Question for all of you older Catholics out there. (mortal sin)

My dad and I were “debating” (I use quotes because it’s his way of trying to agitate me…) what mortal sin is, since we just got back from my uncle’s funeral and they could not receive communion. My dad is a former Catholic (and my mom baptized Catholic, but raised Lutheran - she was in the room at the time, too), now “Lutheran” (again quotes, because he has not been to church in 30 years).

The short version -

My dad claims that the definition of mortal sin “changed” (his biggest complaint is that the Catholic Church is always “changing things” and therefore doesn’t know what they’re talking about) because back in the 1950s - that would be elementary school age at a Catholic School - he was taught that a mortal sin was only “when you killed someone”. I kind of doubt that this was the case, since I’m guessing it’s something simple they told children. Whether or not they taught him otherwise, I don’t know (he was the type of kid that always got sent to the principal’s office for making the kids laugh behind the Sister’s back, so there’s probably things he never paid attention to).

So, was the definition of mortal sin, or the way it was taught, ever different?

The long version - (EDIT: Ok, I think this turned into a little bit of a rant I just had to get off my chest)

We just got back from my uncle’s funeral and at the funeral Mass, they didn’t receive communion, so this evening, my dad starts off as usual with, “Hey, I wanna ask a question…”. (This usually means “spiritual shields up!” :stuck_out_tongue: And yes, I do tense up, because this kind of thing has been going on ever since I became Catholic 6 years ago). He started asking about mortal sin. I tried to explain it the best I could, and then he asks, “So, what if I did go and receive communion, is that a mortal sin?”, and I said yes (note, he did not go up to communion, but stayed in his pew. He loves asking these hypothetical questions). Then, he said (to paraphrase), “No! I didn’t kill anyone! So it’s not a mortal sin! See!? The church always changes the rules! When I was a kid in the 1950s, it was when you killed someone! Does someone go to hell if they receive communion unworthily?”. Then we were talking about confession, and he says, “Oh, so I can just go to confession and say, 'Whoops! I’m sorry! haha, and I can do it again in 5 years after the next funeral!”. Then the topic of going to church came up, and I mentioned that missing church is a mortal sin, and he says, “No! That doesn’t apply to me! I legally became Lutheran, so I don’t have to abide by ‘THOSE RULES!!!’” (caps for emphasis - he likes to get angry). Then my mom (who’s Lutheran) starts taking his side. (My mom is the perplexing one, since she’ll sometimes agree with me, sometimes agree with my dad). Then he adds in about fasting before Mass, (now in a sarcastic tone), “So, ALL those people who had to abide by the 3 hour fast rule before the rule changed an didn’t are staying in purgatory longer than those who didn’t abide by the 1 hour rule? I DON’T THINK SO!!!”.

Another day before Mass, he was asking me about food before Mass -

Dad: So, can you drink water before Mass?
Me: Yes.
Dad: So… what if it had minerals in it?
Me: Yes, that’s ok, that’s not food, and you’re not intentionally eating food.
Dad: So, what if the water was dirty?
Me: Why would you drink dirty water? :stuck_out_tongue:
Dad: Ok, what if they were really, really poor and only had dirty water, and the organisms feasted on meat? Then you’re eating food from water!
Me: :rolleyes:

These are the things I deal with on a weekly basis… Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to talk to anger. Once when I was talking with my mom, she said, “What has the Catholic Church ever done for me! NOTHING!”. (ummm, baptism, mother?) Meanwhile, my dad is always complaining about how the church changes the rules and they can’t do anything right (implying that all people are incompetent)…

First of all, there is no such act that is mortally sinful by the very nature of the act. Mortal sin requires

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. [CCC 1857]

Killing someone could be mortally sinful, or not even sinful, depending on knowledge and intent.

There’s nothing inherently sinful about eating before Mass. The reason it is sinful is because we have promised to obey the Church’s rules, and it’s sinful to break a promise. Since this is a rule (not a doctrine), it can change (or even be abolished).

