QUAERITUR: Priest in confession doesn’t ask for Act of Contrition

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.

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49 Responses to QUAERITUR: Priest in confession doesn’t ask for Act of Contrition

  1. asophist says:

    The traditional Act of Contrition is, word-for-word as Fr Z quoted it, the one I was taught and it is the one I always say. I was also taught to say, at the end of my recitation of sins, “For these – and for all my sins – I am most heartily sorry.” Don’t know if that’s standard, or not, but seems a good prelude to any further confessional proceedings, as it seems to cover any sins I might have forgotten to recite.

  2. TomB says:

    Asophist, I was advised recently not to include that since all my sins were already forgiven (I guess the implication is that I need no longer be sorry I committed sins that were forgiven) if I had been to confession in the past. In many years, nobody has ever said that to me before. I still say it anyhow. I dunno…I don’t see a problem.

  3. Tantum Ergo says:

    I love it! This is the formula I’ve used since childhood (I’m 62 now.)I also used to include that other part, at the point I finished listing mi sins: “For these and all the sins of my past life, I ask pardon of God, and of you, Father, penance and absolution.” That part had slipped from my memory, but after this “refresher course.” I think I’ll put it back into practice. Notice all that is contained in this little sentence!

  4. PghCath says:

    TomB- I was taught to end my confession with the words “For these and all the sins of my past life, I am truly sorry.”. To my mind, the focus is not on sins that have already been absolved in a prior confession, but any sins that I should confess in the present confession that I have innocently forgotten. While not required – and not an excuse for a through examination of conscience- these words allow me to leave the confessional feeling that I’ve acknowledged all my sins.

  5. pfreddys says:

    We were taught to say “O my God, I am very sorry….. The reason being is that people had unbelievably turned heartily into hardly {No joking around, this really happened}. Could be due to our Brooklyn accents?

  6. Tradster says:

    I also learned word-for-word as Fr. Z stated it, except for the last phrase: “and sin no more” instead of “and amend my life”.

    And yes, we always had the smart-alecks who substituted “hardly” for “heartily” and thought themselves so clever as if the pun had never occurred to anyone else on the planet. They would laugh until one of our St. Joe sisters collared them, back in the days when the good sisters were well-versed in corporal punishment.

  7. Gulielmus says:

    Some slight variations as taught to me by the Sisters of The Holy Cross in the late 50s-early 60s.

    The conclusion of the list of sins was to be, “I am sorry for these, and all the sins of my past life which I do not remember.” This was to exclude those sins previously confessed and forgiven, and frankly I have always found it a comfort to cover the bases that way. I certainly have forgotten to confess things at times, and upon remembering, it’s good to know I at least acknowledged that possibility– and of course, mentioned them in my next confession. As for the Act, we were taught–

    “O My God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I am firmly resolved, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”

    I don’t know why it’s simpler than Fr Z’s version, which I now prefer and use. Although I do like the vow to avoid the near occasion of sin in the version I was taught.

  8. Tradster says:

    I have been considering learning to say the Act of Contrition in Latin but have been restraining myself because I wouldn’t want to appear prideful to the priest. But I’m sure it would blow the poor man’s mind, especially if he’s not fond of trads.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    On a lighter side, is that Ralphie from The Christmas Story in the above Confessional?

    Gulielmus,

    I had Sisters of the Holy Cross at the same time you did and they were fantastic teachers. Same “Act” as well, as seen in the other blog on this subject.

  10. irishgirl says:

    I remember another variation of the last line: ‘And to avoid the near occasions of sin’.

    When I go to confession, I use the formula I’ve known from my childhood. There were a lot of times going to confession as a kid, I had trouble keeping track of the words over the priest’s voice as he gave absolution!

    ‘Hardly’ instead of ‘heartedly’ in a Brooklyn accent-that’s a classic! Too funny!

    Supertradmum-nah, that’s not ‘Ralphie’. His hair’s not slicked down enough! [grinning] Like his Hawaiian shirt, though…..

  11. irishgirl says:

    Oops…’used’ instead of ‘use’ in the above post. Sorry about that…should click the ‘Preview’ button before submitting….sigh….

  12. Sleepyhead says:

    This Act of Contrition is from the Compendium:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html#A%29%20COMMON%20PRAYERS

    O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.

