Examination of Conscience - Venial and Mortal?


A few discussions on this forum has really got me confused! Haha.

For those who haven’t seen me out and about, a quick background for you.

I was previously non-denominational Christian, fell into agnosticism in my young adult life, then converted to Catholicism 7-8 years ago (nearing my 8th year - just like a kid I gotta point that out).

I have been struggling with confession for reasons pointed out in another thread but THAT thread opened up a new question.

When I have sought assistance with confession, priests and parishioners alike have responded by handing me those examination of conscience papers that just give you a list of sins and if you committed the sin you confess it in the confessional.

BUT, it has now come to my attention some of the sins on those lists are venial and not mortal. And I always understood you confess venial sins but now I’m being told you don’t have to and maybe shouldn’t.

My questions.

  1. should we be confessing venial sins at every confession?
  2. how the heck does a new Catholic determine a venial sin from a mortal sin??? Especially when examination of conscience lists include both venial and mortal.

Everything is SO DANG CONFUSING!

In my background all sins were exactly equal so this venial/mortal thing does my head in. But at the same time we only believed ONE sin in particular could separate you from God (although that sin changed depending on what Church you attended - yup, more confusion), other sins were simply ‘missing’ the mark and no big deal.

So help a girl out? Does anyone have an examination of conscience that contains only mortal sins? And/or would you suggest I just continue confessing my venial sins and avoid all this confusion?


Unfortunately as I come from a background where all sins are equal and none need confession I do feel I require a bit more pruning of my Catholic conscience before I can ‘go it alone’. Just my opinion though.


I’m not sure since I am in a similar situation as you as a convert, but I did a quick search, and this examination of conscience is very thorough and differentiates clearly between mortal and venial sin.

Examination of Conscience

Search the Catholic Answers site, as well. I found this article on Mortal vs Venial sins to be helpful.

I believe mortal sins are quite clearly violating the 10 Commandments. Things like lying, stealing, murder, fornication, drunkenness, covetousness. There are many lists in the Epistles of clear mortal sins. Things like missing Mass and sexual immortality are easy to identify.

Others, like being impatient, losing one’s temper, procrastinating, acting a little lazy, etc., probably are more venial. It all depends on the situation and how severe it is.

I think generally you can tell if something is severe or habitual enough to confess, but I agree that it’s confusing.

I don’t think every little thing or careless word or slip of the tongue is mortal. Mortal sin severely damages your relationship with Jesus, so I think evaluate your actions in that light.

When you do mess up, it’s probably in the venial category most of the time unless it’s a quite clear and obvious violation of the 10 Commandments.


Thank you. :slight_smile:

I have always struggled to understand the difference between grave and mortal because my conscience is not fully formed yet I DO accidentally slip into ‘grave’ sins without knowing they’re mortal. So technically they’re not mortal because I was not fully informed? I think this is why I’ve taken to just confessing everything venial or otherwise because sometimes I didn’t know they were wrong when I did them but how will I ever stop if I don’t acknowledge that they were wrong? You know?


There are two important things you must realize:

  1. There is no “official” examination of conscience. Every single examination out there online and in print is somebody’s opinion. They’re usually somebody important’s opinion, and that opinion is usually informed by the Magisterium of the Church and Sacred Tradition, but there are no infallible examinations of conscience.

  2. There is no such thing as a sin being objectively mortal. It can be objectively grave. It can be objectively evil. But a “mortal sin”, by definition, is one which is imputed to an individual person based on that person’s personal culpability. If that culpability is in any way mitigated by lack of knowledge or lack of consent then the sin in question cannot possibly be mortal even if the object of the sin is intrinsically evil.

With these in mind there really can’t be any fast and hard rules about determining whether a sin is mortal or venial. There is no logically deductive calculus a Catholic can perform to know, with absolute certainty, which sins must be confessed and which mustn’t. This is precisely why spiritual direction by a qualified priest is so important, and why the resounding answer in all the “Is this a sin?” threads on CAF is: ASK YOUR PRIEST.


I would probably advise to keep doing it as you have been, and ask the confessor his advice and whether you need to confess what you’re confessing. Let him help form your conscience.

For me personally, I don’t generally feel I commit mortal sins, but usually after a month or so of venial sins I start to feel the weight of them and like to go to confession to get a fresh start and a clean slate.

I guess, for me, I think of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress with his burden on his back. So, go as soon as you start to feel the burden or as soon as you realize you accidentally committed a serious sin, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

You can ask Father if you’re confessing too little or too much, or how you can improve, if you feel comfortable with that.

And don’t forget to use a written list!


Got my pen and paper ready! Haha. My husband is taking me at the end of this month. There is a confessor two hours away who saw me last time who I felt safe with. I’m hoping I can see him again (I foolishly didn’t take his name).


Is that the closest church to you? 2 hours away!?

In any case, I’m glad you have a priest you’ve grown fond of. Have you considered asking him to be your spiritual director?


No! But I had a traumatic experience in my local parish and now refuse to attend confession locally. The next nearest parish is 200km away (so 2 hour drive).

I expect he won’t have time to be a spiritual director. We’ll see how things go and if I can find him! Haha.


Be sure and call ahead to make sure someone will be there during the Confession time, or call and make an appointment with that specific priest. You could describe him to the parish secretary since you don’t know his name yet.

You wouldn’t want to drive for two hours for nothing!


Yikes! Sounds like you’re in mission territory!

2 hours away might be kind of far for a steady spiritual director. The idea is to have someone you can count on and to whom you pretty much exclusively go. If you found yourself having a spiritual crisis it would probably be in your best interest to get to whichever priest is close and available rather than coordinating with one 200 km away and possibly having to go weeks without that advice. If he ends up working out for you I’d suggest making regular appointments with him (assuming he has the time and desire). Once you finish up your confession/chat with him ask if you can see him again on such-and-such day at such-and-such time. It would be really discouraging to drive all that way to the scheduled confession time just to have the slot filled by other penitents, or canceled due to an emergency, etc.


