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Ann wrote:

Hi, guys —

I'm a 35-year-old single woman who has been a Catholic all my life. I go to Mass every Sunday but I have miss a few times in the past. I rarely go to Confession. My last Confession was about:

  • 6 months ago, and previous to that
  • 9 months, and previous to that
  • 6 months, and previous to that
  • 3 years, and previous to that
  • about 10 years, and
  • before that, can't remember to be honest.

I haven't committed any mortal sins since my last Confession but before that I regularly struggled with masturbation and fornication. I also received Holy Communion while I was in a state of mortal sin. I confessed all those type of sins, the last two times I went to Confessions, but never mentioned these type of sins in previous Confessions.

What is bugging me now is that I never mentioned these type of sins in previous Confessions.
I was told by the priest to reintroduce myself to God as He didn't know me. I didn't understand this because I went to weekly Mass — I just didn't realize these were mortal sins that would cut me off from God.

I do receive Holy Communion now but I'm unsure whether I'm in the state of grace or not, due
to the fact that these previous mortal sins were never confessed. I only confessed the ones that
I have committed in recent months.

I did go to our parish a few times to go to Confession but I always left without going to Confession. I am not sure if it's because:

  • I felt embarrassed by what I had done, or
  • because I have been away from this sacrament for so long.

Either way, I always walk out which I know is wrong.

Any help or advice you can give me regarding whether I'm in the state of grace or not would be appreciated.

Ann

  { Am I in a state of grace and what if I forgot to mention a mortal sin from a long time ago? }

Mike replied:

Dear Ann,

Thanks for the question.

I'm glad you wrote in today.

One should never receive Holy Communion if they think they may have unconfessed mortal sin on their soul. That said, most sexual sins are mortal sins. From the Catechism (CCC 1857):

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is a sin:

  1. whose object is grave matter
  2. which is also committed with full knowledge, and
  3. deliberate consent.

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother." The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

You said:
What is bugging me now is that I never mentioned these type of sins in previous Confessions. I was told by the priest to reintroduce myself to God as He didn't know me. I didn't understand this because I went to weekly Mass — I just didn't realize these were mortal sins that would cut me off from God.

  1. You are not culpable for sins you didn't know were mortal sins.
  2. If you, or anyone, has returned to the Church, and forgot to mention a previous sin in Confession, just bring it up next time by saying something like:

    Father, I would also like to confess any previous mortal sins in the past that I forgot to bring up in my previous Confessions.

Also, knowingly missing Sunday Mass, or the way I like saying it: Knowingly forgetting to renew your covenant with the Lord at Sunday Mass is always a mortal sin that has to be confessed before someone can receive Holy Communion again.

One should never receive Holy Communion if they think they may have unconfessed mortal sin on their soul.

St. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30. In this sex saturated culture, I would encourage you to go to Confession more often. The Catholic bishops of the United States recommend Catholic families go at least once a month.

Although paragraph 1860 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (above) mentions that unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense and the promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense. It also says:

No one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.

My personal view on this issue is:

If I can't discern whether I had been in a sex-related situation where the promptings of feelings and passions could have been diminished, and therefore I can't discern whether I've committed a mortal sin: meaning all three criteria have been met — I always would mention this sin in Confession anyway.

You want to make sure your weekly connection with the Lord is a solid one!

I always end my Confessions telling the Confessor: I just want to make good, holy Communions and I thank him for his priesthood.

As Fr. Jonathan has said in a previous answer, don't worry — there is nothing you can tell the priest, that he hasn't heard. If it's a matter of public image, meaning how the priest's views you personally, that leads you to hide something, you shouldn't hide any sin; plus you can always go to another priest who doesn't know you.

Think of it this way, if a soldier has three pieces of shrapnel in his leg but doesn't tell the doctor about the one piece of shrapnel in his upper thigh region near his privates because it is embarrassing, the inflection will get worse, and with time, an importance part of his body will get diseased. You don't want that spiritually.

When we go to Confession, we have to confess all known mortal sins and the number of times, or estimated number of times. If someone was not aware of a certain aspect of Confession they are not culpable.

To put your mind at ease, as the Church would want, just go to Confession and mention all sins, especially any mortal sins, the way I have said and be at peace with yourself. Though confessing venial sins is not required, it's a big help spiritually because any type of sin we confess in Confession, we receive grace not to commit that sin again.

Remember that the Confessional is a tribunal of mercy and healing, not of judgment. The point is not to accuse you or impose guilt; the point is to relieve guilt and apply the balm of mercy to sins so that they might be healed.

A sin is like an injury, and the priest is like a doctor.

You also may want to strongly consider finding a spiritual director. This is a priest who is willing to guide you on spiritual matters in your life.

I found these related postings from our database that will also help:

I hope this helps,

Mike

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