This is a question that many people wonder about. We hear of
terms such as “mortal sin,” “venial sin,” “deadly sins” and so on. But
what do they mean?
Sin is a “failure in genuine love for God and
neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods” (Catechism of
the Catholic Church, 1849). It sets us against God’s love, for it
declares that the love I have for myself or another person or thing is
greater than the love I have for God.
The Church teaches that
there are two degrees of sin: mortal and venial. We receive this
understanding from the First Letter of St. John, where he distinguishes
between a deadly type of sin and a sin that is not deadly (1 John 5:
Mortal sin is a deadly kind of sin, for it is a grave, or
serious, violation against God and destroys the love we have in our
hearts. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met.
the matter of the sin must be grave. Common examples of grave matter
include murder, adultery and stealing. Second, the grave act must be
committed with full knowledge that it is a mortal sin. With the kind of
actions that constitute a mortal sin, many of us could not claim that we
did not know it was seriously wrong to do because we have been taught
that these acts are wrong since we were children. With full knowledge
that the action is gravely wrong, the third condition is that one has to
freely choose to do it. Thus, if one were to commit a gravely wrong
action under duress, it would not be a grave sin.
If a sin fails
to meet any of the three conditions, it is a venial sin. Venial sin
weakens the love we have in our hearts, because it is a choice for
created things over God. It impedes our practicing of a virtuous life
and, when venial sin goes unrepented and becomes even deliberate on our
part, it opens us up more and more to the possibility of committing
The seven deadly sins are a list passed down in
Christian tradition. They were put into their current form by Pope St.
Gregory the Great in 590 AD. They are called the deadly sins because
they are considered the origin from which other sins, potentially deadly
ones, can arise.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the unforgivable
sin (Luke 12:10). The only unforgivable sin is the denial of the Holy
Spirit, which is denying the fact that God is willing and able to
forgive our sins. If we do not seek forgiveness, how can God forgive us?
This is why it is called the unforgivable sin.
In the sacrament
of confession, what should one confess? The Church teaches that all
mortal sins that can be remembered must be confessed. This is done
plainly to the priest, by telling him the kind of sin and the number of
times it was committed. While not required, the Church does recommend
the confession of venial sins as well. Confession of such sins helps us
to better form our conscience and fight against evil. It allows us to be
healed by God’s mercy. Venial sin is also forgiven by acts of charity,
such as performing a work of mercy, prayer or attending Holy Mass.
we continue the season of Lent, let us resolve to fight sin in all of
its forms, so that we may arise anew with Christ on Easter.
Father Mayo is pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Warrenton.