QUAERITUR: confessing sins in both number and kind

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.

See my 20 Tips for Making a Good Confession.

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54 Responses to QUAERITUR: confessing sins in both number and kind

  1. Fr. Kelly says:

    Thank you for this, Fr. Z.
    Besides the legal requirement, there is a very practical reason for this requirement.
    It helps the priest to determine just how tight a grip does this sin have on the soul of the penitent.

    For example — and this entirely hypothetical — if a penitent were to come in and say it was 2 months since his last confession, and that he missed Mass on Sunday, that tells the priest one thing. Here is a penitent who regularly attends Mass, but for some reason has missed once. On the other hand, if he says he has missed Mass on Sunday 8 times, that tells the priest something else. Here is a penitent who has fallen away and is returning to the practice of the Faith with this confession.

    Don’t be afraid to bring all your sins to God in the confessional — and leave them with Him when you leave the box!

  2. david andrew says:

    As a convert and a latecomer to the sacrament of penance, and having received truly clumsy and lackluster formation (in an RCIA program run by an exceedingly liberal priest, nun and lay people), it took me a considerable amount of time and courage to finally engage in the process of examining my conscience, entering into a confessional and giving voice to my sins.

    I’m always amazed and shocked when priests instruct a penitent to not follow the licit form for the sacrament, or worse, give nonsensical counsel, strange penitential exercises, omit the act of contrition or (to my mind worst of all, as it just happened to me yesterday) make up their own forumlary for absolution. In my case, after the priest pronounced his ad lib absolution, I asked him very politely if he would please pronounce the forumlary for absolution. After a long pause, he rattled it off and said nothing more, not even a “go in peace.”

    In your “20 Tips”, Father, you inform us that even priests must go to confession and that they know what they’re doing. But when we encounter priests who toy around with the form of the sacrament, can we be confident that they do indeed know what they’re doing, or that they understand that the welfare of immortal souls are at stake?

    I realize that most priests intend to do the right thing, but I simply don’t understand how they can have such a cavalier attitude regarding the sacraments.

  3. pfreddys says:

    I still remember 42 years later being told that after confession your soul is as pure as a newly baptised baby. To this day it makes me have a most wonderful feeling walking out of the confessional.

  4. david andrew says:

    Sorry, the word should be “formulary”, not “forumlary”.

  5. introibo says:

    My confession tends to consist of confessing the same sin done all the time…like yelling at the kids. So I really can’t say “I yelled x times.” I just say, “I do this every day” or “many times a day.” Mortal sins, or those sins that I thought were tending toward mortal, I would confess in number.

    I chuckle at the “tip” that says “don’t confess the sins of others.” Whah?

  6. Jaybirdnbham says:

    At the end of confession, my priest always says “your sins are forgiven, and they are forgotten. Go in peace.” That’s always very consoling, and a good reminder that God “forgives and forgets” perfectly.

  7. New Sister says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Father – pastor.
    I pester Heaven to understand and have contrition for my sins, for I often feel blocked from seeing them… just read the Screwtape Letters (what a great book!) on a plane ride, which really helped me see how many of our adversary’s “tricks” I fall for, thinking I’m “OK”

  8. TrueLiturgy says:

    But is the absolution INVALID if kind and number are not confessed? The absolution does include the word “all” in regards to all sins are absolved.

  9. Mike says:

    Most of us have heard this one: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was a member of the Religious of the Visitation Order in the mid-1600’s. She was a mystic dedicated to the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As a nun and a mystic it was very important for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to practice frequent confession. Her confessor helped guide her through understanding the important messages Our Lord was giving her the grace of receiving. At one point in time, her confessor did not believe that Our Lord was appearing to her. Her confessor demanded proof. “You tell the Lord that He should tell you what my last grievous sin was. If He tells you, then I will believe you.”

    When it was time for St. Margaret Mary to return to Confession, her confessor asked her, “Have you asked the Lord?” “Yes,” she answered. “The Lord said, ‘Tell your confessor, I don’t remember.’”

    from http://www.examiner.com

    What a great remedy for doubts about the power of this amazing sacrament.

  10. Re: confessing sins of others

    Oh, I’m sure that you hear this one from your kids. “Well, I’m sorry I did X and Y, but it was only because my brother was being so mean and hitting me!” Heck, Adam did it.

