Questions about marriage, validity, communion and mortal sin


I have asked this is the Apologists forum, but I post it here as well to see if others have gone through something similar and how they handled it:

I have come back into my faith 2 years ago after a 10+ year absence and during that time of absence I was married.

My wife and I are both confirmed Catholics and at the time we were married I was agnostic and she was a non-practicing Catholic, we didn’t want a church ceremony as we were both non-practicing and were married outside of the church by a Justice of the Peace.

A year later I had a religious epiphany and went to confession and started going back to mass and communion. During the confession I mentioned to the priest that we were married not in a church and not by a priest. He also asked me to confess any mortal sins to which I replied, “what’s a mortal sin”? Though I went through 12 years of CCD I don’t really remember anything from it other than the ‘This is Our Faith’ books and watching the 10 Commandments during Easter, never mind learning what a mortal sin was.

At the time of confession I knew that not being married in the church was frowned upon but didn’t know it was a mortal sin without a dispensation (which I also never heard of either up until that point) at the time I was married. The priest didn’t mention that we had to get the marriage blessed in order for me to receive communion or mention that we were living in sin because of our marriage, as at the time my wife was still a non-practicing Catholic.

Thus after confession I started going to mass and receiving communion as much as I could (I work every other weekend and the priest stated that it OK for me to miss Mass due to my work in healthcare as it was a work of charity and that the drive to and from work and attending mass wouldn’t allow me sufficient rest in order to do my job effectively).

Throughout the 2 years since I have been more involved in my faith, going to confession, mass and communion when I could and pray almost daily (a significant improvement from my life earlier) and my wife started coming back into her faith as well especially when we started trying for a baby. She started praying daily and going to mass but has yet to go to confession or receive communion.

So… with the background mostly covered here’s my questions as upon further reading of catechisms and forum posts have me confused and worried:

  1. Did I (we) commit a mortal sin getting married outside of the church and not by a priest though we didn’t know it was a grave matter?
  2. Are we committing mortal sin by being married without dispensation though we did not know upon getting married that it was a grave matter?
  3. Have I committed mortal sins by receiving communion after confession due to my marital circumstances; was my communion valid?
  4. Is it a mortal sin for us to have sexual relations that would permit life to occur because our marriage is still not validated by the church?
  5. Is our marriage considered valid because at the time of marriage we were not practicing Catholicism at the time before, during, and shortly after getting married, i.e. would it be as if two non-Catholics were married?
  6. May I receive communion after confession if we do not have sexual relations as if we were living as friends?
  7. Are we committing mortal sin/s now because I now know that what we did was considered a mortal sin or because I confessed to what we had done is it forgiven or is it a reoccurring sin because we continue to live in a marriage that hasn’t been validated as of yet by the church?
  8. If my wife chooses not to go so far back into her faith as to go to confession or receive communion, (be faithful but not strictly Catholic due to her beliefs about a woman’s right to choose and her stance on gay rights) am I still committing mortal sin with our circumstances?
  9. At what point am I or am I not in mortal sin, when can I receive communion?
  10. Must our marriage be validated if my wife wants to be faithful but not strictly Catholic?
  11. Can a dispensation be received after the fact?
    I am sure I can think of others but I am afraid they’ll just be rewordings of the previous ones already asked.
    Can someone please help me untangle the mess and help me understand what is going on and how to fix it? I am hoping for real responses and not a bunch of links to the various topics I have brought up because I have read a bunch of those but feel there is circumstances here that require examination and explanation to help me understand.

Thank you so much.


Make an appointment to sit down with your pastor. He can help you with everything.

Mortal sin requires grave matter, full knowledge and free will. You have to know it is wrong and freely do it anyway. Sounds like neither proper knowledge nor intent to sin were present, even if some of those things are grave matter. IOW, not a mortal sin.

To correct the invalid marriage situation, your pastor can assist you in either a convalidation (exchange of consent in Catholic form) or radical sanation (making the marriage valid without new consent).

Since you are both Catholics, a dispensation does not enter the picture anywhere. Two Catholics cannot be dispensed from form.

Your pastor will guide you on the reception of communion.




This one is real easy. Because you were both baptized catholic you were required to marry in the Church. Since you did not your marriage is seen as invalid within the Church… Of course, the marriage is legally valid.

If you’d like to make a valid marriage in order to be able to receive Eucharist, you need to either have a convalidation ceremony or a Radical Sanation. Convalidation is not a “blessing” of an existing marriage. Convalidation is not a renewal of vows. It is an actual marriage ceremony. An new consent to marriage. Usually, it’s very low key and done with a priest and two witnesses before or after Mass. It doesn’t take very long and you don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to.

If your wife refuses convalidation then you have the option of applying for Radical Sanation. Radical Sanation is basically paperwork that explains the situation, that one spouse refuses convalidation, and it makes the marriage valid retroactively.

As for mortal sins, to my understanding one must know their action is a mortal sin and willfully choose the sin.

The way it was explained to me, as I am also in an invalid marriage, was that my husband and I may receive the Sacraments if we were willing to live as “brother and sister” until we could have our marriage convalidated. As someone pointed out to me, this solution is pastoral and not all priests will approve it.

Were I you, I’d talk to my pastor and my wife about validating the marriage as soon as possible.

Dagnabbit! I type slower than at least 2 other people… :o


Welcome back!

