Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King
Thou art the King of Glory, O Lord Jesus Christ; when Thou didst take upon Thee to deliver man, Thou didst not abhor the Virgin's Womb

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Forgiveness and the State of Grace

The other day while I was browsing through Fisheaters watching the usual confrontations, one poster (an SSPXer) made a great point that has been on my heart the past couple days, especially in light of the theological debates that I've been in. 

She said that all of the pointing fingers and calling so-and-so a heretic/schismatic and saying who is and isn't in the Church should not be determined by us sinners, but that what we should really be doing is making sure that we're in a State of Grace (not guilty of any mortal sin) and seek virtue and piety regardless of what Mass we attend and in spite of our views on "being in-communion with Rome."

I was pretty floored and thought to myself, "Wow, I'm not in a State of Grace, and the arguing to seeing with whom I agree and disagree is not going to restore me back to God's friendship."  It was quite humbling.  Of course her post was ignored by most of the alpha male youngeons who are trying to impress each other...  *rolls eyes*

Protestants and non-believers often accuse Roman Catholics (and the Eastern Orthodox if they even know who they are) of going to the priest for forgiveness instead of going to God directly.  Sadly, I think a lot of us Catholics do have that mindset, but oh how flawed it is and it is such a trick of Satan to delay our seeking the Grace of God.

We need to be begging the Lord for mercy frequently throughout the day, and definitely before we retire to sleep at night because we never know when the Lord will come for us (First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians, V, 2) and should we be guilty or conscious of even one mortal sin at that time, our souls will be lost for all eternity and we will be confined to the endless woes of Hell.

All mortal sins can be forgiven by making a sincere and devout act of Perfect Contrition (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1452) WITH the firm resolution to receive the Sacrament of Penance ASAP afterwards.  If one is truly sorry for his sins, he naturally has the intention of going to Confession if and when he can.  Keep in mind the Perfect Contrition is sorrow for sin motivated by the Theological Virtue of Charity, love for God and extreme anguish of the soul at having offended His goodness.

We should try to make these acts frequently throughout the day and not just when we know we're going to Confession.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity."  --First Epistle of St. John the Evangelist, I, 9)

We can (and should) confess our sins to God at any time if we are truly sorry for our sins and are ready to turn from our evil ways. 

Keep in mind that although we have Perfect Contrition and earnestly ask for the forgiveness of God, we may not partake of any of the Sacraments (Penance excepted) until we have received sacramental absolution through the Sacrament of Penance.  We MAY NOT receive Holy Communion if we have any mortal sins to confess for which we have not yet received sacramental absolution.  This is a Law of the Church.  Case closed.  But this does not in any way remove our obligation to always ask for God's forgiveness.

Another thing to note is even though we have Perfect Contrition and make a sincere act before the majesty of God, we do not receive the Sanctifying Grace of the Sacrament, and therefore do not receive the Sacramental Grace to help us avoid the sin and it is likely that we may fall again very soon.  This is why it is important and necessary to make frequent Confessions (frequent by the Church's standards means at least once a month or more). 

If we do not have Perfect Contrition, we may still receive the Sacrament of Penance provided we have at least Imperfect Contrition (or attrition) which means a distaste and disgust for sin because of how evil it is and because we fear not going to Heaven or we fear going to Hell.  Perfect Contrition is motivated by love for God, while Imperfect Contrition is motivated by fear of His Judgments.  The latter is the minimun necessary to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

Imperfect Contrition will NOT forgive mortal sin even in light of imminent death, so we must get ourselves into the habit of having Perfect Contrition and always pray for the increase in Charity which the Sacraments give.

If we die in a State of Grace, we are promised Eternal Life, although the fires of Purgatory are likely especially if we do not receive sacramental absolution or the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (or Annointing of the Sick).

Please read and pray the Seven Penitential Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, and 142 (or for the modern Bibles 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143).


