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Are the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ Always Considered Mortal Sins?

A listener named Barbara asks Father Dave for clarification regarding the “seven deadly sins.” She says, “I have a question about the seven deadly sins and how they relate to mortal versus venial sins. I usually consider pridefulness, for example, a venial sin, in that I confess it but don’t abstain from receiving Communion for this sin – otherwise, I guess I would never receive Communion! But when does pridefulness become mortal or deadly? Is it only when pridefulness causes me to commit another mortal sin?”

Father Dave first gives some background about the seven deadly sins. “We do have a tradition in the Catholic Church, and they in fact are found in the Catechism, of what Barbara has referred to as the seven deadly sins, or capital sins. That might even be a little bit of a better term, meaning that they are the head or the fountain of others,” he says. “The reason why we list those particular seven is that those seem to be a clearinghouse for other ways in which we can sin.”

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He says that calling them vices may help us view them accurately. He says, “As we list all those sins, we realize that there are varying degrees [of severity]. In fact, that’s the basis of your question, saying, ‘I feel prideful in very various ways all the time. If that’s always a mortal sin, then I’m constantly in a state of mortal sin.’ So if we say ‘vices,’ that can turn into either venial or mortal sins, depending on what we do with them.”

Father Dave offers a reminder of the definitions between mortal and venial sins. “Venial sins are those sins that we commit all the time. Here’s how the Catechism puts it: This sin, ‘harms or lessens the charity in our souls.’ With charity, we don’t just mean writing checks to charitable causes. [Charity means] love and other-centeredness; the opposite of selfishness is charity,” he says. We can rectify venial sins by asking forgiveness from God in personal prayer or in some prayers the congregation recites during Mass. 

He explains the three conditions that are all necessary for a sin to be considered mortal. “The Church says for a sin to be a mortal sin, it needs to be something of a serious nature. So that list of vices would count, but is not limited to those. In that list of seven deadly sins, we don’t list, for instance, not going to church on Sunday. We would consider that important, and it’s a grave matter.” Father Dave says. 

He continues with the next condition and says, “You must be aware that the Church believes this thing is grave. So ignorance in this case, is an excuse.” The third condition is that “we have to do it willingly, so it’s not something we can do accidentally or unawares,” Father Dave says. “Mortal sin is not something that we can be pressured or forced to do by some outside force. It’s sufficient reflection and full consent of the will, that essentially we’re saying, ‘I know the Church teaches this thing is really wrong, and I don’t care; I’m going to do it anyway.’”

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With these definitions in mind, Father Dave shares a metaphor to help us understand the seven deadly sins. “They’re warning signs, like the yellow triangle with the exclamation point when you’re coming around a curve that says ‘we know this to be dangerous,’” he says. “When you’re coming around this curve, that doesn’t mean that every car is going to crash. It does mean we have identified that this is dangerous enough that you should slow down and should be careful.”

“That’s really what those seven deadly vices are. With human experience and with the Church’s wisdom, we know that all of these have a great potential to turn into serious sins,” he concludes. “It doesn’t mean they always will, but it does mean we have to hit the brakes a little with them and be a little more careful when we’re navigating them or they’re entering our lives in any way.”