Since I just became Catholic a couple of days ago I seem to be thinking of more and more beginner questions that suddenly have become important to me because they now apply etc. I’ll bet I will think of many more in the next weeks. Hope you don’t mind! :o
I know that for a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met: (1) The sin must have grave matter, (2) one must have adequate knowledge that it is a grave offense, and (3) one must commit the offense with deliberate consent.
My question is how do I know if the matter is grave?
The Catechism teaches us that grave matter is marked by the Ten Commandments. These give us the lower limit of human morality according to the Natural Law, refined and clarified by divine Revelation. However, in his Sermon on the Mount (St Matthew 5-7), Our Lord deepens and extends our understanding of morality, inviting us to a higher level of ethical life which is possible only through the grace of the Holy Spirit. There is no ‘higher limit’ to Christian morality (Veritatis Splendor).
So, following the Ten Commandments, grave matter would include:
Worshiping Gods or entities other than the Blessed Trinity
Using God’s Holy Names in vain as swear words
Missing the Eucharist on a Sunday or not praying at all one day
Harming or neglecting parents
Adultery, masturbation, pornography
Ruining someone’s reputation by gossip
Consenting to lustful thoughts about another’s spouse
Harbouring envious thoughts
Though I believe that all of these constitute grave matter, sins nearer the top of the list are graver than those connected to the later commandments.
Does anyone have a definitive, exhaustive list please?
It’s not very helpful just to list the commandments since whether an action is grave matter may be a matter of degree or the circumstance of the sin. Is stealing $5 worth of office supplies from your employer a mortal or venial sin? How about taking the $5 a homeless person was going to use for dinner for the family? So, stealing is sinful. Whether it’s grave matter may depend on the value of what’s stolen, the intention, and the circumstances.
Maybe the catechism would have some guidance on this? I know that by their nature sexual sins are grave matter. Ignorance or the force of habit may lessen our culpability, however, it’s always grave matter.
Deliberate blasphemy is grave matter. As is murder. The intention to do harm to an innocent person is probably grave matter (a serious offense against charity).
1858Grave 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.”  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.
 Mk 10:19.
This is why most examinations of conscience are based on the Ten Commandments.
The Church does not attempt to publish an exhaustive list of grave sins because as soon as they did it would be obsolete. The Church gives us the general principles and some of it simply needs to be worked out between the penitent and his/her confessor through the process of prayer and discernment. It gets easier as time goes by.
I hope so! At the moment, I’m still finding it extremely confusing. For example, according to your explanations, wouldn’t even one of those “little lies” be a grave sin, because it goes against the commandment of “bearing no false witness”?
So you’re saying a lie is already a mortal sin? What then, is a venial sin if a lie is already a mortal sin? Not that lying is a habit of mine or anything but somehow this gives me the impression that we sin as least as often mortally as venially. Starting to panick now…
No! By no means am I saying that a lie is already a mortal sin.
Terribly sorry if I worried you.
A lie is a grave matter, as it is a contradiction of the commandments.
However, for a grave matter to also be a mortal sin it **must **be commited in full knowlege and with full consent..
It would seem to me that you would not have full knowlege, so it would not be a mortal sin.
However, justifying things to yourself is never a reliable or honest practice, It is all well and good to say “oh, it’s only a little lie” or “oh, I only stole three bob from the collection plate” or “I murdered him, but he was only a fetus” and so forth, so being aware when you are trying to justify your actions is a good idea, and will help you grow as a person - I think most (if not all) of us are guilty of self-justification, it is easy to judge oneself, imagine if you were in a court of law and got to decide your own sentance – how empty the prisons would be!
Ok, thanks a lot for clearing that up! But I still don’t quite get it, I think. Let’s stay with the example of the lie and what you said about full knowledge and full consent. I mean, if I do not reply truthfully I generally know at the same time that it is wrong to lie to save me trouble and still I do, which would mean full consent, right? So according to this reasoning, wouldn’t most lies be a mortal sin? I have no idea if my thoughts are correct, though (actually hope they’re not )
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.”  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.
But then the question is whether or not “little lies” actually consist of bearing false witness. If my 3 year old daughter asks me if her scribbles on a piece of paper are beautiful and I tell her it is “the most beautiful thing in the world”, is that a violation of the Eighth Commandment? No. I may be speaking hyperbolically as a father, but I’m pretty sure God is okay with that.
We certainly want to avoid relativizing morality. But we want to be cautious about falling into scrupulosity as well. This is where a good confessor is invaluable.
2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.
2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.
2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.
If your sister says, “Does my hair look nice?” and you think it’s kind of ugly but you say, “Yeah,” I don’t think that would be a mortal sin - you are not intending to lead her into error or into deadly consequences. I guess one could debate about whether it’s really a lie. St. Therese once found a particular nun extremely distasteful, and whenever the nun looked at her she would smile. The nun asked her, “Why do you always smile when I look at you?” and she said it was because she was happy to see her (and St. Therese adds, she did not tell the nun that she meant this in a spiritual sense).
Now if you thought your sister’s hair was so hideous that when she went to a party she would probably be made fun of through the whole thing and possibly have tomatoes thrown at her, and you said, “It looks great” in hopes that she would have a miserable time and be humiliated, that would be a mortal sin.
Good point. Starting with my second confession, I think I will mention my recent conversion and my uncertainty regarding knowing the difference between serious and venial sins, and ask him to tell me which sins I confessed are likely to be serious. Do you think this would be a good idea?