What constitutes "grave matter"?

I joined the Church this past Easter, and every weekend before Confession I have this struggle of wondering if I’ve committed a mortal sin for which I must go to Confession so I can receive the Eucharist.

I understand the three requirements for something to be a mortal sin:
It must be committed with the full knowledge of the sinner
It must be committed with the full consent of the sinner
It must be grave matter

The part I don’t understand is, **what constitutes grave matter? **

Some things are obvious. Murder. Fornication. Masturbation. Adultery. Stealing. Those I feel sure are all grave matter and if the other two requirements are met, would be mortal sin.

Other things, to me, are less obvious. Is getting angry and yelling at someone grave matter? Is taking the Lord’s name in vain grave matter? Is cussing grave matter? Is having an unkind thought grave matter? Is feeling resentful for an injustice grave matter? Is feeling angry when a roommate doesn’t do their share of chores grave matter?

I find myself going to confession every week because I’m unsure whether I’ve committed grave matter sins. My research hasn’t come up with a good definition, a way for me to know if something is grave matter or not. I think I tend towards scrupulosity- not terribly so, but enough so that I don’t want to just rely on my “feelings” about it and would prefer to have a more concrete way of determining it.

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I cannot provide the exact quotation, but I remember St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishing grave and venial matter teleologically.

If the action leads astray from the principal path to God, but is still compatible with the way of Jesus, it is a venial matter.

If the action is obviously beyond the God’s plan, beyond the way we are supposed to go together with Jesus - it is a grave matter.

Check Catechism attentively. Taking Lord’s name in vain - yes, grave matter obviously. All other things You enumerated - do not seem grave matter to me. Unless You want someone to die. Or to burn in Hell.

Depends on what you mean. If you mean swearing a false oath in court. Yes that is grave matter.


2150 The second commandment forbids false oaths. Taking an oath or swearing is to take God as witness to what one affirms. It is to invoke the divine truthfulness as a pledge of one’s own truthfulness. An oath engages the Lord’s name. "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name."81

2151 Rejection of false oaths is a duty toward God. As Creator and Lord, God is the norm of all truth. Human speech is either in accord with or in opposition to God who is Truth itself. When it is truthful and legitimate, an oath highlights the relationship of human speech with God’s truth. A false oath calls on God to be witness to a lie.

2152 A person commits perjury when he makes a promise under oath with no intention of keeping it, or when after promising on oath he does not keep it. Perjury is a grave lack of respect for the Lord of all speech. Pledging oneself by oath to commit an evil deed is contrary to the holiness of the divine name.

2153 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained the second commandment: "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all. . . . Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one."82 Jesus teaches that every oath involves a reference to God and that God’s presence and his truth must be honored in all speech. Discretion in calling upon God is allied with a respectful awareness of his presence, which all our assertions either witness to or mock.

2154 Following St. Paul,83 the tradition of the Church has understood Jesus’ words as not excluding oaths made for grave and right reasons (for example, in court). "An oath, that is the invocation of the divine name as a witness to truth, cannot be taken unless in truth, in judgment, and in justice."84

2155 The holiness of the divine name demands that we neither use it for trivial matters, nor take an oath which on the basis of the circumstances could be interpreted as approval of an authority unjustly requiring it. When an oath is required by illegitimate civil authorities, it may be refused. It must be refused when it is required for purposes contrary to the dignity of persons or to ecclesial communion.


But often people use the phrase to refer to other matters.

One can for example distinguish between blasphemy (and other grave offenses) and profanity /disrespectful use of the Holy name such in anger or pain etc in a way -say out of a bad habit -that is not blasphemy --not said -say out of contempt for God or directed at God etc. That such in itself while certainly NOT to be done (we are Christians --we love and reverence the Holy Name of Jesus etc-as Paul says --let no evil talk come from your mouths…) - such can be said to be ordinarily venial.

(of course if children are around and one is misusing the name of Jesus -that can make matters worse…)

Let us praise and bless the Holy Name!

Praised be Jesus Christ of Nazareth --now and forever!

Grave Matter = 10 Commandments :thumbsup:

Once I read that being angry with someone was a violation of the 5th commandment. So even if I wasn’t going to murder them or wish them dead or wish them to hell, just being angry with them violated the commandment. But I don’t know if that makes it mortal? Or are the lesser degrees of sin more venial? Sometimes it seems like this stuff is just so obvious to other people but to me it’s not, and I don’t want to end up with a major case of scrupulosity like I see some people having. I do so much better with cut in stone rules. I think it’s got to do with me being a convert. I wasn’t raised Catholic and so doing a good examination of conscience has me scrutinizing everything (which is probably good) but leaves me unsure of the level of sin because it’s not how I was raised. I don’t want to presume something isn’t moral if it is, but neither do I want to get bogged down by scrupulosity.

Maybe it would be a thought to make an appointment with your priest to discuss this issue as it applies to you personally. It might ease your conscience and help the issue at hand.

God bless,


Yes it is a sin in terms of the 5th commandment.

You would though be correct to note that there is “smallness” of matter (venial matter) with various matters that fall under the 10 commandments.

Such as anger can be venial (a good example of grave anger can be as you note - to deliberately desire to kill someone really…or to seriously them)…lies…there can even be small thefts…etc.


The obligation of the Decalogue

2072 Since they express man’s fundamental duties towards God and towards his neighbor, the Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content, grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments are engraved by God in the human heart.

2073 Obedience to the Commandments** also **implies obligations in matter which is, in itself, light. Thus abusive language is forbidden by the fifth commandment, but would be a grave offense only as a result of circumstances or the offender’s intention.


