest behind a screen so he can’t see you. Don’t be afraid, priests have heard thousands of confessions. So, honestly they won’t be phased by your sins 🙂 If you don’t remember how to go to confession, click here.
Don’t lose hope! We are reminded that the great gift of the sacrament of confession can reconcile us with God. All we need to do is repent and try to amend our ways.
In the end, remember to go frequently to confession to hone your moral sense and remove your attachment to sin.