QUAERITUR: If I forget to confess a mortal sin, am I still forgiven?

From a reader:

If i forget to confess a mortal/grave sin in the confessional, when i fully intended to confess it before i walked in, is it still absolved?

If you truly forget to confess something, but otherwise make a good confession, then everything is forgiven.  However, you ought to confess what you forget and then later remembered at an early opportunity.

Be diligent your your examination of conscience.

Always do your best.  That’s all we can do.

QUAERITUR: If I forget to confess a mortal sin, am I still forgiven?
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38 Responses to QUAERITUR: If I forget to confess a mortal sin, am I still forgiven?

  1. Dirichlet says:

    In the beginning of his Confessions, St. Augustine tells us about how he couldn’t remember many of the the sins he committed during his youth. That didn’t prevent him from becoming a saint. He repented, took his cross and followed the Lord.

  2. Maltese says:

    Since Augustine was a Manichaien in his youth and early adulthood (living with a woman not his wife during much of that time) his baptism wiped all of his sins. Though, like Father Z said, it’s always good to re-mention certain serious sin to your confessor if you’ve forgotten them the last time you went to confession, they are forgiven nonetheless.

    I wasn’t even baptised until in my mid twenties (good thing I didn’t die in the many car mishaps I had before then!) But every sin I had ever committed to that point was absolved. However, that isn’t to say that I won’t have to pay for them in Purgatory! Speaking of which, if you haven’t read it already, Hungry Souls is an astonishingly good read on Purgatory; well-researched, well-written, and very sobering…

  3. pledbet424 says:

    I was in a very “progressive” parish until age 14…I didn’t know what a mortal sin was. Confession at this parish was a “community penance service”. I don’t believe they offered private confessions. My family left this parish, and joined a Schismatic Trad parish, where the confessions are invalid due to lack of any jurisdiction (I wasn’t aware of this). Finally, at age 37, I found my way back to the Catholic Church. My last confession would have been 7 years prior, but all my confessions were invalid anyway…what a mess. I guess a general confession would be in order, but with my life, that would take hours. I have never deliberately left out a mortal sin from any confession, but most of my confessions were invalid anyway.

  4. Peggy R says:

    I have followed the when-in-doubt confess it. I had two very important confessions to make this summer. And, they saved my soul. The good news is if one honestly (or even deliberately) forgot or excluded a sin, one can always go to confession again–sooner rather than later is wise. This is not a one-time only offer from God!

  5. gkeuter says:

    This is why I use the iPhone app Confession. There is another called Mea Culpa. They assist with my examination of conscience but also give me a list to refer to when in the confessional. I always ask the confessor before we start if he minds that I use it (if it is not my regular confessor, he likes the idea of the app) and I have never been told no.

    I understand not everyone has an iPhone but I thought I would put it our there.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    I get fearful about what grave sins I may have committed in the past before my reversion to the Catholic Faith, and not remembered to confess. And at this point several years later, I don’t remember all of which sins I already confessed, so when I remember an old sin now I sometimes cannot remember if I have already been absolved of it. I do know that the way I confessed in the past was not very adequate, and for instance rarely mentioned the number of times I committed a sin. I never have tried to make a general confession of all my past sins, though every time I confess I confess everything I am able to remember and add “and I am sorry for all the other sins which I have forgotten” or “all my past sins”. Is this adequate for the blood of Christ to wash away even the sins which I might have confessed inadequately or forgotten? I want so much to be and feel truly separated from my sins, which I detest.

  7. APX says:

    This is the reason I take in the laundry list. I’m the type of person whose mind goes blank very easily. It also helps to keep me on track and prevents long-winded rambling.

  8. Laura R. says:

    Like gkeuter and APX, I recommend taking in some sort of reminder/list, be it high- or low-tech. Also, making such a list helps to organize and clarify one’s thoughts beforehand, perhaps leading to a better examination of conscience, IMHO.