  1. Megan "Marina"February 15, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    From my opinion, as an Orthodox, when I hear "mortal sins" and "State of Grace", it reminds me of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27

    "Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

    Now, I realize this was before Christ's death and resurrection, but if you look at the parable--the rich young ruler has not committed a "mortal sin" (as far as I can tell), yet he was separated from God due to his riches (having wealth isn't a mortal sin is it?). For the Jews, wealth (not ill gotten, but earned) meant that God favored you and was pleased with you.

    My point is, how easy one could fall into a trap of "I haven't committed any mortal sins, therefore I am in a State of Grace and am good to go for Heaven", but at the same time still be separated from God and not have eternal life.

    For Orthodox, sin: both voluntary and involuntary, both in knowledge and in ignorance, separates us from God. Salvation is closing that separation. An Orthodox would never, "Oh, it was just a venial sin--no big deal! I'm still in a State of Grace."

    Look at many of the Saints in the NT, early church, and even today who no longer commit "mortal sins" yet were constantly begging God's forgiveness for EVERY sin; even if to the rest of us they seem blameless. Was St. Paul really "the Chief among sinners"? Not if you look at it according to the Catholic doctrine of mortal vs venial; but to him, he KNEW he was still separated from God and needed healing.

    Perhaps I've misinterpreted but that's what comes to my head when I hear the "mortal", "venial", "State of Grace" distinctions. For me "State of Grace" seems to mirror the Protestant understanding of "be a good person, avoid major sins, and you're GUARANTEED to be saved"

    1. Hey Marina! Thanks for the comment and those are some good, challenging questions.

      A mortal sin is defined as any sin that meets the three criteria of being 1) grave matter, 2) committed with full knowledge, and 3) full consent of the will. If any of these three be lacking the sin is venial.

      Mortal and venial sins are not so concrete as they are specific sins (although most sexual sins tend to be mortal), but the mentality of the sinner and the conscience.

      Looking at that passage from the Holy Gospel, it seems like that man was struggling with covetousness as we has very sad that he had to sell his possessions and also, realizing that he was possessing things to the detriment of the poor.

      Another mortal sin to consider is presumption and excusing ourselves for sins or saying we'll commit them anyways because God will forgive me later. If anyone has that attitude towards their venial sins, they do become mortal.

      I think that a lot of Catholics even are under the impression that venial sins are not serious offenses, that they are "okay sins." But this isn't true. They diminish Sanctifying Grace in the soul and make one more likely to commit mortal sin. They don't take one out of God's friendship however. Mortal sin, however, kills the Grace-presence of God and the divine life in the soul and does impose minor excommunication (as opposed to major excommunication).

      I should have addressed this more in this blog post, but venial sins can be forgiven without the Sacrament. They can be forgiven through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, receiving Holy Communion, or any other penitential act. Indulgences should be gained as well to remit the temporal punishment (I'm going to post about those in the future, I know there is some big misunderstandings about indulgences and they do still exist today! Praise God...).

      The Church recommends and encourages us to confess our venial sins in the Sacrament of Penance because it increases Sanctifying Grace in the soul and remits some of the temporal punishment due to those sins as well as gives the Sacramental Grace to avoid those venial sins and sins like them. It gives spiritual strength and helps one grow. If one has no mortal sins to confess and there's a long line outside of the confessional and Mass is starting soon, I think it's better to let those who [may have mortal sins and want to get to Communion] confess. If you just have venial sins to confess, try to get there early enough to be able to say a few, get the Sacrament, and hopefully others will be able to be brought back into Christ's friendship =)

      So your second to last paragraph is right on and shows us what the Church expects of us. We have to hold ourselves to high standards and never excuse ourselves for sins (like the prayer in the Incensing of the Altar during the Extraordinary Form).

      There is nothing wrong with making the distinction between mortal and venial because it helps one examine his conscience and know what MUST be confessed to the priest and what may be forgiven by other means.

      I like it and seems perfectly Scriptural to me, I don't see any conflict with it and Catholic doctrine of sin and atonement.

      Hope that explains somewhat!