Catholic doctrine is intensely concerned about sin, the commission of an evil act. According to Christian theology, God, the creator of humans, is good by nature. When a person acts in opposition to God's will, that individual is in a sinful state. When people commit sins, they separate themselves from God. Not all sins are of equal degree. The consequences of certain actions are greater than those of others. For clarification, Catholics categorize sins based on their gravity. Original, mortal and venial are the three classes of sin.
Original sin refers to the initial nature of people. Catholics believe all humans begin life in a state of sin. People are, at birth, separated from God because of the actions of the first humans, Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Catholicism teaches that despite this original sin, all people have the possibility of being reconciled with God. Original sin does not affect the character of individuals. Furthermore, Catholics erase this sin through baptism, usually conducted soon after birth.
The most severe degree of sin is mortal. This category concerns grave matters. Violations of God’s Ten Commandments to humankind are explicit examples of grave matters. The relationship of offender to victim also affects the gravity of the sin. Catholics believe that harming one’s parents would be graver than doing the same to a stranger, for example. Intent is of prime concern. Unintentional ignorance can reduce both the gravity of the offense and the magnitude of the punishment. All mortal sin results in a loss of the state of grace. When outside the state of grace, Catholics cannot fully participate in church activities.
Though of less severity than mortal sins, the venial variety can lead to serious repercussions if ignored. These are sins committed when disobeying moral law without full knowledge or complete consent. Venial sins are often committed through wicked thoughts rather than deliberate actions. Over time, venial sins weaken the ability of people to avoid committing mortal sins; in this regard, they are precursors to greater sins.
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation
Catholics seek forgiveness for their sins through priestly reconciliation, often referred to as confession. Catholics confess their sins to a priest to reduce the inevitable punishment. Believers must wholly desire a return to God’s grace. The confessor must recite his offensive actions to a priest and accept an earthly punishment. Reconciliation relieves the individual of the sin and brings him back into God’s grace.
- Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images