    And the Latin:

    Actus contritionis

    Deus meus, ex toto corde pænitet me ómnium meórum peccatórum, éaque detéstor, quia peccándo, non solum pœnas a te iuste statútas proméritus sum, sed præsértim quia offéndi te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super ómnia diligáris. Ídeo fírmiter propóno, adiuvánte grátia tua, de cétero me non peccatúrum peccandíque occasiónes próximas fugitúrum. Amen.

  13. Jayna says:

    That’s the version I was taught to say (though I think in the one I was initially taught had “and I firmly resolve to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin” at the end).

    I’ve also been meaning to ask this as my priest has asked me all of once in three years to say it. And he is American, so I know there isn’t any cultural or translation issue there. Haven’t quite figured out why he doesn’t.

  14. Tradster says:

    Sleepyhead,
    Thank you for the link and the text in English and Latin. I still prefer “the loss of heaven and the pains of hell”. The Vatican wording strikes me as going through the pains of avoiding the mention of hell.

  15. pattif says:

    I had a friend who, when she was a child, used to say, “Oh, my God, I am partly sorry….” (she was from Philadelphia, not Brooklyn).

    On the substantial point, my PP (not in the US) always sends penitents out of the box to make their Act of Contrition – drives me nuts.

  16. Random Friar says:

    I have dispensed with the Act of Contrition a few times, mostly because the penitent was obviously contrite and sorry, and it would be hard for the penitent to say between sobs or is just too choked up. This is especially true for some who have been away from the Sacrament for a long time.

    In those cases, I say something along the lines of “Usually now, we say an Act of Contrition, where we express to God our sorrow for sins, but I can see how much you have repented, so now I will joyfully give full absolution…”

  17. Father G says:

    I have the traditional and contemporary versions of the Act of Contrition posted inside the confessional for people who sometimes forget the words.

    One time, I was hearing the confession of a boy who didn’t have the Act of Contrition memorized so after he confessed his sins I said to him that he had a choice between the traditional or contemporary version to read.

    He replied, “I’ll say the traditional. It’s cool!”

    So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The traditional Act of Contrition is cool!

  18. Fr Martin Fox says:

    When we have a communal penance service, we will usually say the act of contrition together, and therefore it need not be included at the usual place after an individual penitent is with one of the priests.

    I often do that with the schoolchildren, when the priests are hearing their confessions during the school day; I don’t like to do that, because I want them to be familiar with the normal form; however, it is often a necessity given the amount of time it takes to hear so many confessions.

    Otherwise, I always ask for it; and we have cards with the prayer on it; or else I simply lead the person, if s/he has difficulty remembering it.

  19. Here in Norway it is just not common for priests to ask the penitent to say an act of contrition. I remember being a bit nervous the first few times I went to confession here because I realised I didn’t know the act of contrition in Norwegian and made up an impromptu translation on the way to confession. There was a bit of an anticlimax as I waited for Father to ask for it and he instead launched into the absolution after finishing a fairly thorough advice and commentary.

  20. Elle says:

    @sleepyhead thats the Act Of Contrition I was taught, but we could add at the end “I’m especially sorry for (name the sin) example: talking back to my father. As an adult tho I don’t use it. I think we were more aware of sin back in the day:)

  21. Fr Jackson says:

    Just to answer the question about “is the confession valid if I haven’t said my act of contrition?” – the essential thing is the interior act, not the exteriorly spoken formula. Hence, while there are many reasons why one certainly should say it, it is nevertheless not essential to validity to do so. On one end of the spectrum you may find in German-speaking countries that the traditional faithful are not in the habit of saying it. On the other end of the spectrum, I know good priests who will wait until the penitent has said it before giving absolution.

  22. JosephMary says:

    Yes, I have encountered this too. It really bothered me when I first ran into it and I had to contact a priest I knew to see if it was a valid confession. These sorts of things DO upset a penitent! And so does the failure to use the proper words of absolution; these acts leave souls wondering if they are forgiven.

    That priest who did not ask for an act of contrition would give the same ‘penance’ every time: go and be a blessing to someone.

  23. pbewig says:

    I have always recited the version that includes my promise “to sin no more,” and it has always bothered me. It is unlikely that I will sin no more, so why should I promise to do something I cannot do? And when I sin, and therefore break my promise to God, am I doubly sinful? But I still say it.