    Re: invalid

    I’m not a canon lawyer, but… As long as you’re not trying to conceal some sin or its extent by not telling kind and number, I don’t think it would normally be invalid. If the priest is ordering someone not to say, any bad stuff would be on his head, not the penitent’s.

    The Church understands that most people are easy to panic in the confessional, don’t have great memories, and are not all that precise by nature, and that taking exact notes on kind and number isn’t very prudent! That’s why canon law on most Confession stuff takes it pretty easy on penitents.

    In practice, “all” means “whatever you can come up with, in your freaked out state, and with Father possibly being a hindrance”. Obviously it’s better if you can prepare yourself well with an examination of conscience and enumerate your sins fairly precisely and quickly. Obviously it’s better if Father is a super-great confessor, full of theological and psychological wisdom and devoted to getting good Confessions out of folks. But neither of those things happens all the time, and the rules about Confession were designed by people who realized that.

    If we were perfect people living in a perfect world, probably Jesus would never have had to die for us.

  11. Dear TrueLiturgy,

    The answer to your question must be: maybe.

    The issue needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

    Generally, if a penitent does his best to remember the number and confesses to the best of his ability, he is safe: “three or four times,” or, “lots of times,” or, “a few times,” or, “habitually,” could be sufficient, given circumstances.

    Circumstances include the lapse of time since the last confession, the intensity of the penitent’s engagement in spiritual combat (sometimes, a person is rejoining the fight after a lengthy period of lethargy), power of memory, etc.

    A good confessor is able to help the penitent through the process.

    The point is that a penitent needs to make an honest effort.

    Best,
    C.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    What those beautiful stories of “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 5, 10, 20 years since my last confession…” Surely you cannot remember the number or frequency of sins over the span of 20 years, etc.?

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    Another latecomer to Confession here. Absolutely agree that it is a wonderful feeling to walk down the front steps light as a feather . . . . Episcopalians officially have auricular confession, but in 47 years I never saw it offered, never heard of it being done, and doubt any Piskie would have a clue how to proceed. What a blessing this Sacrament is!

    Suburbanbanshee, what you say is so true. Approaching the confessional is far tougher than a two-week jury trial (my gold standard of stress and confusion). I try to examine my conscience at bedtime, try to note my besetting sins, etc. but I am always on edge and usually forget something. After all, a trial judge can only find me in contempt and jug me for 24 hours, while the Just Judge, if I got my deserts, would say ‘get thee into Outer Darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.’

    But I do not write anything down (what is it they say, “Do right, and fear no man — don’t write, and fear no woman.”?) I always think of the little old lady who got to church for Confession, pulled a grocery list out of her purse, and exclaimed, “Oh, no! I left my sins in the A&P!”

  14. AJP says:

    So now I’m confused. I’ve been going to confession on a regular basis for 11 years. My frequency has ranged from once a week (I have tendencies towards scrupulosity) to once every two months, with about once a month being the average. I’ve confessed to priests in several states and in Rome, to Benedictines, Franciscans, Vincentians, Oratorians, Holy Cross, Opus Dei, Dominicans, and all manner of diocesean priests, to American priests, Italian priests, Irish, Polish, Spanish, and Indian priests. I’ve probably had 50 – 100 distinct confessors. Only a very few (perhaps 2 or 3) gave me the impression that they were not orthodox and did not take the Church’s teachings on confession seriously.

    But not once in all this confessional experience has a priest ever asked me to list the number of times that I committed some sin. Not once. My confessions are often of vices, bad attitudes, and tendencies like being impatient, holding a grudge, and looking down upon others. I can’t really quantify how many times over the past three weeks I’ve looked down upon others or been jealous of others, but I know I’ve done it, so I just confess it like that. No priest has ever indicated that this was problemmatic. Of course when I’ve committed some serious sin that took the form of a distinct act (like cursing at someone in anger during a fight) I can confess that in number, but fortunately that’s been the exception and not the rule.

    I sure hope this doesn’t mean 11 years of absolutions weren’t valid!

  15. Jack Hughes says:

    I’m so fortunate to have three good priests to confess to, one at my home parish and two at the FSSP parish I go to on Sundays

  16. New Sister says:

    A superb book that inspired me to practice Frequent Confession,

    *Frequent Confession: Its Place in the Spiritual Life – by Benedict Baur* (Scepter Publications, 1999)

    Available at Amazon (via Fr Z’s Amazon button, of course)

  17. momaburke says:

    I keep a tiny “sin notebook” in my purse, carefully zipped in a pocket so it can’t drop out. It keeps me honest, and recalling my sins before reconciliation is a snap. I’m not usually into symbolism, but I burn the piece of paper(s if it’s been a really rough month) after returning home from confession. The sins are gone. It’s very satisfying.

