First of all, if there is any question as to whether or not God hears the prayers of a person in mortal sin, St Thomas Aquinas said that God certainly does. Quoting St Augustine who was referring to the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, St Thomas said, “If God were not to hear sinners, the publican would have vainly said, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner’.” A person who is not in the state of grace can pray for the grace of conversion, and when asked for with humility, confidence and perseverance, he can indeed obtain it. St Thomas said, although he cannot merit anything (because merit is a right to a reward and is thereby related to divine justice), his prayer for conversion is nevertheless heard because it is addressed to God’s mercy. A person’s prayers for the grace of conversion would be more effective if he has the intention to go to Confession as soon as possible because it embodies the contrition necessary to receive God’s grace.
Can a person merit an increase of grace if he is not in the state of grace?
When a person is not in the state of grace he cannot merit an increase in grace by asking for it in prayer, for as St Alphonsus Liguori said, “In order to obtain God’s graces by prayer, it is necessary, first, to take away sin.” The reason for this, as St Thomas Aquinas said, is, “Neither prayer nor any other virtuous act is meritorious without sanctifying grace.”
Are prayers more efficacious when sanctifying grace is in a person’s soul?
St James considers that a person’s prayers do indeed bear more fruit when he is reconciled to God, for he said, “the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully.” Since it is understood within the context of St James’ words that a “good man” clearly refers to someone in the state of grace, then such a person’s heartfelt prayers, provided that he is not lacking in humility, are indeed more efficacious.
Does penance have any merit when a person is in mortal sin?
St Teresa said, “Nothing helps such a soul … all the good works it might do while in mortal sin are fruitless for the attainment of glory.” She explains:
Since these works do not proceed from that principle, which is of God … and are separated from Him, they cannot be pleasing in His sight.
Does the penance and good works a person offers to God while he is in mortal sin become meritorious after he goes to Confession?
St Thomas Aquinas said that this is not possible because without God’s grace we cannot merit anything: “Works generically good done without charity are said to be dead on account of the lack of grace and charity.” He verifies this by quoting St Paul: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Since God is love, St Thomas understands not having love in this context as not being in union with God. He concludes, “Therefore, it is impossible for dead works [works done in mortal sin] to be quickened [become meritorious] by Penance.”
In summary, there are numerous reasons to suggest that if a person has seriously neglected to go to Confession, he may be missing out on a number of benefits identified in the last two chapters because:
1 if he is in mortal sin all the penance and good works he did in the past when he was in the state of grace are “deadened,” that is, they no longer have merit;
2 for as long as he is not in the state of grace (i) the penance and good works he does in that state are “dead,” that is, they make no reparation for his sins, neither are they effective to win eternal life; and (ii) a good Confession does not render these dead works to have any merit;
3 the longer he is not in the state of grace, the less time and opportunity he has to gain merit for himself and others and to grow in the supernatural virtues.
However, when he makes a good Confession, the good works he did in the state of grace in the past are restored and given back. He is also able to gain graces for himself and others once more through prayer and good works, provided that he performs them with love for God and with a good intention.
These words are taken from chapter 11 of a book entitled, “The Gift of Confession: A Positive Approach to the Sacrament of Reconciliation” by Fr Michael de Stoop published by Connor Court. It consits of 24 other chapters, each describing a particular benefit this sacrament affords.