ASK FATHER: Venial sins forgiven during Mass?

From a reader…


Thank you for all of your efforts here, as it really brings strength to many of us during our sojourn.

A priest at our local university gave a homily a few days back wherein he spoke of the absolution given at the end of the penitential rite as being efficacious for the forgiveness of venial sins. I know that reception of the Eucharist will forgive venial sin, but I had never heard this before. Is this correct? Of course, the priest did say we needed sacramental confession for mortal sin.

Father is correct on both counts.  While mortal sins are forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance (and in Baptism and in emergencies through the Sacrament of Anointing), there are various ways by which we obtain forgiveness of venial sins.

To review, there are two kinds of actual sins which we commit: mortal and venial.

Mortal sins kill the life of grace, sanctifying grace, in the soul.  Mortal sins must be of serious matter, committed with knowledge of their serious nature and with consent of the will.  They deserve the eternal punish of separation of God which is Hell.

Venial sins are lesser offences against God and His laws.  They do not deprive the soul of sanctifying grace. If the matter is not grave or when one doesn’t fully grasp how serious it is, or if consent of will is lacking, the sin can be venial rather than mortal.  Venial sins can be forgiven through certain works and in moments of the Mass, etc.

Let’s be clear about something: venial sins are SINS.  They offend God, Mary and the saints and angels.  They endanger our souls because they can lead to worse sins or the deadening of our minds and hearts about the true nature of sin’s horror.  Moreover, as one goes more deeply into the spiritual life and successfully roots out serious faults, then the smaller sins take on more importance.  St Teresa of Avila says that the first great obstacle she had to overcome in advancement of her spiritual life was carelessness about sin.

An Act of Contrition, use of sacramentals such as Holy Water, recitation of the Rosary, reception of Communion, etc., are ways by which we obtain forgiveness of venial sins.

While we are obliged to confess all mortal sins in both kind and number, yes number, we can but are not strictly obliged to confess venial sins.  It is a good thing to confess venial sins, especially if you find in the course of ongoing examination of conscience that a pattern is developing in you which can more easily lead to the commission of mortal sins.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

CCC 1458 “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful”

During the older, traditional form of Holy Mass in the Roman Rite, there have been identified nine moments when forgiveness of venial sins is offered to one who participates with full, conscious and active, actual participation:

During the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, Father gives an absolution, which in truth has many intentions, including forgiveness of venial sins.

The priest says the Aufer a nobis as he ascends the altar steps: “Take away from us our iniquities, O Lord, we beseech You, that we may enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies. Through Christ our Lord.” and he says the Oramus te, Domine.  In the Canon Father prays the Nobis quoque peccatoribus famulis tuis.  At Communion time there are several prayers, including the Libera nos.  Just before Communion we say the Domine, non sum dignus.  After Communion the priest has ablution prayers which ask for forgiveness.  For example, “May Your Body, Lord, which I have eaten, and Your Blood which I have drunk, cleave to my very soul, and grant that no trace of sin be found in me, whom these pure and holy mysteries have renewed. You, Who live and reign, world without end. Amen.”

We can obtain forgiveness of venial sins in many ways.   Mortal sins must be confessed in both kind and number.

So, for everyone out there reading this who has not gone for a while, for whatever reason…

Examine your consciences and…


What happens when you make your sincere confession? What happens even if you sincerely can’t remember every thing?

WHAMO! All your sins will be forgiven, taken away, gone.  They aren’t simply overlooked, or covered over.  They are eradicated, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, never to be held against you when you come to your judgment.

Also, and this is important, there is no sin so horrible that we little mortals can commit that God will not forgive provide we ask for forgiveness.

Though your sins be red as scarlet, they will become as white as snow.

Dear readers, look at your life with honesty, and go to confession. That’s it. Then you will be able to go to Communion again just as if it were your First Holy Communion all over again.

If you are nervous, or don’t know quite what to do, just say that to the priest: “Father, it’s been awhile and I’m not quite sure how to start.  Could you give me a hand?”  Easy.

Remember that you, and not the priest, are your own prosecuting attorney.

To repeat, there is no sin that we little mortals can commit that is so bad that our almighty, loving God will not forgive, provided we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.

God’s mercy is magnificent and it is ours for the asking.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Glennonite says:

    Yes, thank you Father; I needed your clarifications on this. One more, please.

    —They are eradicated, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, never to be held against you when you come to your judgment.—

    I thought that we do yet need to suffer in Purgatory for the temporal punishments due to our sins; do I understand this incorrectly? It was your phrase, “never to be held against you” that caught me. Thanks again.

    [If a child, playing with his baseball and bat in the living room, breaks a lamp, his parents do not banish him to the outer darkness in perpetuity. He says he is sorry. He is forgiven. But his allowance is forfeit until the lamp is paid for. Forgiveness is one thing. Restitution in justice is another.]

  2. jdt2 says:

    Thank you, Father, for this post. As a layperson belonging to a Catholic parish where Confession and hell are never, ever discussed in sermons, it is incredibly helpful to receive clear messgages on what is required of us.

  3. amsjj1002 says:

    Thank you for this, Father.

  4. Mariana2 says:

    “They are eradicated, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, never to be held against you when you come to your judgment”


    “He says he is sorry. He is forgiven. But his allowance is forfeit until the lamp is paid for. Forgiveness is one thing. Restitution in justice is another.”

    Thanks and thanks, Father!

  5. cwillia1 says:

    It is not enough for our venial sins to be forgiven. It is not enough for temporal punishment to remitted or endured. We need to understand our venial sinfulness in all its detail and repent of it in the sense of a change in our mind and heart. Confession to a spiritual father is very helpful in making progress. At a certain point worrying over whether a sin is mortal or venial, voluntary or involuntary is a distraction. [Wrong. We should make regular examinations of conscience, considering carefully the gravity of the matter and of the circumstances, etc.]

  6. richiedel says:

    “We shall also do well to recall that, for a balanced spiritual and pastoral orientation in this regard, great importance must continue to be given to teaching the faithful also to make use of the sacrament of penance for venial sins alone, as is borne out by a centuries-old doctrinal tradition and practice.

    “Though the church knows and teaches that venial sins are forgiven in other ways too – for instance, by acts of sorrow, works of charity, prayer, penitential rites – she does not cease to remind everyone of the special usefulness of the sacramental moment for these sins too. The frequent use of the sacrament – to which some categories of the faithful are in fact held – strengthens the awareness that even minor sins offend God and harm the church, the body of Christ. Its celebration then becomes for the faithful ‘the occasion and the incentive to conform themselves more closely to Christ and to make themselves more docile to the voice of the Spirit.’ (Ordo Paenitentiae, 7b.) Above all it should be emphasized that the grace proper to the sacramental celebration has a great remedial power and helps to remove the very roots of sin.”

    – Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconcilatio et Paenitentia, 32

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