Catholic Classroom: Mortal and Venial Sin
Question: What is the difference between mortal and venial sin?
In any of its forms, sin is an offense against God in which we put some worldly end above our love for God and wound our relationship with him (see CCC 1849-1851). But not all sins are the same. While every sin should be avoided out of love for God, there are some sins that are not mortal (1 John 5:17).
Sin is classified in two ways:
- Venial sin, which is a sin committed in a small matter or without full knowledge or consent. A venial sin harms our relationship with God, but does not break it—it is like a blow from an axe that does not fell the tree.
- Mortal sin which is a sin in a serious matter that is committed with full knowledge of its sinfulness and consent. A mortal sin severs our relationship with God and removes us from a state of grace. Like the blow that finally fells the tree, it is a willful break in our friendship with God. Catholics who have committed a mortal sin and have not yet received absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation may not receive Holy Communion.
Because our God is a good Father, he does not let sin have the last word. When we have committed mortal and/or venial sins, God allows us to come to him and receive his inexhaustible mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation. When we receive this sacrament, God gives us more than just his mercy—he also gives us the grace to stay away from sin. No matter whether you have committed venial or mortal sins, it is important to go to confession regularly to maintain a healthy and loving friendship with God.