  24. yatzer says:

    Not being raised Catholic (or anything), I didn’t memorize the Act of Contrition. I’ve tried, but can only remember it perfectly any time I am NOT in the confessional. Then it flees. Yeah, you can make something up, but I hate making things up like that knowing that it would probably come out “Sorry God.” That is true, but not sufficient to my mind. I’m thankful for all the priests around here who have it conveniently posted.

  25. Henry Edwards says:

    I often wonder whether in these threads we mainly hear the exceptions to the rule. In 50 years of reasonably regular confessions in lots and lots of places, I don’t consciously recall one where I was not asked to say an act of contrition. Most confessionals I see nowadays have an act of contrition posted (both English and Spanish) on the penitent’s side, because catechesis is so poor the priests cannot assume everyone will know how. How sad; if you don’t know how to say you’re sorry, what do you know?

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    I’ve tried, but can only remember it perfectly any time I am NOT in the confessional. Then it flees.

    I can readily understand this, yatzer, especially in the case of someone who did not learn it as a child and hasn’t been saying it for many years. And certainly my gratuitous “How sad” remark was not meant as a response to you or anyone else. Actually, I was thinking “how sad” it is that so many Catholic children are not taught anything nowadays.

    The other day one of our priests mentioned substituting one Sunday in an adjoining parish. Before and after each Mass there, he tried to say with the altar servers the usual prayers of preparation and thanksgiving in the sacristy. He was shocked that not a single server in that parish could complete the “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit . . . . .. Indeed, not a single one could even recall ever having heard the Gloria patri! He said he just didn’t know what to say to these poor kids. Where to start with young folks serving at the altar and having no clue about anything?

  27. Flambeaux says:

    I’ve only been asked by a priest to defer saying my Act of Contrition twice. Both times were during Lent when the priest knew he was short on time and the lines were long. And it was clearly instructed as a deferral, to be done later and he apologized.

    Other than those two instances I’ve always had a priest ask me to say my Act of Contrition.

  28. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’ve been asked to say my Act of Contrition when I say my penance a couple of times, and it was when the lines were long.

    yatzer,

    I’ve memorized it now, but when I was in a state of total panic for my First Confession (at age 47!) and for quite awhile thereafter, I had a little playing-card size ‘cheat sheet’ with a brief Examination of Conscience on one side and the formula for Confession and an Act of Contrition on the other.

    I printed it off the internet somewhere. Our parish also provides handy cards at the big Penance Services in Advent and Lent.

  29. Gwen says:

    The one time that the priest did not ask me to say the act of contrition, I asked him “can I say the act of contrition now?” Usually, it seems, when they are facing a long line and short time, they’ll save time by saying the absolution at the same time as I’m saying the act of contrition, rather than eliminating the latter.

  30. annieoakley says:

    sleepyhead,

    Your Act of Contrition was the one taught to me in 1957, the year I did my first Confession. Fr. Z’s version is in the old Baltimore Catechism but there must have been a decision at some point to replace “because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” with “because of thy just punishment”.

    That prayer is so beautiful – the modern version pales in comparison.

  31. annieoakley says:

    Guielmus,

    A slight variation of yours, which we were taught to say after confessing our sins, was “I am sorry for these and all the sins of my whole life which have offended God.” When I say those words, plus the traditional Act of Confession, it runs through my mind that I’m dating myself with the priest – the younger ones sometimes seem a bit startled.

    I don’t quite understand why priests are telling people to say the A of C outside of the Confessional to save time – we were taught to say it while the priest was absolving us (in Latin). Both the Absolution and the Act of Contrition take about the same time, so I don’t see where the savings is.

  32. Henry Edwards says:

    I believe most traditional priests begin to say the formula of absolution when you have said

    “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins”

    Presumably because at this point you have said enough to warrant absolution.

  33. Hieronymus Illinensis says:

    I have the same concern as pbewig, which is why I was glad to have been taught the “to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life” version. On the other hand, the “just punishments” version makes sense because there is no lack of just consequences worth dreading this side of the Last Things.

  34. Hieronymus Illinensis says:

    I have for the last long while made a point of articulating all three syllables of “hear-ti-ly.” Not only was there “hardly” but also “partly” to watch out for.

  35. Sam Urfer says:

    As a convert, I was never made to memorize the traditional act of contrition. If the confessional has a card with the prayer, I use that, but normally I just use an acceptable formula which is easier for me to remember: “Lord Jesus Christ son on the living God have mercy on me a sinner”.

