Catholicism 101: Sin

There has been some confusion in parts of the Catholic blogosphere lately about what sin is–specifically, what constitutes mortal sin.

So, time for some Catholicism 101.

The Catholic Church believes there are two types of sin: venial and mortal. All sin damages our relationship with God; however, venial sin does it in a way that is less damaging than mortal sin. Hence, the reason it’s called mortal–mortal sins send you to Hell. One mortal sin, unconfessed, sends you to Hell.

That’s why the Church has stringent definitions about it. A sin is only mortal if all three of the following conditions are met: 

  1. Grave matter
  2. Full knowledge
  3. Deliberate consent

So, it has to be something big. Murder (yes, abortion is in there), missing Mass, almost all sexual sins. The big things: robbing a bank, etc. Things that you go to jail for, in general, are things to be avoided.

You have to do it with full knowledge that it is wrong. Yes, it’s wrong to rob that bank!

And you have to deliberately consent to it. No one can make you commit a mortal sin. If you’re forced to do something, then you’re not deliberately consenting. If you’re raped, for example, then you are not committing a sin! It’s not your fault and you obviously did not consent! If someone is charging at you with a knife, fully intending to kill you, and you kill them first, it’s self-defense, not murder. But if you rob the bank? Yeah. That’s wrong, and you know it, and you do it anyway? Deliberate consent.

Saying “the dog ate my homework” is not a mortal sin. It’s a venial sin.

All mortal sins must be confessed in number (as in, how many times you did it) and in kind (the way you did it), before you can receive Communion again. Taking communion with mortal sin on your soul is to commit the mortal sin of blasphemy, so you’re not helping yourself out here, folks.

Venial sins, technically, do not need to be confessed; however, it’s a good idea to do so, and go to confession frequently, in order to better hone your conscience and be able to resist these sorts of sins in the future.

Now, the confusion? I’ve seen people saying that being anxious is a mortal sin.

Um, what?

That any sort of lie is a mortal sin.

Again: What?

No. These things are not mortal sins, sorry. Anxiety is not a mortal sin. If you’re anxious about something, you’re usually not willing it. It’s not like it’s fun to be anxious. If you have an anxiety disorder or are prone to it, you’re not committing mortal sin. For the love of all things holy, people! That’s like saying epileptics are possessed by the devil.

See that part about deliberate consent? Yeah, that’s important to remember. If you miss Mass because you’re sick, that’s one thing. If you wake up and say, “I know I should go to Mass. I know it’s a mortal sin to miss it without good reason. But I don’t care, I want to drink coffee and read the New York Times and do the crossword puzzle,” you are committing mortal sin. You have fulfilled all three of the conditions.

A person who has depression or an anxiety condition, or even people who worry a lot, are not doing it for fun. Most times, it’s not deliberate consent. And grave matter isn’t being fulfilled either. So you’re striking out left and right, here.

Should we lie? No. But not all lies are mortal sins, OK? The Church doesn’t say that they are. And sometimes lying saves people’s lives (i.e., see almost any story of people who hid Jews during World War II. They weren’t going to say, “oh, yes, we have Jews here!” when the Gestapo came to the door!)

If someone asks you if you like their outfit, when it makes them look horrific, you don’t say, “You look incredibly ugly in it”, even if it’s true! Geez!

Yes, when you lie, you’re breaking a commandment. Don’t do it. If you do it, confess it, move on. But it’s not going to send you to hell.

The church believes in various degrees of sin. Not all sin is equal.

Admonishing the sinner is one of the spiritual works of mercy. It’s an important thing to do. But there’s absolutely no reason to scare people into huge freak outs by saying things like what I’ve been reading-where everything is a mortal sin and we’re all going to Hell and we’re doooooooomed! That is not admonishing. That is scare-mongering, and it is not helpful at all.




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