Mortal and venial sins are different ways of categorizing our offenses against God and neighbor.
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Sins are not something that we typically like to dwell on, as they remind us of our faults and failings.
Yet, the Church urges us to recognize the gravity of our sins and to return to the Father, confessing them in the sacrament of confession. By doing so, we are reunited with God and our relationship is restored.
In speaking about sin, the Catholic Church notes a difference between mortal and venial sins.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines mortal sin as “a grave violation of God’s law;” adding that such a sin “turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him“(CCC 1855).
In order for a sin to be mortal, to sever our relationship with God, it must meet three specific qualifications as laid out by the Catechism.
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 heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin. (CCC 1859)
To summarize the three qualifications, a mortal sin must be grave matter, committed with full knowledge and the person must have complete consent.
Venial sins are offenses against charity, God’s love for us and our love for our neighbor. Though they do not sever our relationship to God or to the life of grace, venial sins can have far-reaching consequences. Often when we repeatedly commit venial sins, it weakens our resolve and we are more likely to commit a mortal sin.
The Church invites us to confess these “venial” sins, because they do damage to our relationship with God and with others. Furthermore, “the regular confession of our venial sins helps us to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (CCC, 1458).
The basic difference between mortal and venial sins is that we are obliged to confess all mortal sins in confession, and are encouraged, but not required, to confess all venial sins.
Venial sins are typically our everyday weaknesses, while our mortal sins are those things that separate us from God and the Church.