What is Venial Sin (The Catholic Definition)

Sin is an act we commit (or fail to commit) that harms us or someone else in some way. More importantly, it hurts our relationship with God. Mortal sin is a serious sin that completely severs our relationship with God. Venial sin on the other hand is a sin that is less serious, not fully deliberate, or that we were unaware of and does not completely break our relationship with God, but can still cause harm to our soul.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin in this way:

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is 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. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."

1850 Sin is an offense against God: "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight." Sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become "like gods," knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus "love of oneself even to contempt of God." In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.

1851 It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate's cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas' betrayal - so bitter to Jesus, Peter's denial and the disciples' flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly.

In order for a sin to be considered mortal, 3 conditions must all be met:

  1. The sin must involve serious matter. Things like murder (including abortion), rape, sexual activity outside of marriage, hatred, sacrilege, and heresy are always serious. Other things life theft could be serious or not depending on the circumstances such as the amount involved, whether the victim of our theft would be greatly impacted by it, etc. This is where a well-formed conscience is important.
  2. We must have full knowledge that we are committing this sin and that it is a serious matter. In other words, you cannot commit a mortal sin by accident.
  3. We must give full and unencumbered consent to committing the action. Mortal sins are premeditated (if even for a brief second), thereby disregarding God’s love and deliberately breaking His law.

If any of these three conditions are not met, then the sin is venial, though that does not mean we shouldn’t worry about it. Though an action may not be serious, it could still be very damaging to our relationship with God. All sin causes harm to our soul, and we should always resolve to avoid it. Even small sins contribute to callousness toward evil that if left unchecked can consume us over time. Small sins make us more likely to commit big sins. Venial sins can be forgiven through the reception of the Eucharist (if we do not have mortal sins on our soul).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about venial sins:

1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness."

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.

Other Articles You May Like:

A Thorough Catholic Examination of Conscience
How to Make a Good Catholic Confession
What is Mortal Sin (The Catholic Definition)
The Act of Contrition
Top 10 Emotional Reasons People Don't Go to Confession (and Why You Should Consider it Anyway)
What Does it Mean to Mention Sins in "Number and Kind" in Confession