  18. the_ox says:

    This discussion prompts me to make some observations about how confession circumstances I have experienced over the years have created a confession-phobia for me. Particularly – fear of other people hearing my confession.

    To touch on a couple – I have two occasions when I went to confession before a Mass and the priest decides to preach a homily that is directly related to the discussion we had in the confessional. Goodness! While I know it is not a violation of the seal – how do you think that makes one feel about the privacy of confession! I have also had priests who recognize my voice and use my name when I am behind the privacy screen. If i wanted that I would have chosen the face to face. Just let me have my anonymity – OK? I have also had people open the confessional door on me because there was no functioning system of indicators that the confessional was occupied… I have a few others – I don’t know if these experiences are common. Maybe I have just had an extraordinarily bad luck in this area…

    I also find it puzzling why so often when I go to confession I find that in an otherwise empty church – people waiting for confession choose to sit in the pews right by the confessional. Also – why in churches where renovations are being made – so few choose to install an easy system of lights / signs or something else to indicate when a confessional is occupied. Along those lines – why not install some sound-proof doors rather than curtains? Or put on a recording of some chant as background ‘noise’.

  19. ghlad says:

    Quick question, like another has asked up above, I have not usually mentioned the number of occurrences of mortal sins in my past confessions. I am a cradle Catholic and was simply never told (during catechesis or by the priests hearing my confessions growing up) that the number should be included. So I don’t really feel too bad about that ignorance.

    But I have just recently started giving an indication of the frequency, but even then, sometimes I catch myself saying “several times” (an inexact number, even if sometimes I do know the number).

    This is making me feel like at my next confession I should confess at least a small amount of deliberate holding back.

  20. asperges says:

    Surely the onus here lies with the priest.

    It shouldn’t be for the penitent to verify the confessor’s knowledge of Canon Law and a confession made in good faith cannot necessitate the penitent to hunt around for some priest who might be more orthodox. It is unseemly to argue with the priest on questions of matter and form in Confesion and somehwat contrary to the spirit of humility.

    I once went to confession to a (very reliable) priest but I thought he made a hash of the formula of absolution: he certainly dropped the booklet/card and mumbled something which didn’t make sense. I didn’t feel it was my place to say “Get it right, please, Father,” or “Can we have that again?”

    The Vatican put out a strange guidance some time ago on Pius X priests saying the faithful should not go to confession to them, but if they did so and believed they were sacramentally absolved, then they were. Is there not a parallel case here?

  21. MikeM says:

    I had had a slew of poorly heard confessions lately… I honestly had stopped noticing that that wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. Then, two weeks ago I went to a new priest for confession and I went in with my conscience poorly examined (priests had never cared to hear my sins’ numbers in the past, so I stopped bothering to keep track) and he actually led me through piecing together how many times it had been… he was then able to give much better input into my spiritual battles.

    I’m definitely going to go to that priest more often now… even though that parish is kind of a drive from my house.

  22. Henry Edwards says:

    New Sister: “A superb book that inspired me to practice Frequent Confession,”

    Frequent Confession: Its Place in the Spiritual Life – by Benedict Baur (Scepter Publications, 1999)

    Agreed. Especially because a more fully descriptive title might be “How people can benefit greatly from frequent confession despite never having any serious sins they must confess.”

  23. Mike says:

    AJP–number and kind only applied to Mortal Sins…

  24. It’s also possible that a lot of priests don’t have to ask much about number. Tone of voice and other stuff sometimes makes it pretty obvious if you’re talking about something that happens a lot, or something that you’ve done only once. But of course, it’s better to tell them, so they don’t have to suss this stuff out.

    Oh, and I hear that sometimes people with that spiritual obsessive/compulsive problem, scruples, get told _not_ to be totally exact about kind and number. People with scruples should just do whatever the priest tells them and not worry about it, because otherwise they’ll just feed their condition.

