Receiving Sacraments in Mortal Sin – What Happens?

One of our Members of the New Saint Thomas Institute, Dr Ken Hare, (who appeared on this podcast with me) had an excellent question recently in the Forums of the New Saint Thomas Institute. This question came up on our studies regarding Holy Matrimony and obstacles to a valid marriage:

marriage rings

Tagging onto part of Helene’s question, with regard to the impediments of lack of openness to having children as well as lack of commitment to marital fidelity, what if one of those exists at the time of the original marriage, but thru conversion of heart ceases to exist at some point thereafter? Can an originally invalid marriage at that point become valid?

Answer:

A canonically invalid marriage can later become valid.

It’s like the example of confirmation from a previous lesson:

A 14 year old boy could validly receive the sacrament of Confirmation in a state of mortal sin. He would receive zero habitual grace upon reception of the sacrament because of the obstruction of mortal sin. However, if he were not making an explicit act of the will against receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, he would validly receive the sacrament (and the indelible character of Confirmation), but not the grace of the sacrament, nor the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

If he stayed away from Christ and the Church for 30 years from that day but then one day he made a good confession, suddenly at that moment of absolution, his soul would be FLOODED not just with the grace of justification, but with all the graces of Confirmation that had been held in reserve until that moment. This is why people sometimes experience such a spiritual experience when they make a confession after a long time. They are receiving sacramental graces accrued from the past!

There is also radical sanation of Matrimony whereby a bishop can validate a previously invalid marriage. The previously lost graces of Holy Matrimony are restored to the couple. Some people like to use the analogy of a “sacramental time machine” but I don’t like that analogy.

With regard to “artificial contraception so as to avoid the conception of children” this is an impediment to valid sacramental marriage. However, the openness to life later on would demonstrate a valid marriage. The previous graces would come to rest. The couple would not need to perform the marriage liturgy again in order to have a valid marriage since the original form stands. If, however, they were Catholics married outside the Church (lacking form) then they would have to perform the marriage liturgy to have  valid marriage.

Interestingly enough, the sacrament of confession is always a “reactivating” of sacramental baptism. Confession or reconciliation is a sacrament in its own right, but it is restorative of the state of baptism. This is why baptism must always be received prior to confession. Sacramental absolution removes all guilt and eternal punishment, but temporal punishment can remain – hence the need for penance and indulgences even for those who have been to confession.

As with the Confirmation example above, the same could be true of Holy Orders. A man could receive Holy Order in a state of mortal sin. He would be validly ordained and could confect the sacraments. He would say a valid Mass. But the habitual grace of Holy Orders to assist him in ministry would be lacking in his soul. He would be a valid priest but for the sake of his salvation, not well-equipped. When he made a good confession, his soul would be justified an in that moment it would receive the habitual grace of Holy Orders.

It goes without saying that receiving sacraments (especially the Eucharist) in a state of mortal sin (except baptism) is always sacrilegious.

Please leave a question below if it’s still not clear.

Godspeed,

Taylor Marshall, PhD

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