From a reader…
Father, no priest/bishop/theologian/book has ever answered my question on how human beings after Adam & Eve can be responsible for their sins when, apart from our first parents, we weren’t even participants in their disobedience. I really don’t understand and it troubles me greatly! Thanks.
The simple answer is: We are all in this together.
The human race has great solidarity.
When our First Parents committed the Original Sin, the entire human race sinned. The human race at the time consisted only of two people, but that was the entire race that sinned.
Similarly, our bonds of humanity and of baptism mean that when we sin voluntarily, we hurt everybody else. Our sins hurt the whole Church, which means that we must be reconciled with the Church. That is one of the effects of the Sacrament of Penance.
There remains the manner of “transmission” of Original Sin from our First Parents to everyone who followed (with one exception). The Church teaches dogmatically (it must be accepted) that Adam’s loss of sanctity was not just for him alone, but also for us as well. He transmitted to all posterity both death and suffering as well as the guilt of the Original Sin. We are not guilty of Original Sin by imitation, but by natural generation. The fact that we descend from our First Parents means that we, too, have the effects of Original Sin.
By Original Sin the entire race was deprived of sanctifying grace and the praeternatural gifts of integrity (we suffer from mortality, ignorance, a weakened will, disordered passions, bodily weakness and suffering, etc.). Therefore, we are also deprived of the Beatific Vision if we depart this life without the cleansing of our guilt and the gift of sanctifying grace which comes through baptism, made effective by the Passion and Death of the Lord in His expiatory Sacrifice on Calvary.
Our personal, voluntary sins are not like this. Each of us is guilty of our own sins. It is possible, however, that because of our own actions and choices we can share in the guilt of others for sins. For example, when we counsel someone to sin, we, too, can be guilty of that sin. When we conceal sins which we are obliged to expose, aid in them, praise them, provide the means, provoke them, etc., we can be guilty of the sinful acts others commit. However, those are all instances of person, voluntary sins. Original Sin is a different matter. We are guilty of the sin of our First Parents because we belong to the human race and, hence, because that guilt is transmitted to every member of the human race through the fact of our generation.
The exception, of course, is Mary. Through a singular (unique) grace, God preserved her from the stain of Original Sin. That was fitting, since she would be the Mother of God. When Christ took our human nature from Mary, the stain of Original Sin was not in Mary to pass along. Mary, however, was still a member of this fallen human race, which was in need of a Divine Savior. Therefore, while she was untouched by sin, she was nevertheless also redeemed by her Son. Dante famously called Mary the daughter of her Son.
I hope that helps.