From a reader:
My parish pastor forgets to ask me to say the Act of Contrition after I’ve finished my Confession. (I should note that he is from Cuba and that he does not speak English well at all, although he does read the Absolution in English and I can understand it.)
Should I add it in somewhere – at the beginning or at the end – or just say it to myself before I go into the Confessional? Has my Confession been valid if I haven’t said the Act of Contrition?
(I am a convert, and didn’t have any instruction on how to make a good Confession. I’m just trying to educate myself so I can receive all of God’s graces, since I really need them.)
Thank you for being so interested in receiving absolution properly and receiving the graces from the sacrament. Would that all priests were so diligent.
The main point of the Act of Contrition (which everyone should know – and I think the traditional version is best) is to give the priest confessor the assurance that you are sufficiently sorry for your sins and purpose of amendment so that he can give you absolution. If a priest is not sufficiently assured that the "penitent" is really penitent, he cannot absolve. So, the Act of Contrition expresses both a less perfect sorrow for sin (dread of the loss of heaven and the pains of hell) and a more perfect sorrow (because God is worthy of love) and also a purpose of amendment.
It is all packed into that excellent little formula which is so easy to memorize.
If the priest is sufficiently assured that you are sorry and have a firm purpose of amendment even without hearing you say the Act of Contrition, he can absolve.
However, the priest in this case perhaps is unaware of the expectations and customs of confessing penitents in the USA. He should be informed that it is expected that the priest invite the penitent to say the Act of Contrition, or at least start it, before he begins the form of absolution.
If you are concerned, you can always say your Act of Contrition after telling your sins even before you hear the priest’s counsel. Perhaps if enough people do that, he will get the hint. Otherwise, if you are doing your best to confess all your mortal sins, you are sorry for having committed them, and you are resolved not to commit them again, you are good to go!
Good to go after absolution and saying "Thank you!", of course!
"But Father! But Father!", I can hear some curious readers exclaiming. "You mention the Act of Contrition you prefer, but you only hint at what it is. Tell us! Which one do you use?"
This is what I say:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.