QUAERITUR: Starting a novena in the state of moral sin

From a reader:

Can a person in the state of Mortal Sin begin a Novena with the intention of going to Confession as soon as possible? It seems it won’t be efficacious if the soul was in sin when beginning a novena.

No prayer is in vain.

Certainly you can begin a novena of prayers even in the state of sin.  That seems like a very good time to start a novena of prayers, as a matter of fact, asking in particular the grace to make a good and thorough confession.

Just do it.

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  1. Fr Martin Fox says:

    This brings to mind a point I make when explaining what we believe about grace (sanctifying and actual) and how God’s grace works in our lives.

    It is the teaching of the Church–the Council of Trent in particular–that no truly good act can take place without the assistance of grace. Our good works, such as they are, are “good” only insofar as they are a fruit of God’s grace at work in our actions. The exact interplay between divine action and human response is a mystery I cannot fathom; yet we assert that human freedom is real and yet “it’s all grace.”

    So when a sinner–however profound–turns to God in any way, or even prior to turning “to God,” simply begins to turn from sin to any degree, this must be attributed to the work of God’s grace.

    Grace is not merely something we get after we do our repentance; it precedes, accompanies, sustains, draws and is the reward of repentance.

    I’ve asked this question: if a terrible sinner–as bad as you can imagine–starts to feel bad, thinks of going to confession, shows up, goes in, confesses at length, receives a suitable penance, makes an act of contrition, receives absolution, and leaves, and completes his penance…at what point does he receive grace?

    Of course, one must distinguish between actual–“helper”–graces, and sanctifying grace (and I use the discussion to explain that); yet sometimes the answer will reveal how some folks tend to see grace as something we’re rewarded with only after we “do our part.” My point is that grace–or, to be more precise in what I’m saying, God’s initiative to save us–does not wait for us to clean up our act.

    I bring this up because I’m wondering what underlies the presenting question: why should someone in a state of mortal sin not be able to offer a prayer in an effective way? The very motive of prayer itself comes from God–it has to.

    No one can turn even the slightest bit toward God, unless God himself is assisting that turning.

  2. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Thank you Fr. Z. for doing this Quaeritur. I have had the more general question on my mind for some time of whether we can pray and our prayers will be useful/acknoledged, etc. when in the state of mortal sin. quaeriturem meam respondisti.
    Forgive my mistakes and do correct me! I am still relearning Latin from Cambridge Latin Course unit 1 of 4, and I am only 1/2 way through book 1. I tried to say “you have answered my question” using Quaeritur in the accusative case with “my” to indincate whose question, and respondet in the perfect tense (completed action). I am not perfect when it comes to Latin sentencing orders yet.

  3. Pelicanus says:

    What is this “state of mortal sin”?

    Surely an absence of the state of grace?

  4. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Fr. Fox, Thank you for your explanation about grace. I was a Methodist once and they make a big deal about grace being prevenient. There’s even a section in their hymnal called “prevenient grace.”

  5. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    This is NOT a criticism of our enquirer.

    Two things strike me: i) we must at all cost avoid scrupulosity, this is implicit in the phrase : “It seems it won’t be efficacious if the soul was in sin…” No, the efficacity depends on the disposition, not the state, of the soul. This leads me to ii) if you were set on repeated and besetting sin you would not WANT to start a Novena. The desire to start the Novena makes quite clear, BEYOND ALL DOUBT, that the soul is disposed to reject sin, and make amends, whatever it has done wrong in the past.

    A warning: What is important is the disposition of the soul now. To fear that you may in the future relapse in to sin, and thus hold back from the means of grace now is serious scrupulousness: speak to your confessor. You many BELIEVE that you are more than likely to sin again within a few weeks, that is NOT THE POINT. What is important is that you intend to make amends now.

  6. lsoliman says:

    Thank you all for responding to my question!

  7. Mariana says:

    Thank you, Fr Fox, that was most useful!

Comments are closed.