With the current buzz about Pope Francis proclaiming certain acts a mortal sin, it may be appropriate to state the Church’s long standing teaching on how to determine if certain acts are a mortal sin. This post is not about making a statement on the Pope’s moral teaching. Certainly, the items the pope mentions would rise to grave matter. Also, we should clearly understand that if we have committed an act that falls into the category of grave matter, we should repent from our wrong doing and get ourselves into the confessional as soon as possible.
The first step to understanding mortal sin is to reflect on the definition of sin. The Cathecism of The Catholic Church, commissioned and issued by Pope St. John Paul, uses precise language to help guide the faithful and defines sin in the following sections:
1849 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.”121
1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125
The modern day abandonment of the ability or willingness to apply to reason today causes many around us to reject the notion of sin or evil. This has lead to widespread morel decay and adversely affected society in general. Sin turns us away from God and rejects His infinite love. Some sins separate us from His grace.
Mortal sin, because it sperates us from God, has a narrow definition as seen in the Catechism and is defined below:
1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.
1855 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.
1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation: When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.
1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”132 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.
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
As you can see, certain acts rise to the level of grave matter and most certainly can put a soul’s eternal salvation in danger, but they require full knowledge and deliberate consent. God alone, in His infinite mercy, knows our hearts. He has provided for the repentant faithful a route to removing the darkness of mortal sin from our souls in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Further, through the grace of God, the aid of prayer and, if we are fortunate, a holy spiritual director we can, in time, come to see ourselves as God does.
JMJ, Pray for us.
God is good,