Thanks for the question.
- What is your take on all of this mayhem?
What our take is, is not important; we just pass on what the Church teaches.
This is a common question; it's even on our FAQ page.
Under: Lust, sins of the flesh, concupiscence and similar issues related to illnesses
There you will find web postings:
- From our colleagues at Catholic Answers
- Illness related postings
- Eric's advice, and
- my suggested reading
Beside the advice we give there, let me make following comment.
One confessor told me that this sin is one of the most grievous in nature and that the penitent may never receive Holy Communion unless it has been confessed and absolved by a priest before receiving the Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord.
I would tend to agree. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the Holy Father has said is
a sure norm for the faith, states there are three conditions that are required for a sin to be a mortal sin. From the Catechism, under the gravity of mortal and venial sin:
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose:
- object is grave matter
- which is also committed with full knowledge, and
deliberate consent. (Reconciliatio et paenitentia 17 § 12 )
1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother. (Mark 10:19) The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.
1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart (cf. Mark 3:5-6; Luke 16:19-31) do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
1860 Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.
1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of Hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
and later goes on to say:
CCC 2352 ... "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, Persona humana 9) "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, Persona humana 9)
That said, there should be no question with any priest you run into that masturbation is a grave matter. The Church says it is.
The reason you may be getting different counsel among priests is due to the other two criteria. This sin must be committed:
- with full knowledge, and
No matter how good a Confessor is, he can't get into your conscience and can't possible be aware of the:
- biological make up
- problems, and
of each penitent has in his confessional. Based on his conversation with you, he has to discern proper spiritual guidance and counsel and there are cases where this sin can be diminished as stated earlier from the Catechism:
The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders.
When I was a young man, I knew that masturbation was a serious sin against God. Then throughout the last two or three decades I have been told to not beat myself up over such sins and to not worry vehemently over committing sin which has, at its core, a problem of:
- release, or
In my opinion, there are many penitents with very good intents, who want to be holy and try so hard to stay chaste yet fall short and get upset with themselves. We have to remember two things:
- Jesus was a man like us in all things but sin, so He understands our struggle, as does
His Church; He doesn't condone this sin but understands the struggles we have with it.
- All men and women will struggle with this sin until they are 6 feet under the ground : )
If you didn't struggle with this sin, I would question how human you were. As the Catechism also says under original sin:
405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence.
Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.
I want to understand why in the last 45 years we have no clear and dogmatic basis for how priests counsel sinners on this sin.
Counsel from any priest will never be dogmatic because it will vary from penitent to penitent based on their:
- physical and biological make-up
- what they knew or didn't know,
- and other issues.
In a world that is hostile to Christianity in all forms and is so sexually saturated, if you lapse into a sexual sin, just go to Confession. Though mortal sin is very hard to commit, you don't want to do dumb things like receiving the Blessed Sacrament when you aren't sure whether you are in a state of grace. Before ascending into Heaven, Jesus left the sacraments for us to use. A priest is there every Saturday afternoon.
The Confessional is a tribunal of mercy and healing, not of judgment. The point is not to accuse you or impose guilt; the point is to relieve guilt and apply the balm of mercy to sins so that they might be healed. A sin is like an injury, and the priest is like a doctor.
On striving to make a firm purpose of amendment:
Ask for the grace to make a better firm purpose of amendment while you are in the confessional
- then just do the best you can. Period. Case closed!
Remember, we are humans and only have a human nature; we don't have a divine nature like
Our Lord, though we do partake in His divine nature through the Eucharist.
You also may wish to seek out a spiritual director. This is a priest who knows you very well, is faithful to the Church's teachings, and has a little time to guide you spiritually.
I hope this helps,