  25. MLivingston says:

    We were told by a guest priest three weeks ago at an N.O. parish I attend that if we were in mortal sin and “intended” to go to confession, we should “not deny ourselves” communion. I was so horrified I wrote to the bishop, who responded that he had talked to the pastor, who agreed to correct the information in the church bulletin. It’s three weeks, now, and nothing has been said from the pulpit or in the church bulletin. Do these people not believe that hell is a possibility??

  26. Bosco says:

    The fellow should have started out his confession “Bless me Father for I have sinned. I lost my temper with a priest in confession 1 time.”

  27. lux_perpetua says:

    to the Ox,

    Stop and take a moment to praise god for the abundance of humility-building experiences He has given you.

    Being a totally blind person, Confession, if I do say so myself, is almost ALWAYS more awkward for me than the average person. i have accidentally tried to walk around the screen to Father’s side, have had someone scream across an otherwise completely silent Adoration chapel at me, and once tried to “pull” a “push” door which resulted in the confessional door jamming and I had to knock loudly from the inside to be released by the deacon. there is never any anonymity because once the priest hears the cane tap he knows exactly who it is [not that i mind, i prefer it that way]. Once I had someone show me where the confessional was and, upon exiting, realized he was still waiting for me and he greeted me with a “I was about to give up on you EVER coming out of there.” and you know, it just makes me laugh because God is so good and, wouldn’t you know it, pride is something i struggle with on a daily basis.

    on a more serious note: i have often wondered about how explicit i should be when describing sins of the flesh. i neither want to diminish the gravity of a sin, nor make Father uncomfortable. Sometimes it is easy to simply make a brief statement of number and kind, other times, not so easy to put in a cattegory. Advice?

  28. robtbrown says:

    It’s also possible that a lot of priests don’t have to ask much about number. Tone of voice and other stuff sometimes makes it pretty obvious if you’re talking about something that happens a lot, or something that you’ve done only once. But of course, it’s better to tell them, so they don’t have to suss this stuff out.

    The confession of the number of sins is not primarily for the priest’s benefit. Rather, it is, as Fr Z notes, the matter of the Sacrament. Man lives (and sins) with particular acts, and so so Confession should reference particular acts.

  29. Thomas S says:

    I avoided confession for 8 years entirely, and before that wasn’t very good about it. After that I made a couple so-so confessions (forgot sins due to panic). This past Lent I sacked up, examined my conscience thoroughly, wrote it down so I wouldn’t panic and forget a bunch of sins, and I went to confession. I didn’t conceal any sin, made what amounted to a General Confession, I let it all out, and I received absolution.

    Great relief!

    Now I’m worried though. I was very specific about kind, but not number. One, I couldn’t put a number on most of it because it was simply habitual over the course of a decade. Two, I don’t think I said even frequency. I told the priest I’d been away from the sacrament for 8 years or so and thought it was rather obviously implied that these weren’t one time sins, and by there nature the priest wouldn’t have thought they were anything but frequent.

    I go to confession now anytime I commit a mortal sin. I don’t specify number because it’s only the one time before I run to the Box. The venial stuff I think I sometimes qualify with “frequently” or “a couple times.”

    By the grace of God I am a thousand times better when it comes to my old ways, but do I have to go back to the confessional and start from square one because of my initial lack of listing number along with kind?

  30. It has often occurred to me that penance you’re given in confession is not so much for punishment, but to help you to love our Lord more.

  31. medievalist says:

    The bland formula in my daily missal probably saved my life: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been X since my last confession and I accuse myself of….for these and all my other sins and offenses I humbly ask pardon of God and penance and absolution of you, Father.”

    Since using this, I’ve found confession easier since concentrating on a form allows for a good examination of conscience and gives me something to practice so it isn’t so terrifying. Combined with the number/kind I’ve always had an excellent response, even from liberal priests, who comment on the grace of a good confession.

    Use the Church’s form! It’s there for a reason.

  32. Kathy C says:

    Are you supposed to say “I accuse myself”?

    As an adult convert I never had ANY preparation for confession. I’ve never had a priest offer to instruct or help me unless I asked.

  33. That stinks, Kathy C. The RCIA program at my parish devotes several classes to confession, as a sacrament and the proper procedure to follow. The pastor even does a simulated confession so the candidates can get a general sense of how it goes. So, you have my sympathies.

    I don’t know if you’re supposed to say, “I accuse myself,” but it is good to do so. I do. It is a beautiful expression of contrition and sorrow for sins, as well as taking responsibility for them.

