From an older response.
A reader asked:
I’ve often heard priests say that when going to confession it’s important to confess sin both in kind and number. I recently went to confession though to a priest who told me at the beginning of the confession that he’s "not the kind of priest who wants to hear the number or frequency" and just to confess the sin. I didn’t know what to do. This seemed contrary to what the Church teaches and what I’ve been told in the past. Is it official teaching of the Church to confess sin both in kind and number, and if so, where can I find some references to this? How can a priest understand the gravity of the sin if he doesn’t know the frequency?
You are absolutely correct in your understanding that mortal sins are to be confessed, to the best of one’s ability, in both kind and number. This is very important and it is the ordinary way in which we are to make every auricular confession.
Emergencies can be different, but even after the emergency is over, we are still obliged to make a full confession in both kind and number.
In the 1983 Code of Canon Law we read:
Canon 988 – §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, for which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.
§2. It is to be recommended to the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed.
The Council of Trent stated pretty clearly that
"To obtain the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, according to the plan of our merciful God, the faithful must confess to a priest each and every grave sin that they remember after a diligent examination of conscience" (cf. sess. XIV de poenitentia cc. 7-8: COD 712).
Remember that each sacrament has both matter and form. The matter of the sacrament of penance is the telling of sins. While we are not obliged to include all sorts of circumstantial information surrounding the sins, we do need to indicate number and/or frequency, by number can change the severity of the sin and indicate to the confessor (and yourself) where your principle problems are.
Sometimes it will happen that your memory is not clear about the number of times you committed a sin. Just do your best, in that case. Even when your memory is faulty, if you do your best the sins you don’t remember or confess (through no fault of your own) are also indirectly remitted.
So, this priest was ABSOLUTELY WRONG to suggest that you do not need to confess sins also in number/frequency. As a matter of fact, he suggested that you violate the Church’s law in this matter. Confession is a matter of spiritual life or death.
You don’t mess around with confession.
Finally, there is nothing so bad that we can do that God cannot forgive. So, confess EVERYTHING!
Let’s mix a few analogies, to get at what a magnificent gift this sacrament is.
The confessional is not the rack. The confessional is a tribunal in which you are at the same time the prosecutor and the accused. The priest acts, in the person of Christ, as judge who exercises God’s loving mercy.
The confessional is an operating table on which our Savior, with your cooperation, acts as the Physician of your soul and heals your ills. Sometimes that process of healing will have its painful moments. But the relief at the end is worth any measure of discomfort.
Both these images, though on the surface seemingly stern or intimidating, lead through on the other side to blessed blessed relief.
There is nothing so fine as making a good confession, for it leads to the good reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace.
If you know you are not in the state of grace, don’t receive Holy Communion until you have made your good confession of all you sins in both number and kind.
You need to be in the habit of making a thorough examination of your conscience to be able to do this well.