From what I have read, Catholics either are or are not in a state of grace. There's no grey area in between. Anyone living in an abject state of mortal sin according to the Church incurs a "judgment" by receiving communion unworthily. At the same time, they are still obligated to attend mass every Sunday (while abstaining from communion, of course).

Suppose one person dies in a state of mortal sin, having attended weekly mass and abstained from communion. A second person also dies in mortal sin. This second person hardly ever attended mass, and when they did, they profaned the Eucharist by receiving it unworthily. That said, neither one is in a state of grace, so is one better of than the other?

2 Answers 2


...is one better off than the other?

Yes, Catholics believe in "levels" both within Heaven and within Hell. Those in Heaven experience different "levels" of happiness and those in Hell experience different "levels" of suffering.

Thomas Aquinas responds to an objection which almost exactly parallels your question, and the Catholic Church has come to agree with his answer:

Objection 9. Further, just as some die in a state of grace and have some venial sins for which they deserve punishment, so some die in mortal sin and have some good for which they would deserve a reward. Now to those who die in grace with venial sins an abode is assigned where they are punished ere they receive their reward, which abode is purgatory. Therefore, on the other hand, there should be equally an abode for those who die in mortal sin together with some good works.

Reply to Objection 9. It is impossible for evil to be pure and without the admixture of good, just as the supreme good is without any admixture of evil. Consequently those who are to be conveyed to beatitude which is a supreme good must be cleansed of all evil. wherefore there must needs be a place where such persons are cleansed if they go hence without being perfectly clean. But those who will be thrust into hell will not be free from all good: and consequently the comparison fails, since those who are in hell can receive the reward of their goods, in so far as their past goods avail for the mitigation of their punishment.

(Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Question 69, Article 7, Reply to Objection 9)

The key sentence is, "...those who are in hell can receive the reward of their goods, in so far as their past goods avail for the mitigation of their punishment." The more good a damned soul has done, the more mitigated will be their punishment.

  • Sorry, can you provide a citation from an actual church document that teaches there are different levels of hell? I'm not aware of such a teaching though I know literature like Dante's inferno includes it.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 14:23
  • @LukeHill In order for the Magisterium to formally define something there would need to be an occasion for it to do so in the form of a denial. But I am not aware of Catholics ever denying "levels" of Hell, and therefore I do not believe the doctrine has been taught explicitly. The closest thing we have may be the doctrine of limbo, which is now considered a theological opinion.
    – zippy2006
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 0:48
  • But you asserted that the Catholic Church taught that, so are you just admitting you’re incorrect? Even if you cite limbo that’s not technically correct as it’s a different realm all together (one can leave limbo and go to heaven, one cannot leave hell and go to heaven). Some clarity on what you were trying to say would be nice.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 5:54
  • @LukeHill First, one cannot leave limbo and go to heaven (you are perhaps thinking of Purgatory). Second, not all Catholics beliefs are formally and dogmatically defined. In a technical sense, then, the "levels of Hell" idea is a Catholic theologoumenon, but in fact it is a widely held and uncontroversial theologoumenon. In fact I have never heard of any Catholic theologian contradicting such an idea.
    – zippy2006
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 23:44
  • is it not Catholic belief that Christ brought the patriarchs out of Limbo when he died and descended into hell?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 2:39

Question about mortal sin and the state of grace?

Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. - 1 Corinthians 11:27

To receive Communion in the state of mortal sin is a far worse sin a sacrilege. To receive Communion in a unworthy manner adds the gravity of the soul’s sinfulness, for one has consumed the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, soul and divinity in the state of serious sin.

To receive any sacrament of the church (except baptism and penance) in mortal sin is to commit a sacrilege, which, as the Baltimore Catechism points out, is “a great sin, because it is an abuse of a sacred thing.” However, receiving the Eucharist in an unworthily manner also brings about judgment, as explained in the Bible as well as contemplated by some of the great saints and fathers of the church.

“Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (I Cor. 11:27-30)

Saint Paul did not pull any punches when he warned of the dangers of receiving the Eucharist when you are in a state of grave sin. Saint Paul did not treat the reception of the Eucharist as a “right” or an “obligation because everyone else is doing it”. He did not treat the Eucharist as bread and wine. He did not treat the Eucharist as a “routine” and “something I have do to.” He treated it as Jesus. He treated it as the Real Presence of the Son of God and warned against mistreating it. When you receive the Eucharist in an unworthy manner you are mistreating the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Just because one does not believe in the transubstantiation does not make it untrue. One’s unbelief does not make the truth a lie. It only brings forth judgment and danger upon the unbeliever.

Canon Law 916 addresses this by stating that a person “conscious of grave sin” should not “receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession.” The Canon Law places an obligation on each individual to seriously take an examination of your conscious and your soul before receiving the Eucharist. Just because you are at Mass does not mean you must receive the Eucharist and just because you have always received it each week does not mean you have to receive it if you are in a state of grave sin.

As Catholics, we must get away from just going through the motions and making Jesus a routine. If the Eucharist is sacred enough for us to genuflect before a tabernacle, pray and kneel in its presence during Adoration and profess it as the source and summit of the Christian life then we must know and confess it is more than a routine. It is more than a right. It is more than an entitlement. It is Jesus Christ and it is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Son of God, of God Incarnate, which we receive. - The Grave Danger of Receiving the Eucharist Unworthily

To receive Communion in an unworthy manner is a more serious sin in the eyes of the Catholic Church.


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