OP, you can’t get a better answer than this. Only thing I could add is that a priest I respect once said that "if you have any doubts about whether a sin is mortal or venial receive communion. (He was speaking about sin in respect to receiving the Eucharist) The upshot of what he was saying is that a mortal sin is a grave, conscious, and willing act in direct opposition to God’s law. You can’t commit a mortal sin in retrospect. For a sin to be mortal it must be a situation of grave matter, knowingly, consciously, and willingly committed with malice and intent.


Yes, these are excellent points.


I am in mission territory! LOL!

The trouble with our local priests is that none speak English. So I struggle to understand them and they struggle to understand me. It leads to a lot of confusion. Doesn’t help that I have mild hearing issues. This is why I plan to travel for confession. If the priest can clearly understand me and me him it will avoid future problems.

In all honesty… I’m not holding my breath for spiritual direction. I really don’t think it’s something that will ever happen. Not as long as I live here anyway.


Just to address this point, I think on the forum that this piece of advice comes out a lot because the majority of the Confession related threads are created by people who suffer from scrupulosity. For them, bringing up every little venial sin can sometimes exacerbate their scrupulosity.

For most Catholics who do not suffer from scrupulosity, confessing venial sins is a good practice. We are not obligated to do so, but the Church encourages it. From the Catechism:

CCC 1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.[59] Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful:[60]

[59] Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1680; CIC, can. 988 § 2.
[60]Cf. Lk 6:36.

That’s part of why I don’t particularly understand some people’s obsession with finding out whether this or that is a mortal sin. Just confess it, and you don’t have to worry about parsing it out.

Again, for people suffering from scrupulosity, the answer can be a bit different. But those people really need in-person help from a priest, not answers on the internet. Your posts don’t indicate to me that you fall into this camp, though.

I think for most Catholics, confessing venial sins is a good thing to do. Of course, I tend to think that God generally has mercy on us in this regard. If I were to simultaneously be aware of all my venial sins all at once, I think I’d probably crumple up in a heap not even knowing where to begin making the necessary changes in my life. He tends to bring up just a few to the forefront of my mind. Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner.


Haha! I feel like I am too. 7 years Catholic, countless self study and I still feel so lost on the practical matters.

I’m learning that intellectual knowledge is not the same as heart knowledge and I do need to develop my Catholic heart and conscience, desperately!


There are three conditions to be met for a sin to be mortal.

  1. It is grave matter
  2. You know it is grave matter
  3. You choose to commit the sin anyway.
    It takes a thought process to commit a mortal sin, you can’t do it by accident.

As far as spiritual direction goes, I live about 8-9 drive from my spiritual director. We most often meet via facetime. There are occasions during the year when we can meet face to face such as an annual retreat we both attend. My spiritual director is a woman which is good for me. I don’t have resources to find one, a friend recommended mine to me but a google search may help.

  1. while confessing venial sins is not REQUIRED, you should still do it. A few reasons why confessing venial sins isn’t required is: (a) they are forgiven via communion and (b) it’s quite possible for us to forget them because sometimes we commit them so much that they are in and out of our heads pretty quickly.
  • Whatever venial sins you think of when you are preparing for confession, you should include in your confession. Including them really helps the priest gather a better picture and sometimes he can point something out, esp if it seems like a few venial sins are contributing to a mortal sin, etc.

  • The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following in bullet 306

The confession of venial sins is strongly recommended by the Church, even if his is not strictly necessary, because it helps us to form a correct conscience and to fight against evil tendencies. It allows us to be healed by Christ and to progress in the life of the Spirit

  1. This is a good question, and honestly, I think over time it becomes easier to tell. However, you really don’t have to know the difference. In the confessional, if you treat all sin as sin, you will be totally fine. Honestly, sometimes far too many people think a few mortal sins (like purposefully missing Sunday Mass) are venial. So if you are not sure if a sin is venial or mortal, simply confess it and potentially ask your priest for clarity.
  • Part Three, Section Two of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses solely on the Ten Commandments and select sins that break those commandments. Worth a read.

  • Honestly, most of us know the difference between venial and mortal deep down in our souls, esp if we are practicing Christians and we listen to Mother Church.

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Thomas Aquinas in bullet 1856

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.

Because I mentioned the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church twice, you can purchase one of two versions on Amazon here (they are both the same, just different English publishers)
http://a.co/f9rXXxN (British version)
http://a.co/19Q4n3d (American version)

God bless


Sin is an offense against Almighty God. Three conditions are necessary for mortal sin to exist:
•Grave Matter: The act itself is intrinsically evil and immoral. …
•Full Knowledge: The person must know that what they’re doing or planning to do is evil and immoral. …
•Deliberate Consent: The person must freely choose to commit the act or plan to do it.
It is not easy to commit a mortal sin. If one of the conditions is not fully met, then, if it is an offense, it is a venial sin.
IMO there are far fewer mortal sins committed than a lot of good Catholics think. Therefore, I believe if you commit a mortal sin you will know it. Confess those plus any venial sin that you commit often and you can’t seem to get control of. Don’t worry about the small stuff. It will all be forgiven whether mentioned or not. Concentrate on being sorry for offending God and a firm purpose of amendment to not sin again. God bless.


Thanks guys. :smiley:
I feel like watching my posts the last week or two you guys can watch the progression of my recent faith walk. ROFL.

“Oh, she’s asking about confession… and now she’s asking follow up questions, obviously preparing her examination of conscience…” LOL

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