  36. my kidz mom says:

    “…I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the
    Near Occasion Of Sin…”

    a/k/a the “NOOS” ! :)

  37. Mitchell NY says:

    Circa 1978 I was taught, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned”, LIST………..I know better now.

  38. I learned the “act of contrition” you posted, Fr. Z., as a “wee lad”…have said it most nights before I go to sleep; absolutely before receiving absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.
    I just add this insight: the old Germans around here (the elderly) say their act of Contrition while the priest is giving absolution; a remnant, I believe, of the traditional form of Confession.
    My pastor alerted me of this before I began hearing confessions…”Just let them whisper their act of contrition…give them absolution”.
    And, this, I have done for some seven years.
    Anyway.

  39. Jerry says:

    I prefer “the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” because it is a very clear reminder of the potential — and eternal — consequences. “just punishments” sounds more like you spend some time in the time-out before going on your way.

  40. Joshua08 says:

    Someone said above that a priest told him not to include a “for these and all the sins of my past life” because those sins were already forgiven.

    It can be helpful to know that past sins, even those previously confessed, are valid matter for confession. The old Baltimore Catechism even recommends confessing a previously confessed mortal sin when we have only venial sins to confess, as a way of stirring up contrition. Needless to say, one should avoid scrupolisity on this point, but it can be a good exercise. St. Thomas says we should continually remind ourselves of our past sins as a way of reminding ourselves of God’s mercy as well

    I know when I have a “confession of devotion” I usually say something like “For these and all my sins against [whatever virtue I am focusing on] especially the grave sin of [some mortal sin I previously had confessed] which I had done in my past life”. That also makes it clear that I acknowledge it is a previously forgiven sin. Fr. Bauer’s “Frequent Confession” also recommends this (as well as focusing on one’s primary fault when all they have to confess is venial sin, as it is easier to raise contrition in this way and by attacking our prime fault we undermine the others)

  41. Gulielmus says:

    Supertradmum– Interesting that those of us taught by the Sisters of The Holy Cross learned the same formulae. They were indeed fantastic teachers, and always stressed that we needed to know why Catholics did what they did– I remember being taught in 1st grade why we abstained from meat on Friday in a way that has never left me.

    Like most orders who abandoned their habits, they’ve declined in numbers since those days, but they still do fine work here in the Archdiocese of Washington, running a couple of very orthodox schools and a hospital.

  42. Previously forgiven sins are “free matter” and it is most efficacious and salutary to include them in one’s confession, even if devotional.
    Any priest worth his “salt”, whatever, should know this.
    And it’s not scrupulosity…inform your confessors, if they have a problem with this…a deepened sorry for past sins, already confessed and absolved, is a part of spiritual growth.
    Priests need to be reminded of this, sorry to say; nevertheless, in charity and kindness, please remind them.
    It will help you and them.
    Priests need help. Yeah?

  43. Rouxfus says:

    In the 1962 Roman Missal (Baronius) there is an excellent section titled “Devotions for Confession” which is helpful. It includes prayers for examining your conscience, an examination, prayers for working up a proper penitential attitude for the sins you have identified, prayers for a good confession, instructions for making the confession, and post confessional devotional prayers such as the Litany of the Saints and Ps. 69.

    In the instructions, it says to conclude your confession of sins with “For these and all other sins that may have escaped my memory, I am heartily sorry, humbly ask pardon og God and penance and absolution of you, Father.”

    After receiving instruction and penance, it instructs the penitent: “Whilst he absolves you, bow down your head and with profound humility say: ‘O my God, I am most heartily sorry for all my sins; and I detest them above all things, because they displease Thee, who art infinitely good and lovable, and I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to do penance for them, and never more to offend Thee.’ ”

    So, it seems that the official word from the Missal is not to wait for the priest to ask you for your Act of Contrition… Just Do It.

  44. Like I’ve said before, and Rouxfus has reiterated:
    Just do it!
    Say your Act of Contrition, even if the priest doesn’t ask you to (I always do, but that’s not the point, here)…while he is imparting Absolution; silently…the Sacrament is valid and confected by you presenting the sins you have to confess, your sorrow, purpose of amendment, your act of contrition, the words of Absolution, accepting a penance.
    Don’t get in a pinch about it; Jesus has made this ever so simple (Priests, please take heed!)…the Sacrament of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist have minimal requirements for validity (let’s not get in the discussion here, of other matters…)I know! I know!
    We’re in quite a mess, here. I apologize to all of you for our priests’ mediocrity, lack of knowledge, poor celebration of the Mass and other Sacraments.
    But, lay faithful, love the Lord Jesus, His Church, encourage your priests, write to your Bishops when there are egregious liturgical abuses, pray, do penance, say your Rosaries, and hold firm; God is ever greater; HE WILL CONQUER!
    Just hold on!