A non-Catholic who receives Eucharist is probably not sinning at all (not even venally). Most protestants who have communion services have open communion (they allow other denominations to partake), so protestants could reasonably expect that Catholics do the same (so he would have no knowledge whatsoever of the nature of the act, and thus not sin, not even venally). But, even if he knew Catholics have closed Communion, he would still be required to have full knowledge of the implications of receiving and have deliberate consent for it to be mortally sinful. It is unlikely that a protestant would possess full knowledge (he probably would think it was merely a rule). If he feels pressured to receive because everyone else is doing it, this probably diminishes his deliberate consent. If either knowledge or consent are not full and deliberate, it is not a mortal sin.

Worrying about minerals in water breaking a fast would be considered scrupulosity, which itself is a sin (it doubts the mercy of God).

I hear where you’re coming from

I don’t think your dad knows the difference between discipline and doctrine

as for the mortal sin thing, if anything, the church before the 1960s probably would have a stricter view. but no, it hasn’t changed.

to be honest though, it sounds more like he’s looking for an argument as opposed to sincerely wanting to learn

just try to be patient and explain whatever you can. and pray for him to be more open-minded

Is there any way you can respectfully and lovingly say, “Now Dad, are you really interested in an answer to your question, or are you just trying to pick a fight with me?” And if it’s the latter, I would say “I’m not going to argue for the sake of argument; we’ve been down that road before, it’s pointless. If you would like to know, I suggest you talk to a priest, or go on this great website, Catholic Answers!” :wink:

That’s what I try to tell him, but answers like that aren’t good enough for him. He gets a rise out of taunting me with constant questions, too… (he was raised Catholic, and was an altar boy - he always makes a point that he was an altar boy and says, “I did my duty, so I don’t have to do anything!”. The fact that he assumes that he automatically knows more than me because he’s older doesn’t help matters, either.

But, it still doesn’t answer my original question. :slight_smile: My dad claims that they were taught that “mortal sin is only when you kill someone”, and not the grave matter, intent, willful action. Was that ever a teaching, or where is he getting that from? (poor cathecesis (sp)?)

I think it’s just feeding your Dad’s wish to have a go at your beliefs if you keep responding.
It doesn’t appear he’s trying to get to the truth, only that he’s using the opportunity to have a go at you and the Church.
If this is true, why even allow him to get anywhere, why not just cut the discussion with something like, “Dad, I love you, but I’m not discussing religion any more with you because you don’t want to know, you just want to air your own resentment and antagonism.”

Anyway, whatever you say, you could make a kind and respectful boundary and not budge or weaken. Or move away, go out, or make yourself otherwise unavailable to the argument. He might perhaps react angrily or tauntingly to try to weaken you back into the same old cycle, so it’s up to you to hold up.

You’re not doing either of you a favor by playing into his attacks.

He’s not gaining anything because he’s not open to a true perspective, and you are just feeling frustrated and upset.

Your parents need your prayers, not sparring partners, even though your Dad appears to want a sparring partner.
I don’t believe in feeding others’ unhealthy agendas.

Anyway, God bless your parents and you

Just because your father says mortal sin is only murdering someone,
and if he’d listened in Religious education at school he would know that was not the case before and after Vatican 2
Mortal versus Venial Sin

"A serious, grave or mortal sin is the knowing and willful violation of God’s law in a serious matter, for example, idolatry, adultery, murder, slander. These are all things gravely contrary to the love we owe God and, because of Him, our neighbor. As Jesus taught, when condemning even looking at a woman lustfully, sin can be both interior (choices of the will alone) or exterior (choices of the will carried into action). A man who willfully desires to fornicate, steal, murder or some other grave sin, has already seriously offended God by choosing interiorly what God has prohibited.

Mortal sin is called mortal because it is the “spiritual” death of the soul (separation from God). If we are in the state of grace it loses this supernatural life for us. If we die without repenting we will lose Him for eternity. However, by turning our hearts back to Him and receiving the Sacrament of Penance we are restored to His friendship. Catholics are not allowed to receive Communion if they have unconfessed mortal sins.