Loosing your temper or being angry does not constitute mortal sin unless you allow yourself to act in a manner that violates 1 of the commandments.

Example: My mom drives me nuts sometimes, that can make me angry. However I should never disrespect her because she is my mom.
Honour your father and mother says GOD. :thumbsup:

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10 Commandments but also the 7 deadly sins : sloth, envy, gluttony, pride, anger …I forgot the other 2. :shrug:

When you are in confession, at least in my experience, its perfectly acceptable to ask for guidance on particular topics such as the one you are asking. Obviously it helps to be succinct or if nothing else as a basis to schedule a follow up conversation.

I joined a couple years ago. Welcome.

I observe much talk about the law in this thread. So what does the bible say? Jame . 2:10 says “whosoever shall keep the whole law yet offend in one point,he is guilty of all” .

What do you do with that?

The answer to your problem is that if you believe something is more probably a sin than not, even if it is only venial, do not do it.

Stealing is not always grave matter - you are not doing something seriously wrong if you steal a pencil, are you?

Getting angry and yelling at someone is unlikely to be grave matter in itself but if you hurl serious insults at them it could be.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is grave if it is blasphemy but saying ‘God’ and ‘Oh God’ as exclamations, rather than when you are actually calling upon God, is venial.

Swearing could be grave if it is obscene - I think it is but others disagree.

Unkind thoughts, resentments and deliberate feelings of anger are not grave. It would be grave if you wished people serious harm.

Saint Alphonsus is the patron saint of scrupulous souls and if you persevere in prayer to him he will help you to overcome scrupulosity.

A better way of thinking about things is not ‘Is this grave matter?’ but ‘Is this wrong?’ and ‘Is this seriously wrong?’

That means that if you do something, even one thing, seriously wrong you cannot be in the friendship of God. If you fulfil all of your duties to God and neighbour perfectly except in choosing to say, fornicate or get drunk, you are an enemy of God and worthy of damnation. You cannot choose to follow most of God’s commands, you must follow them all.

I don’t do sins on purpose. If it were as easy and just deciding never to sin again, I’d be a saint, right? I don’t want to sin. I pray not to sin. I ask God to give me the grace to overcome and avoid sin. ALL SIN. But I’m human, with human weaknesses. I struggle with my temper. I get frustrated. And that’s generally when I sin. It’s not something I premeditate, or think “should I do this?” and then I do it. If I have time to think about it, I can generally stop myself from doing it. I guarantee you I am not weighing things out and saying, “well, it’s only venial so it’s okay to do it.” The reason I’m asking is so that I’ll have a better idea of when I need to go to the sacrament of reconciliation prior to partaking of the Eucharist.

The term “deadly” in “7 deadly sins” --often confuses often.

It an lead some to think deadly sins = only grave matter for grave (mortal) sin.

Many of them are also venial sins (in matter too)…

A better term is “capital sins” (as the CCC generally uses in more recent writings). They are called Capital cause they are the “head” capitus of many other sins that they engender…(and deadly cause yes the seven can be deadly…)

“They are called “capital” because they engender other sins” (1866)

And to re post another post on the subject that can give more light:

The term “deadly” --often confuses persons.

Such is simply not the case that deadly sins/capital sins = grave matter .

For example --the chief of them is Pride. Pride yes can be grave matter --like a person says I do not need God. But often in the life of say a Christian it is venial matter (sinning in pride in other ways…)

Anger can be grave matter – like for example --when one is deliberately angry -seeking to say seriously harm someone.

Or seriously wounding charity or justice…

But often it can be venial in life. One gets a little angry that something did not go the way one wanted…etc

or take gluttony – individual acts of such by way of intemperance are often venial in nature.

Though for example one can have grave matter --for example getting drunk where one looses ones reason…etc.

So no it is not a simple: Deadly sins -Capital sins = grave matter.

Of course sins under lust – like fornication, lusting after some woman, adultery etc do not admit of parvity of matter.

A better term is “capital sins”. They are called Capital cause they are the “head” capitus of many other sins that they engender…(and deadly cause yes the seven can be deadly…)

But the term used more so today is capital sins.


1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.


  1. What are vices?


Vices are the opposite of virtues. They are perverse habits which darken the conscience and incline one to evil. The vices can be linked to the seven, so-called, capital sins which are: pride, avarice, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.


I am not saying this is your problem but I struggled with this and I think it was God’s way of telling me to start doing what is right rather than what is permissible. You do not need to go to confession if you have a prudent doubt about whether or not your sin was mortal.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine.

Sin is in the “will”. The will is involved somehow.

For mortal sin one needs not only grave matter but full advertance and deliberate consent.

Yes in terms of *venial sins *there are various kinds…many are not “fully deliberate”…but do involve the will in some way - such as faults of surprise etc.

We will have some venial sins (hence they are called daily sins…) and one ought not wait for confession to seek their forgiveness (for example pray the Lords Prayer daily…maybe even three times daily as did the early Christians …say morning…noon and evening perhaps).

And yes there are venial sins which are fully deliberate called “deliberate venial sin” -which if happen ought to be quickly repented and avoided.

Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

  1. When does one commit a mortal sin?


One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation.

  1. When does one commit a venial sin?


One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies.


Wow, Bookcat, you made a big deal because I said deadly instead of capital sins…the only point I was trying to make was that there are other sins that can be mortal in addition to breaking the 10 Commandments.

I was simply giving more clarification on a often confused point and giving the other person more information.

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