  45. Marysann says:

    I also learned the Act of Contrition that Father says, and I made my first confession in 1955. I am sure that priests can gage a penitent’s age by the Act of Contrition that he says. I believe that knowing the Act of Contrition by heart is very important, and all of the priests that I confess to expect that I will say it. I hope that this is not getting off the track, but I have a couple of short stories about this beautiful prayer. About ten years ago I went into my son’s room to see what he was doing, and he told me that he was learning the Act of Contrition ( he was in tenth or eleventh grade). I was shocked as I had assumed that he had learned it when he made his First Holy Communion years before. His Catholic high school religion teacher had discovered that most of this class did not know the Act of Contrition so he assigned to them. The value of having committed the Act of Contrition to memory was driven home to me when I was recently reading a letter sent by a soldier in WWII to the mother of a buddy of his who had been killed in battle. The young men had know that the battle was going to be a tough one so they both prepared by making good Acts of Contrition. The soldier who survived thought that telling the grieving mother this would be a comfort to her, and I am sure that it was. The family had this letter printed in their home town newspaper.

  46. lux_perpetua says:

    wow. here’s what we got in 1992:

    “O my God, i am heartily sorry for my sins. In choosing to do wrong, and in failing to do good, i have sinned against You and your Church. I firmly intend with the help of your Son, Jesus Christ, to do penance, to sin no more, and to love you and others as I should.”

    just… wow.

  47. annieoakley says:

    Mitchell NY,

    A slight variation of “Forgive me Father for I have sinned” which was taught to me is “Bless me Father for I have sinned”. I never understood why we said the word “Bless” until I read that blessings are a form of exorcism, so I assume we’re asking the priest to exorcise Satan from our souls.

  48. Bill Foley says:

    The following is from This Tremendous Lover by Fr. Eugene Boylan: “About confession there is one point that is important. Sorrow for our sins is an essential condition for a valid reception of the sacrament. This sorrow must extend to all mortal sins of which we have been guilty; if there are no mortal sins, we must be truly sorry for at least some of the venial sins confessed. Otherwise the sacrament is invalid. Now sorrow implies a sincere purpose and decision to avoid sin in the future, and it is important to make sure that we have such a purpose in regard to at least some of the venial sins confessed when there are no mortal sins. To make certain that there is proper matter for absolution it is always advisable to include some sins of the past for which we are certainly sorry and which we are determined to avoid in the future. Such a practice saves our confession from being invalid should it consist only of routine venial sins for which we have not such a sufficient resolution of amendment.”

    Bill Foley

  49. Tony from Oz says:

    Meanwhile, here in Australia, it is commonplace for the priest, once the penitent has confessed his sins and he has given relevant spiritual counsel, to say; “And now make an act of contrition” – while he proceeds to give absolution more or less simultaneously.

    I made my first Confession in 1963 and we were taught, at that time, the short Act of Contrition:

    “O my God, I am very sorry for having offended Thee, for Thou art so Good and with Thy grace I will not sin again”.

    We were also instructed to say this prayer at the very end of our preparation for confession, preceded by an examination of conscience and recitation of the Confiteor – but then also told that the priest would ask us to recite the Act of Contrition again after confessing our sins and that he would then give us absolution.

    I only was taught the longer Act of Contrition – of which there are many authorised translations – in Sixth Class (First Confession and FHC being in second Class) – but I tend to use this longer version before entering the confessional, and using the above short version during absolution. The longer version common in Australia is:

    “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and beg pardon for all my sins, because they deserve Thy dreadful punishments, because they have crucified my most loving Saviour Jesus Christ, but most of all because have they have offended Thine infinite goodness, and I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace never to offend Thee again and carefully to avoid the occasions of sin, Amen.”

    On a related thought, I have often wondered about the paucity of instruction given to children, or even adult catechumens, in preparation for the sacrament of Penance – as evidenced by the rapidity with which folk enter the confessional, seemingly without much preparation for same. I speak of situations where there is no queue, and where I have seen folk enter ‘the box’ almost immediately. I know that some may have made their preparation in advance, but…