  34. trespinos says:

    Though in the past I smiled at reports of folks writing their sins down and bringing the written list to the confessional, it is now increasingly apparent to me that age-related loss of short-term memory (please God, not incipient Alzheimer’s) is making it increasingly difficult to recall particular acts. A day or a week past, they can be totally forgotten if not set down on a cheat sheet. So, I completely empathize with AAM’s “little old lady”.

  35. AnAmericanMother says:

    Kathy C,

    I learned a similar formula to that cited by medievalist, with a few minor variations:

    “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been X weeks/months since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following sins: . . . . . For these and all my sins, especially ___ and my forgotten sins, I humbly ask pardon from God and penance and absolution from you, my spiritual Father.”

    Our parish hands out ‘confession cards’ at RCIA and also at the Penance Services in Advent and Lent. There’s an examination of conscience on one side, and two formulas on the other along with two acts of contrition – one each for adults and one each for kids. The one I use I picked up in a book somewhere, it’s a little more formal.

    I know the person in charge of RCIA and she’s very orthodox. I’m only personally familiar with the children’s confirmation class — but it is very orthodox and VERY thorough. Our new archbishop decided to do a viva voce examination of the kids individually, live, on mike during the confirmation service . . . . I thought the Parochial Vicar in charge of the program and the Sunday School director who assisted him were going to have kittens . . . . but all the kids acquitted themselves very honorably.

  36. AnAmericanMother says:

    trespinos,

    Problem is, I’m enough like that little old lady (I’ve always been rather absent-minded, and advancing age isn’t doing me any favors either) that I would leave my sins in the Publix (which bought out A&P) and somebody would find them and read them and I would die of shame. . . . .

  37. Tradster says:

    I’ve had priests who would preach about confession, and rail against going in with “grocery lists” of sins and occurrences. They admonish us to pick a couple of more serious ones, mention them, and finish. Making it clear that they are just interested in rushing everyone through the ritual. Which is more than a little ironic considering how short the lines are nowadays.

  38. shane says:

    Tradster, those priests are correct to advise against sin lists. They may be useful for people who haven’t confessed for a long time and want to make a general confession, but for regular pentinents they are usually a sign of scrupulosity and can seriously aggravate their compulsion

  39. MLivingston: . I was so horrified I wrote to the bishop, who responded that he had talked to the pastor, who agreed to correct the information in the church bulletin.

    Good for you. Follow up with the bishop.

  40. Someone once asked me a question that went something like this:

    “Do you have to re-confess your sins if you forgot to confess the number of times you committed them?”

    I didn’t know the answer.

  41. Emilio III says:

    Where do the seven deadly sins (anger, lust, gluttony, avarice, envy, sloth and pride) fit in confession? If you can’t confess anger, is it a sin at all?

  42. Supertradmum says:

    I approached a priest in my parents’ diocese when visiting and asked when Confessions were held. He stated, “I don’t do Confessions.” He gave the time at another parish. Is this legal for a priest? Would there be any reason why a diocesan priest would not hear, or be able to hear Confessions?

    Emilio,

    The seven deadly sins can be broken down in a good examination of conscience. I recommend http://fatherdylanjames.blogspot.com/2009/03/examination-of-conscience-based-on-7.html

  43. rpg123 says:

    Supertrad mum,

    Perhaps it could be a question of irregularity, for some reason or another, he may not have faculties? In which case the confession would be invalid (unless it was an emergency, for example, if someone is in danger of death), which is similar to SSPX priests (and no, I’m not going to get into the argument of the Church supplying facutlies with the SSPX, etc, etc, etc).

  44. rpg123 says:

    woops faculties

  45. Dear Thomas S,

    I am not a priest, though, with regard to your question whether you need to repeat your general confession, I can say with moral certitude that, given the circumstances you have described, the answer is: no, you do not need to repeat your general confession.

    Continue to avail yourself of the sacrament.

    Do not be discouraged, EVER!

    God loves us, and He wants us to be happy.

    Confession is one of the great means He has given us for the achievement of the happiness for which He made us.

    Dear AJP,

    The best bet is not to confess “tendencies” or “struggles” or such-like (Fr. Zuhlsdorf addresses this in his 20 Tips for Making a Good Confession).

