Ask Mary: “How Far is Too Far?” The Church Has A Really Practical Answer!

Question:

If you passionately kiss someone and it means something to you (however you do not want it to go any further), is it still a sin? And can you still go for holy communion if you have done this? Meaning- Is it a mortal sin?

Answer:

Chastity is a difficult task, especially for the unmarried couple in any sort of serious relationship.  Boundaries need to be set, and the biggest question— asked again and again by good Christian men and women seeking to live out God’s plan for their lives— is where to draw the line.  Should we limit our kissing to X amount of time?  Should we kiss at all?  What’s an unmarried Christian couple to do?

I’ve heard chastity speaker after chastity speaker been asked the age-old “How far is too far?” question.  Most approach it in a similar way.  They’ll point out that, when it comes to sin, our question shouldn’t be, “how close can we possibly get to offending God before we absolutely have to go to confession?” This makes sense, and though it’s certainly a valid point to make, I think it can miss an opportunity to give some real practical advice.  Many approach the question by saying, “If your future spouse is on a date with someone else right now, what would you want that person to be doing with your bride/groom?”  This is a little more on the nose, but sadly, young people are well practiced in the art of settling and justifying, and we have trouble imagining that this example could apply even to kissing.

However, as it turns out, a pretty clear line seems to have been drawn already by the Church.

In speaking about unmarried persons in 1666, Pope Alexander VII condemned the statement that a kiss is “merely a venial sin when performed for the sake of the carnal and sensible delight which arises from the kiss, even if the danger of further consent and pollution is excluded.” (emphasis mine) (Taylor Marshall has an old post on this topic where he gives the source of this decree and the Latin)

There’s a great 20-minute homily on this exact question— in which the priest cites Pope Alexander VII and a few others— that you can listen to here.  I highly recommend listening to the whole thing, but here is a succinct and powerful quote from it:

“While speaking about the unmarried, Pope Alexander VII condemned the idea that it is only a venial sin for the unmarried to kiss for the sensual pleasure arising from the kiss, even if there is no danger of further consent and of going even further.  It’s condemned to say that it is only a venial sin for the unmarried to deliberately kiss for the pleasure of kissing.”

Unmarried persons simply don’t have the right to kiss for the sake of sensual pleasure.  And when you really think about it, that actually makes perfect sense.

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

I heard this homily and this decree from Pope Alexander VII a while back, and I have been hesitant to write about it.  This is just not the world in which we live.  How can young people not be expected to enjoy kissing for the sake of kissing—especially if it’s someone for whom they care deeply?  I’ve said this before, but this could be cited as one of those reasons why it is perhaps best to postpone dating until you’re at a place in life where marriage isn’t some unattainable goal in the distant future.  Dating should be for the purpose of marriage, and kisses should not be given out carelessly.

Does this mean that it’s a sin to enjoy a kiss with someone to whom you’re not married?  I wouldn’t say so.  It doesn’t necessitate a ban on kissing, and if the thought of kissing the person you’re dating doesn’t sound appealing, then you probably shouldn’t be dating that person in the first place :P

However, this does seem to imply that if your dates are leaving room for recreational kissing then you might not be in the best of shape.  Perhaps the best practice would be to reserve kissing for greetings and goodbyes.  Remember, this isn’t your spouse.  You have no right to sensual pleasure with them; it’s really as simple as that.

Let’s review the requirements for a sin to be grave and see how we stack up.  A grave (mortal) sin must meet the following three criteria (CCC 1857):

  1. The act itself must be grave matter
  2. You must know the act is a mortal sin
  3. You must freely consent to do it anyway

(1) Pope Alexander VII’s decree leaves no room that I can see for arguing that passionate kissing can be anything less than grave matter.

(2) I’m guessing before this post many of you probably did not know anything about this decree, which means that you did not know passionate kissing was a mortal sin, and therefore are not guilty of mortal sin. (But now that you know, if it happens in the future, you will need to go to confession before receiving Communion)

As with any of the Church’s teachings, you can choose to look at this as something which limits your freedom, or you can see it for what it really is: something that allows you to freely live the call to chastity, to fully possess your dignity, and to freely give yourself totally in love to your future spouse.

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