ASK FATHER: The benefits of sacraments in the state of mortal sin

12_04_VanderWeyden_confirmationFrom a reader…

I’ve recently learned that the graces of the sacrament of marriage are not received until or unless the person is in a state of grace.

Looking back at my own life, how blind and foolish I was, this got me wondering if it’s a similar case for Confirmation. If confirmation is receive in a state of mortal sin, would we not receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and graces until we made a good confession?

This is a good point.  It is important that everyone consider this.

You are right about the graces of sacraments.

There is an old distinction about sacraments of the dead (baptism and penance), and sacraments of the living (the other five).

Sacraments of the dead bring you out of spiritual death (Original sin and actual, mortal sins) into life.

Sacrament of the living are to be received by the spiritually alive, in the state of grace. Otherwise, they don’t bring you all that you need from them, even if they are validly conferred.

For example, a man and woman validly marry but they are in the state of mortal sin. They are validly, truly, married, but they don’t have the actual graces of the sacrament until they are in the state of grace.

Similarly, a confirmand or an ordinand in the state of mortal sin are ontologically changed by their sacraments, that is, they are really and truly confirmed or ordained, but they don’t enjoy all the benefits of being confirmed or ordained which the sacraments confer until they return to the state of grace.  Once they are in the state of grace, everything kicks into gear.

Remember this also for those who are in danger of death, who are sui compos, and who are to receive the sacrament of anointing.

Draw your own conclusions about receiving the Eucharist when not in the state of grace (hint: sacrilege).

So, and this is for everyone:

If you long to live your vocation well, whatever be your state of life, or if you are under fire or struggling or even drowning with problems, then you need all the spiritual aid that the sacraments can give you.  That means, of course, the Eucharist, received in the state of grace.  It also means benefiting from your confirmation character when the challenges come!  It means benefiting from the sacrament of matrimony to help you live your married lives!

Are you aware of yourself as being outside of God’s friendship because of unconfessed mortal sins?



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PA mom says:

    Just went Saturday.

    The joy received from this short, simple act is so amazing!

  2. ARPugsley says:

    This may be only tangentially related, but would an ignorant non-Catholic (one who doesn’t understand the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist) receive any graces if he were to receive Communion at Mass, not knowing that he was not permitted to do so?

    [Faultless ignorance provides, I believe, a disposition for God to do many things through praevenient graces, especially. If a person is sincerely seeking what is good, true and beautiful, surely God works with that, provided that the person is really blameless in his ignorance. We don’t know what God does in such situations, but I am hopeful and reliant on His mercy.]

  3. Mark says:

    Would one receive all of the graces of the sacrament of marriage if one was in a state of grace but their spouse was not, because they had not been to confession for the entire length of their marriage?

    [I hope so. These things are not math formulas. However, the situation described is troubling. One of the primary duties of the married is to help their spouses get to heaven. It’d would be good them to help and prompt each other to good things like confession.]

  4. Jana Parma says:

    I’m so sad and frustrated. In 1998, I was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church through our RCIA program. I don’t know why but they never offered 1st confession and for years afterwards I was too scared to go because I had no idea what to do or say. After reading your blog and doing lots of research on my own through Catholic Answers I finally managed to muster up the courage to go to confession for the very first time ever in 2008. Ten years! I was not a very good Catholic in that time span. I missed mass frequently, was ignorant of Catholic theology, and so much more. I tried to learn more but it was definitely an uphill, blind journey. Finally, I was able to start attending an Extraordinary Form of the Mass and fell in love. I wanted this beauty and I was terrified of it too. It was so beautiful. For the first time I felt an overriding need to go to confession. I wanted to receive Communion as all Catholics in history had.

    I don’t remember how long it took, going to Mass every week in the Extraordinary Form, before I walked into my first confessional. It was not what I expected. I was confused by the chairs and no kneeler. It looked more like a therapy session. My research hadn’t explained the whole no kneeler part, but I did the best I could under the circumstances.

    Shortly after my first confession I met my future husband, took some college level catechism classes, and got married. It’s been 19 years since I became Catholic. After reading this post, I see so many graces that I missed. It’s so sad and so frustrating.

    I don’t know how many converts are like me but still too scared to go to confession. This is important and I try to share your blog with whomever asks for a good Catholic blog. You’re always so good at telling people to go to confession. Thank you.

    [Don’t be afraid. Just go. It’ll be fine.]

  5. iamlucky13 says:

    I don’t think the basic background to this post was covered in the Baltimore catechism. Sacrilege was, and as an extension from learning that receiving a sacrament of the living in the state of mortal sin is a sacrilege, I grew up with the impression that doing so made it invalid.

    Although I later did learn I was incorrect, I don’t know if my original interpretation might be widespread. At a minimum, I’m glad you took on this question because in the course of answering it you clarified the distinction between the validity of a sacrament and the grace provided by a sacrament.

  6. Joe in Canada says:

    Good timely question and point. This is the heart of the question about people in irregular marital situations receiving Communion. Some theologians are developing the necessary “theology” to support this.