Venial sins are slight sins. They do not break our friendship with God, although they injure it. They involve disobedience of the law of God in slight (venial) matters. If we gossip and destroy a person’s reputation it would be a mortal sin. However, normally gossip is about trivial matters and only venially sinful. Additionally, something that is otherwise a mortal sin (e.g. slander) may be in a particular case only a venial sin. The person may have acted without reflection or under force of habit. Thus, not fully intending the action their guilt before God is reduced. It is always good to remember, especially those who are trying to be faithful but sometimes fall, that for mortal sin it must not only be 1) serious matter, but 2) the person must know it is serious and then 3) freely commit it.

These two categories of sin are explicitly to be found in Sacred Scripture. In the Old Covenant there were sins that merited the death penalty and sins that could be expiated by an offering. This Law was a teacher that prepared the way for the faith (Gal. 3:24). In the New Covenant these material categories are replaced by spiritual ones, natural death by eternal death. There are thus daily faults for which we must daily ask forgiveness (Mt. 6:12), for even the “just man falls seven times a day” (Prov. 24:16), and mortal faults that separate the sinner from God (1 Cor. 6:9-10) for all eternity."

Hmm. I think I would ask him if this was the only thing that he ‘learned’ as a child that turned out to be inaccurate – or, more to the point, wasn’t there anything else he learned then that turned out to be just a bit more complex than what he learned in the 4th grade? :wink:

So, was the definition of mortal sin, or the way it was taught, ever different?

Do public school teachers – let’s say, for the sake of example, science teachers – ever say something that turns out to be in error? And, when they do, does it mean that their statement – which is in error – imply that science is wrong? (Or, rather, doesn’t it just mean that the particular teacher got it wrong on that particular day in class?) More likely, do teachers ever say things that their grade-school students misunderstand or misinterpret? :wink:

Then, he said (to paraphrase), "No! I didn’t kill anyone! So it’s not a mortal sin! See!? The church always changes the rules!

Time to remind him what the Church really teaches: there’s doctrine, dogma, and discipline. Doctrine and dogma never change (i.e., the Church will never say, “oh yeah… that ‘Christ rising from the dead’ thing? Yeah… that never happened. Sorry…” ;)). On the other hand, discipline is a rule that’s set by the Church (since it has authority, duh!) that’s appropriate in a particular time and place. Therefore, discipline can (and, to tell the truth, must) change as times and places change! So: “the Church always changes the rules” makes sense with discipline (we’ll see a good application of that in just a second ;)), but never happens with respect to dogma or doctrine.

Then we were talking about confession, and he says, “Oh, so I can just go to confession and say, 'Whoops! I’m sorry! haha, and I can do it again in 5 years after the next funeral!”.

No, because the “and I can do it again” is a separate, distinct sin – the sin of presumption (i.e., a person presumes on future absolution from God, and therefore, sins because he says, “meh… I’ll just go and get forgiven for it anyway”).

Then the topic of going to church came up, and I mentioned that missing church is a mortal sin, and he says, “No! That doesn’t apply to me! I legally became Lutheran, so I don’t have to abide by ‘THOSE RULES!!!’”

He won’t like this, but… ask him what “I legally became Lutheran” means. Legally by whose standard? While he was under the ‘legal’ authority of the Church, did the Church say, “OK, Mr. G! You’ve fulfilled all our legal requirements, so now… you’re a Lutheran!” (If not, then it’s not “legal”! Rather, it sounds more like “lack of extradition” – criminals flee legal consequences when they move to other jurisdictions: no one can force them to make good on their obligations, but the obligations (in the original country) remain in force!)

Then he adds in about fasting before Mass, (now in a sarcastic tone), “So, ALL those people who had to abide by the 3 hour fast rule before the rule changed an didn’t are staying in purgatory longer than those who didn’t abide by the 1 hour rule? I DON’T THINK SO!!!”.

He understands discipline better than he thinks he does – and it hurts his case more than he realizes! The people who failed to abide in the ‘old’ fast rules committed a sin; but not because of “three hours” or “one hour” – rather, then sinned because they flaunted a rule of the Church. When the rule changed ('cause, after all, the rule was discipline, and therefore, appropriate to a particular time and place but not to a later time or place), those who flaunted the new rule were likewise in sin for the same reason – because they flaunted the law!