Ike’s answers are good; I hope that you share them with your wife.


It is sufficient for full knowledge to know that the Church teaches that it is a sin, and you do not need to know that it is grave matter to commit a mortal sin.

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."131131 Reconciliatio et paenitentia 17 § 12.
“Here we have the core of the church’s traditional teaching, which was reiterated frequently and vigorously during the recent synod. The synod in fact not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, (95) but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. It must be added-as was likewise done at the synod-that some sins are intrinsically grave and mortal by reason of their matter. That is, there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object. These acts, if carried out with sufficient awareness and freedom, are always gravely sinful. (96)”
Baltimore CatechismQ. 284. What does “sufficient reflection and full consent of the will” mean?
A. “Sufficient reflection” means that we must know the thought, word or deed to be sinful at the time we are guilty of it; and “full consent of the will” means that we must fully and willfully yield to it.

Q. 292. Can slight offenses ever become mortal sins?
A. Slight offenses can become mortal sins if we commit them through defiant contempt for God or His law; and also when they are followed by very evil consequences, which we foresee in committing them.


OK, with that being said, we didn’t know it was a sin one way or another.


So it happens when inactive. If it is a personal choice to not find out what the Church teaches is sinful, and it is physically and morally possible, then it demonstrates willful indifference rather than unintentional ignorance, which increases the “voluntary character of a sin”. The Catechism has something on that topic.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart133 do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. …

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

1793 If - on the contrary - the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.


Welcome home!
BTW, you are not the only one who has gone through 12 years of CCD and/or 12 years of Catholic School who doesn’t know what a mortal/venial sin is. You are not alone.


Marrying outside the Church is a mortal sin for Catholics, generally, though I do not know whether it would apply in your case due to the lack of total knowledge. This is something you must discuss with your priest. However, KNOWING that you are in an invalid marriage, you should not continue to live as husband and wife until your marriage is validated. As baptized Catholics, you were still bound by the laws of the Church, even though you were not practicing. If neither of you was married previously, it should be fairly straightforward. You can choose either a convalidation (formal ceremony of the rite of marriage - should NOT be a second wedding; it can be done during Mass or separately - DH and I had our marriage convalidated during Mass because he needed a declaration of nullity before we could sacramentally marry) or a radical sanation (done through paperwork - your wife does not even need to know that you applied for it).

If you have gone to confession, BUT you are still living as husband and wife, that IS an unrepentant sin and your confession was invalid. You’d need to go to confession again, and live as brother and sister until your marriage has been validated. Once you’ve gone to confession again (and confessed that you were still living as husband and wife after your last confession), you should be good to go, as long as you live as brother and sister until your marriage is validated. After that, you will be free to resume living as a married couple.


I understand that catechesis is not very good for some Catholics in some locations, but it is normal to prepare for Confirmation. I attended the Baltimore Catechism classes at Church, in preparation for my Confirmation so I received teachings on the precepts of the Church. The Baltimore Catechism No. 2 (and teachers version No. 4) covers the precepts of the Church which includes these:*193 Q. How can we make a good examination of conscience? A. We can make a good examination of conscience by calling to memory the Commandments of God, the precepts of the Church, the seven capital sins, and the particular duties of our state in life, to find out the sins we have committed.

  1. Q. Which are the chief commandments of the Church?
    A. The chief commandments of the Church are six:

  2. To hear Mass on Sundays and holydays of obligation.

  3. To fast and abstain on the days appointed.

  4. To confess at least once a year.

  5. To receive the Holy Eucharist during the Easter time.

  6. To contribute to the support of our pastors.

  7. Not to marry persons who are not Catholics, or who are related to us within the third degree of kindred, nor privately without witnesses, nor to solemnize marriage at forbidden times.

  8. Q. What is the meaning of the command not to marry privately?
    A. The command not to marry privately means that none should marry without the blessing of God’s priests or without witnesses.

*404 Q. What is the meaning of the command not to marry privately? A. The command not to marry privately means that none should marry without the blessing of God’s priests or without witnesses.

If persons wishing to be married suspect that there is any impediment existing between them, they should express their doubts and the reasons for them to the priest.

Here it is well for you to know that if any Catholic goes to be married before a Protestant minister, he is, by the laws of the Church in the United States, excommunicated. [In 1966 the penalty of excommunication for this offense was lifted by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Yet it remains a mortal sin for a Catholic to attempt to marry outside the Catholic Church, and such a “marriage” will be invalid.] You must know excommunication means cut off from the communion of the Church and the body of the faithful; cut off from the Sacraments and from a share in all the holy Masses and public prayers offered by the Church throughout the world. It is a punishment the Church inflicts upon its disobedient children who will not repent but persist in wrongdoing. If they die willfully excommunicated, they die in mortal sin, and no Mass or funeral prayers can be publicly offered for them; nor can they be buried in consecrated ground. Besides the excommunicated, there are others who cannot be buried in consecrated ground: namely, infants or others who have not been baptized; those who deliberately committed suicide; those who have publicly lived sinful lives and evidently died in that public sin; and all persons who are not Catholics. If a Catholic who is not publicly a sinner dies suddenly, we cannot judge that he is in mortal sin; and hence such a one may be buried in consecrated ground.

It is the desire of the Church that all its faithful children should be buried in the ground which it has blessed for their remains; and wherever it is possible Catholics must have their own burying ground.

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