We can recall the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They are given innumerable blessings by God and live in communion with Him and with each other. There is only one prohibition that God gives them and that is that they must not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What do they end up doing? Of course it’s the one tree they choose to eat from! Under the tempting power of the serpent they give in and are disobedient to God and the fall-out from their decision to choose disobedience over obedience has carried on into the world ever since. We call this original sin and it is original sin that is forgiven in the Sacrament of Baptism, and in baptism we are given sanctifying grace, that grace which makes eternal life possible. However, still remaining is something called concupiscence – concupiscence is the desire to sin, the pull we feel to do what is wrong or to make ourselves the center of all things and it is this concupiscence which gives birth to our own sinfulness. Sin can be defined as either mortal sin or venial sin. Mortal sins are those sins committed which involve what is called “grave matter” – in other words, particular sins which sever us from God’s love. Mortal sins are committed when the sin itself involves grave matter, we fully consent to it and have full knowledge that we are sinning. Venial sins, on the other hand, are sins which do not involved grave matter. It may be easy to consider the distinction between the two as “everyday” sinfulness and less common sinfulness – but that’s not a useful distinction since it is quite possible for someone to continue to commit a mortal sin on an everyday basis. Venial sins harm the relationship with God, whereas mortal sins actually bring about the loss of sanctifying grace, a frightening reality indeed.
Sin (both venial and mortal) affects both our relationship with God and with the Church. We read in the General Introduction to the Rite of Penance, “every sin is an offense against God which disrupts our friendship with him…” (#5) and later in that same paragraph, “by the hidden and loving mystery of God’s design men are joined together in the bonds of supernatural solidarity, so much so that the sin of hone harms the others just as the holiness of one benefits the others” (#5) – for this reason, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the forgiveness offered in it, reconciles us to God and also “with our brothers and sisters who are always harmed by our sins” (#5). In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, then, we see that we are reconciled to God as well as to the entire Church.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation both mortal and venial sins are forgiven. Venial sins can be forgiven in a number of ways, but mortal sins can only be forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In our next article we will examine the structure of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as begin to take a look at how to make a good confession.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)