  7. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    For all his feel goodery and neologoisms about God’s surprises, Pope Francis is right in proclaiming the deep and unmerited mercy God lays upon us despite the depth and muck of sin we’ve buried ourselves in. I think of the years of mortal sins and sacrilege I committed and how one thorough confession to a good and holy priest got me back on the road walking again.

    That in those abysmal depths of sin, habit, despondency God’s finger could draw me out. What mercy, what clemency. I recently listened to the Brideshead Revisited audio book (narrated by Jeremy Irons…i don’t have time to watch the 11 part miniseries). The part where Cordelia (in the book) discusses the Fr. Brown quote of how God draws us back with his line and hook with a flick of the wrist no matter how far we wonder and how we try to hide. So beautiful.

  8. Catharine in Aurora says:

    Father, I am a revert who refused to have anything to do with the Catholic faith for 22 years. I came back to the Church in 1992. The grace of God came to work on me and my late husband IMMEDIATELY–somehow, all the right books, pamphlets & materials fell into our hands, and we very quickly made it our business to always go to Mass on the weekend, go to confession (I think every 2-3 weeks is about right for most people), and frequently do traditional devotions such as Eucharistic adoration, stations of the cross, and rosary, among others.
    In the total societal chaos and madness which obtain out in the world today, I must credit frequent confession to helping me stay not only in the state of sanctifying grace, but also sane and sober all these years. One does not have to be in the state of mortal sin to go to confession; going every 2-3 weeks no matter what is called a “devotional confession.” According to all the Popes and doctors of the church, an increase of grace is received simply by making a valid devotional confession. None of us is completely sinless, so there is always something to confess that constitutes an area to work on.
    I would strongly recommend to all of your readership to get into this habit as the spiritual benefits to oneself are simply phenomenal. Also, a Catholic can go to any parish, any priest who has faculties to hear confession–one is not limited to going only to one’s own parish.
    In summary, I think if one is serious about working out one’s salvation, making steady progress in the spiritual life, etc., frequent confession is not an option. It is a “must.”

  9. Catharine in Aurora says:

    Something else I forgot to mention in my earlier post–for all Catholics who have not been to confession in a very long time, and/or who are in the state of mortal sin, please give some very serious consideration to this:
    Some years ago, I heard a guest priest on Catholic radio talking about confession. One of the points he made was that every area of unrepented, unconfessed, unabsolved mortal sin is an area where Satan is your lord and master, not Our Lord Jesus Christ.
    If this is your habitual state of being, please consider the ramifications of allowing this situation go to on until the jaws of death suddenly snap shut on you!

  10. WesleyD says:

    Fr. Z, thanks for explaining the “sacraments of the dead” and “sacraments of the living” categories.

    A question. Suppose that someone receives one of the “sacraments of the living” while in a state of mortal sin. As you explained, the graces of this sacrament will not be available (or not be fully available) at that point. Suppose that at a later time, the person repents their sins and is given absolution in the Sacrament of Penance. Will the graces of the sacrament they received earlier become available at that time?

    You described this phenomenon above:

    For example, a man and woman validly marry but they are in the state of mortal sin. They are validly, truly, married, but they don’t have the actual graces of the sacrament until they are in the state of grace.

    But I wasn’t sure if you were saying this happens with all the sacraments of the living, and whether this is guaranteed or merely a possible outcome.

    [Keep in mind the distinction between the validity of a sacrament (yes, they really are married, ordained, confirmed), but the other effects and graces of the sacraments are not yet available because they are not disposed to receive them.]

  11. Mary Jane says:

    Went to confession on Sunday. Lines were long (a good thing!). I try to go every 2-3 weeks.

  12. Grabski says:

    In Buenos Aires, with papal approval, is remarriage without nullify no longer a sin? [Marriages cannot be nullified. EVER.]

    If the Pope and Bishop says it is not a sin, can it be accepted? [If a tribunal says that there was never a marriage, the person is free to marry. However, the issue of conscience can play a role. Remember: We cannot fool God, who can never be deceived.]

  13. notenoughflair says:

    RE: Mark & one spouse in mortal sin

    I’m a convert to the faith. When I was going through RCIA, I discovered that I had to have my marriage convalidated before I could be baptized because my husband had been baptized Catholic as an infant on the insistence of his devout Italian Catholic grandmother. Now, after my husband was baptized, that was the end of his sacramental life – his mother and father divorced when he was a toddler, and his father had no faith so he was raised without religion and without celebrating communion, first confession or confirmation. My husband and I did get convalidated, so technically he’s received two sacraments now. But he has yet to have any desire to practice the faith.

    I, too, hope that graces from the sacrament of matrimony are available to me even though I am the only practicing Catholic in my home. I do my best to live a holy life so that I can be there when my husband starts asking questions, and recommend my husband to mother Mary in my daily rosary. I am given great consolation by the story of Fr. Augustine Mary of the Blessed Sacrament, O.C.D. and his mother (, and “The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur”. Most importantly, as Fr. Z mentioned, I trust in God’s mercy.

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