    You might say, “I have been impatient with people on occasion,” or, “I have been forgetful of prayer and often distracted,” or something to that effect – and only after accusing your mortal sins directly, to the best of your ability, in kind and number.

    Best,
    C.

  46. bookworm says:

    I have always been told that if confessing an habitual sin (mortal or venial) that you can’t remember an exact number of times for, it is acceptable to say how frequently and for how long, e.g. “about two or three times a week for the last 6 months.”

    Also, sometimes instead of trying to do the math in my head for how long it has been since my last confession, I find it easier to simply say when my last confession was — “a week before Christmas” or “on July 15,” etc.

    I also think it would be a good idea for churches to have some kind of recorded music or “white noise” going outside the confessional in order to minimize the possibility of overhearing someone else’s confession. Some penitents just don’t realize how loudly they are speaking and it can be a struggle trying not to hear them!

  47. AnAmericanMother says:

    It’s always an issue how close to sit to the confessional.

    On the one hand, you certainly don’t want to overhear, or even to be in a position where it looks like you might overhear.

    On the other hand, in our church if you get too far away from the transept where the confessional box is located, you can’t see when somebody leaves. Also, you lose your place in line!

    The white noise idea is a great one, or just a nice Gregorian chant CD on endless loop. A better use of modern technology than this, certainly.

  48. AJP says:

    A large box fan outside the confessional also works pretty well for muting the sounds of others’ confessions.

  49. Re: particularities — God gave us particular directions and lengths also, but the likelihood I’ll ever give you the direction “Turn north and drive for 1200 yards” is practically nil. You’d be lucky if I didn’t tell you to “Turn right at the house with the Japanese maple — oh, wait, I don’t think you can see that from a car.”

    I don’t have any idea in the evening what I ate for breakfast in the morning, unless I concentrate very hard. Similarly, unless some sin is one that sears itself into my memory for all time, I can remember particular events only vaguely or not at all. I’m also forgetful of objects, and leave things behind all the time (so I took Dorothy L. Sayers’ warning about not making sin lists very seriously). But I’m very nitpicky, and I’ve already had one brief bout of scruples in my life. This is not a happy combination!

    “Frequently”, “all the time”, “lots”, “sometimes”, “a few times”, and “once” are about as exact as it gets, and I’ve never had a priest complain.* I’m usually a lot more stressed about trying to remember when my last Confession was, because I’m very vague about dates and never write that sort of thing down. This is why we should have more liturgical seasons, because I can remember that.

    *I have had priests tell me something was not a sin and that I shouldn’t come so often (from good confessors, and around about the time I was having the nasty little bit of scruples).

    Of course, the more exact you can be, the better. But there are a lot of us for whom exactitude (in certain parts of life) is nothing but a nice vocabulary word. No doubt things get even more interesting for Catholics who are no longer able to form long term memories… but there are probably priests who can deal with that.

  50. Geoffrey says:

    …the possibility of overhearing someone else’s confession…”

    Or an elderly priest who is hard of hearing and repeats what you say rather loudly!

  51. robtbrown says:

    Re: particularities—God gave us particular directions and lengths also, but the likelihood I’ll ever give you the direction “Turn north and drive for 1200 yards” is practically nil. You’d be lucky if I didn’t tell you to “Turn right at the house with the Japanese maple—oh, wait, I don’t think you can see that from a car.”

    You seem to be limiting particulars to accidents–when, where, etc.

    NB: I referred to particular acts, not particulars of those particular acts.

  52. robtbrown says:

    The above was a response to Suburbanshee.

  53. Jack Hughes says:

    as I’m going to confession tommorow I’d like some advice; earlier this week I accidently fell asleep whilst at Mass; it was a case of physically note being able to keep my eyes open and not a case of being bored at Mass (how could one be Bored at calvary?) is this a sin I need to confess?

  54. LawrenceK says:

    Servusimmaculata wrote:

    Someone once asked me a question that went something like this: “Do you have to re-confess your sins if you forgot to confess the number of times you committed them?” I didn’t know the answer.

    Certainly not. If you honestly forgot to state the number, you made a good confession. In fact, if you honestly forgot to state a grave sin entirely, it’s still a good confession.

    On the other hand, if you were to deliberately omit a sin even though you know it’s a grave sin, that would probably invalidate your entire confession.

    The issue is whether you attempt to comply with the rules. God judges us based on our contrition — not on the precision of our memories!