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Faith/Spirituality Forum: When can masturbation be a venial sin

by Catherine Frakas 06 Jun 2001

When can masturbation be a venial sin QUESTION from Kit_Kat July 31, 2001
My husband and I are in an invalid marriage and are practicing abstinence until we can have our marriage validated by the Church. We started practicing abstinence just over a month ago. I go to confession about twice a month and to Mass daily as well as spending time in prayer and with Scripture, missing very few days of having 30-60 minutes of private prayer.
My first question is which is more serious a sin - for either of us to masturbate or for us to have a 'slip' and break abstinence. So far I have been able to resist temptation to masturbate but we have had a slip. I went to confession the following morning.
I have done some reading and find contradictory information as to whether masturbation is a mortal sin or not and if I need to confess immediately before receiving Communion again.
Some articles mention 'mitigating circumstances'. For myself, it's not so much a matter of lustful thoughts but a sexual 'pressure' in my body that I want to relieve. I don't want to offend God but this sensation becomes quite uncomfortable and distracting. I try to ignore it and it passes only to return much more forcefully a day or so later.
Any help or guidance you can give would be much appreciated.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 31, 2001 Dear Kit-Kat:
Both masturbation and fornication are grave sins. If one commits them knowing they are grave sins, having freedom of will to choose right from wrong, and deliberately commits the act anyway, then that Grave sin is mortal.
This is not about which is worse. Both kill the soul.
I cannot know your personal situation, of course. The issue in question is are there mitigating circumstances that would lesson the culpability of the grave sin? It is not for me to say in your particular case; I don't know you.
I can say that mitigating circumstances are things like the development of a strong habit over time, addiction, gross immaturity, medical or psychological illness, serious anxiety, etc.
Here is the actual teaching from the Catechism:
2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. 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. 138 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. 139 To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that can lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability.
As I mentioned, there is NO WAY I can make a judgment about your situation. You need to talk to your confessor and give him the full details and background and he will be able to advise you specifically.
I think, however, that you should be applauded for your efforts to do the right thing - to try to live as brother and sister until your marriage issues can be worked out. PRAISE GOD!!!!!!. Your integrity will give you great graces. And when you do fall, the Sacrament of Confession is there to wash you clean.
I applaud your integrity and dedication to love God and do that right thing.
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