Mortal and Venial Sins?

Q. I am a strong believer in the Catholic faith and in Christ, the final offering for our sins. Briefly describe the difference between a mortal sin and a venial sin. Is not a sin, great or small, in God’s eyes a sin? 

R.R., via e-mail 

A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:

Let’s start with the general definition of sin. “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (Catechism, No. 1849). Sin is always serious in that it adversely affects our relationship with the Father and with those around us. 

Three factors must be simultaneously present for an act to be mortal sin. The object of sin must be “grave matter.” The sinner must understand that what he or she does is mortal sin. The sinner must give full consent to the sinful act itself. If any one of these conditions is lacking, the sin is not mortal. The Catechism describes in some detail the effects of mortal sin, especially the loss of sanctifying grace. Persistence in mortal sin leads to what it calls “the eternal death of hell” (No. 1861). 

Venial sin, which involves less grave matter, does not completely cut the sinner off from God’s grace. Yet it reflects “a disordered affection for created goods” (Catechism, No. 1863). It impedes one’s growth in virtue. If persisted in, it can lead one into mortal sin. 

In teaching us about sin, the Catechism quotes an invaluable warning from St. Augustine: “While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call ‘light’; if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.” (No. 1863).