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Henrik Hagnell wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Why does the Church focus on sin as sin of commission?

I find this very bad! Sin is always a commission and an omission. It is first of all an omission, i.e. a saying No to something good.

  • Are Catholics stupid?
  • Can't they understand omission?

An alcoholic who knows that he needs to attend an AA meeting, but refuses to, would commit a sin of omission. He would then stay home and drink too much. The drinking too much would be the sin of commission. I thought you could understand that.

  • Do I have to teach you that there is such a thing as sin of omission?
  • Maybe Catholics just say commission?
  • What is that?
  • Is that even Catholic?

Please explain!


  { Why does the Church focus on sin as a sin of commission when She should also focus on omission? }

Eric replied:

Whoa, slow down.

  • What makes you think we don't teach sin by omission?

It's taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 1853, 2284, and 2326:

III. The Different kinds of Sins.
1853 Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission.

The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man. (Matthew 15:19-20) But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.

II. Respect for the Dignity of Persons; Respect for the souls of others: Scandal.
2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

In Brief for Article 5: The Fifth Commandment.
2326 Scandal is a grave offense when by deed or omission it deliberately leads others to sin gravely.

St. Thomas Aquinas also writes about it in:

In addition to other sources:

Sin may be defined as an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to God's law, which includes sins of commission as well as sins of omission. Whereas a sin of commission refers to something we do that we ought not to do, a sin of omission refers to us failing to do that which we ought.

Zia, M. J. (2013). The Faith Understood: An Introduction to Catholic Theology (p. 83). Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing.

Naming the Matter to Confess

The sinner prepares a short list to confess. Sin is defined using three criteria:

  1. Serious matter: we knew it was wrong (could be a thought or a deed)
  2. Freedom of choice: we were free to do otherwise but did it anyway. This option could have been omission or commission.
  3. Did the evil: we did what was wrong and it harmed self or others. This could be in the mind only, or it could also be sin of omission, not doing what we could and should have done.

Funk, M. M. (2013). Lectio Matters: Before the Burning Bush (pp. 202–203). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

What are sins?

Sins are deliberate thoughts, words, actions, or omissions that turn us away from God and His loving plan for us. Sins are harmful to us personally and they also injure our relationship with others.

Archdiocese of Kansas City. (2014). 50 Things Every Catholic Should Know: Preparing for Confirmation (p. 22). Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.

It is important to note that the intentional omission of an obligatory good act is sinful (e.g., missing Mass on Sunday without sufficient reason).

Burke, D., & Bartunek, J. (2012). Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God (p. 126). Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.

Actual sins are sins we commit during our lifetime. They are the times when we choose evil through our:

  • actions
  • thoughts
  • words, or
  • by not doing something we should have done (omission).

Actual sins wound our relationship with God and others, and wound or even destroy grace and charity in our souls. There are two kinds of actual sin:

  1. mortal and
  2. venial.

Pollice, L. R. (2013). Open Wide the Doors to Christ: Discovering Catholicism (p. 262). Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.

Actual sin, also known as personal sin, is any thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to God's eternal law.

Suprenant, L. J., Jr. (2013). In Pocket Catholic Dictionary (p. 3). Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.

Think of the number and greatness of your sins. From your early childhood, not a day has passed that you have not offended God either by:

  • thought
  • desire
  • word
  • deed, or
  • the omission of what you ought to have done.

You have wasted and misused grace, and have, perhaps, committed mortal sins. And yet God has borne with you, spared you and forgiven you!

Praise Him and love Him for what He has done for you.

Knecht, F. J. (1910). A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture (p. 554). London; St. Louis, MO: B. Herder.

Eric Ewanco

Henrik replied:


  • Would it be considered a sin of omission for an alcoholic to say No to an AA meeting that (he/she) is in need of?

Let's assume that the alcoholic is aware of the importance of AA.

  • Is this a good example of a sin of omission?


Eric replied:

Henrik —

That would depend on the person's reasons and motivations for not going to AA.

If you assume that they don't go because they know they have a problem and refuse to confront the problem, yes, I think that would qualify as a sin of omission.

Eric Ewanco

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