Your dad’s example doesn’t make sense, but he doesn’t realize it. Ask him: once upon a time, there was no “right turn on red after coming to a stop” traffic law. Those who turned on red, before the law was in force, were guilty of disobeying the law. Once the law was changed, are those who make right turns on red, themselves, violating traffic law? (Of course not!) Once the law was changed, were those who made illegal turns on red before the law, punished more harshly than those who made illegal turns on red after the law? (Of course not! How would that make any sense?) The same thing holds with Catholic discipline: guilt proceeds from transgressing the law that is in force at the time, not from the moral ‘value’ of the law…!

Remind your father that missing Mass on Sunday and eating meat on Fridays were also mortal sins. He is having selective memory loss of the Baltimore Catechism #69- What three things are necessary to make a sin mortal? To make a sin mortal these three things are necessary, first: the thought, desire, word, action or omission must be seriously wrong; second: the sinner must be mindful of the serious wrong; third: the sinner must fully consent to it. To make his First Communion he would have had to know this question and answer.

regarding mortal sin, have your dad look at the Catholic Encyclopedia written between 1907 and 1914.

here are a few other good webpages:

Phil has answered your question with an authoritative source that is even older than your dad.

Your father’s erroneous opinion comes either from poor catechesis or poor learning (or poor memory).

Depending on his age, your father may have learned (but not remember) the Catholic Faith from the Baltimore Catechism (widely used in American Catholic education from 1855 until the late 1960’s). It is a question/answer format. It says:

Question: How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal?

Answer: To make a sin mortal three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will. [Question 56]

The Baltimore Catechism was written for school children, and is not theologically exhaustive, but it gets the point across.

My thought exactly. It might sound like he is sparring for the heck of it in some ways. If he is sincere this would be a great place for him to post his questions.


And he’d probably be banned on day 1 for trolling. :wink:
Anyway, I’m off to work, I’ll look over the thread again later today.

If my dad did to me what he is doing to you, I would tell him, “Dad, I love you to death, but you better watch your mouth because you are dis-respecting things that are holy.” “If you want a healthy discussion, then we can make it one. But I’m not going to be a part of this.”

I would do that to my father even tho I know he might be somewhat hurt because he needs to wake up before it is too late and I would express my disappointment that he speaks so ill of something and someone that means so much to me.

And I would just let the Holy Spirit take it from there.

But that’s me and not you.

May you be blessed and at peace.

Wow, mortal sin is only when you kill someone? That is a big load off my shoulders! I’m sure the dear nuns didn’t teach that murder was the ONLY mortal sin, but, at least when I was in fifth grade, they didn’t discuss fornication, abortion, sodomy, and other grave sins very much. They didn’t expect that elementary age children would be all that familiar with the really big sins, nor did they want to point out to them all the possibilities.

It sounds like your dad just likes to push your buttons. He’s trying to justify himself in leaving the Catholic Church and it probably irritates him that you are Catholic. I agree with some of the others who have suggested that you just refuse to argue religion with him. Heck, give him a Baltimore Catechism, if he’s really interested. Just be the best Catholic you can be. That’s the best argument of all.

Mortal sin is in the scriptures. [1 John 5:16](“ John+5:16&version=RSVCE”) John presumes, in that passage, one can determine what is and is not a mortal sin

Re: missing mass deliberately is a mortal sin, you gave the correct answer. Here’s why deliberately missing mass is so grave #10

Re: mortal sins, it’s the consequences of actions that indicate an action’s grave matter. #15 describes grave matter based on the consequences of these sins.

3 conditions need to be met to commit a mortal sin[LIST=1]
*]must be grave matter
*]know it is grave matter
*]consent was there in committing the sin
[/LIST]1 & 2 are met by either hearing or reading that a sin is grave matter and the consequences for committing it. That list #15 is a good example

#3 is met by giving enough consent to make doing the act a choice. 1859

Know that my prayers are ascending for you and your efforts. :thumbsup:

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