Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

We are continuing our reflection on sin. Last time we mentioned that there is a distinction between mortal sin and venial sin.
So, what makes sin “mortal?” The Catechism tells us that for a sin to be mortal there are three conditions which must be met. The object of the sin must involve grave matter and must be carried out with full knowledge and deliberate consent (CCC #1857) We are going to discuss this a good bit, but let me start by pointing out that we can never know if someone is guilty of mortal sin. We can know that the offense involves grave matter, serious stuff, but we cannot know the internal dispositions, knowledge or freedom of the person. Many of us have grown up hearing, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” We can, and should, clearly state that certain actions are gravely immoral. However, this should never lead us to judge the sinner. Only God can judge the sinner. So let’s start looking at the three conditions for sin to be mortal.
First, it must involve grave matter. What is grave matter? Good question. It is not always black and white. There is not an all comprehensive list. The gravity of sin exits on a spectrum that takes into account who is wronged and how much they are wronged. Sins against my wife or parents is more grave than sins against a stranger. Murder is always considered grave, but murder of a parent would be even more grave than murder of a stranger. For me, if I have to really ponder whether a specific action involves grave matter or not then it means that I am pretty far down the, “this is serious” spectrum. In short the following offenses are considered to involve grave matter: missing Mass on Sunday, idol worship, murder (and many forms of abuse depending on the gravity), and adultery (and most sexual sins). Most of the other sins mentioned in the Ten Commandments may be grave matter depending on the circumstances.
Please remember that all three elements must be present for a sin to be mortal. Today, we have only explored the element of grave matter. More next time.
— Pat Arensberg is the Director of the Office for Evangelization and Family Life. Email him at
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