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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Mortal Sin & Masturbation


I found this on the internet:  “Mortal sin always requires three essential elements: grave matter, full knowledge, and full consent of the world.”


No, not exactly. You made an error in your research or at least made a typo at the end of the list. The three elements for mortal sin are as follows: (1) grave matter (the act itself must be seriously wrong); (2) full or sufficient knowledge (the person must be aware of what he or she is doing and the severity of the act); and (3) deliberate or willful consent (the person must freely will the act or plan to do it).

Beware that there is much on the internet than cannot be trusted.


I am still not clear about the sin of masturbation.  Is it always considered a mortal sin?


When we speak of certain things as mortal sins, we are usually addressing the first part of the definition of a mortal sin, grave matter. Most sexual sins, given the integrity of the human body, constitute grave matter or the “matter” for mortal sin. However, ignorance or a lack of consent can render such a sin as venial or as no sin at all. For instance, you cannot sin while you are sleeping and dreaming. There is a lack of full consent. Your faculties are hampered. Some people are delusional or have a very low intellectual capacity. If they do not know what they are doing then they cannot sin. I have known adults with the minds of infants. They might touch themselves for pleasure but there is no sin because they do not really understand what they are doing. The defect can also come in the consent or will. Coercion or force militates against mortal sin. Juveniles often go through a growth period of hormonal fluctuation. The passions and chemistry become difficult to control. Such teens, who try to be good but fail, are probably committing venial sin even though masturbation is grievous in matter. Other factors like depression, addiction, loneliness, stunted maturation, the erotic saturation of society, etc. can also make modesty and sexual control difficult. One has to discern in conscience if one has committed a mortal or venial sin in masturbation. If one knows that it is seriously wrong, freely does it and does not care what the Church says about it then the person has probably committed mortal sin. The sacraments help us and give actual grace in overcoming sin, especial habitual sin.

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