  9. SonofMonica says:

    One thing that always helps me into the confessional: going out of town. Next time you’re out of town for the weekend, use that chance to go to confession. Helps you get over things you’ve not been wanting to confess at your own parish. Also helps being in a new place–you feel like you’re getting a new start. I went this weekend, and I feel so, so, SO much better.

    P.S. Thanks for the tip on the confession app. I just downloaded it, and it’s great.

  10. sallyr says:

    This is an interesting question, but I don’t quite understand the answer.

    If the mortal sin is truly forgiven, why should one confess it at the next opportunity? So that one can be certain to have done penance particularly for that sin? Or because it’s not certain that you truly “forgot” it?

    I ask because I sometimes can’t remember whether I confessed a particular sin or not. If I felt I had to confess it again the next time, I might spend quite a lot of time trying to remember whether or not I confessed something, rather than simply doing an examination of conscience of what occurred since my last confession.

  11. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Are people here saying they confess venial sins so they can wait for later (out of town, etc.)? I only confess mortal sins (fortunately there is usually only one or two). I’m not a very good person though so maybe that is the difference.

  12. Seamas O Dalaigh says:

    Sallyr,

    To forget is human. To later remember and not mention it at your next confession would be deliberately to conceal a mortal sin.

  13. Banjopickinggirl asked ‘Are people here saying they confess venial sins so they can wait for later (out of town, etc.)? ‘

    If you mean by that that people are saying they go to confession and confess only venial sins at their home parish deliberately concealing mortal sins of which they are fully aware until a later date, then I must say that I haven’t read anyone’s comments in this thread to indicate that they do that. And I hope nobody does. It would be the height of folly and much worse than a pointless exercise. One would not receive absolution for any sins and would in fact only succeed in offending God further and adding the mortal sin of sacrilege to the number of sins one has in the first place.

    At least this is true of unforgiven and unconfessed mortal sins. Whether it is true of mortal sins that were genuinely forgotten at a previous confession and thus are forgiven but still require to be confessed, I cannot say that I am absolutely and entirely certain. However, I would definitely imagine that the duty to confess them applies to the first confession after one has become aware that one has definitely forgotten to confess it, and it would indeed also seem to be the case from Father’s answer (which also states that one should not leave it for a long time after becoming thus aware).

    I believe the comment with regard to going out of town was a recommendation for how confession may be made a little easier for those who really struggle (or for the times when we struggle) to ‘face’ their local priest with a particular sin (without any implication that they should carry on going to him for sacramental confession and withhold the embarrassing mortal sins in the meantime). Of course, I do not think that a person in mortal sin should tarry for a needless length of time in that condition but repair to confession at the earliest possible convenience. In fact, I should say at the earliest possible reasonable opportunity even at one’s inconvenience. Still, people are people and we do not always do what is truly best for us, and when the shame of a particular sin becomes unbearable in the local setting, waiting till one has an opportunity of confessing in a more anonymous setting is obviously better than committing sacrilege at one’s home parish. (Btw, I do necessarily think that the poster of said suggestion necessarily meant that one should hang about in mortal sin for any length of time. For one thing, there are a number of things that a person could feel awkward about confessing that are not mortal.)

    If, otoh, banjopickinggirl, your question was whether people are in the habit of going to confession when they have only venial sins on their soul and having only venial sins on their conscience can confess at their leisure so to speak, then it is indeed true that many people go to confession when they have ‘only’ venial sins on their conscience. It is a good and wholesome practice, which also helps prevent the commission of mortal sins through the grace of the sacrament. It can be a great aid in growing in grace. The person with an embarrassing venial sin on their conscience is obviously in an entirely different position to wait until later to confess than a person in mortal sin, even if it might be a better aid to growth to stick to a regular pattern. Reasonably frequent confessions also for those not in mortal sin is, to my knowledge, somewhat of a standard recommendation for growth in the spiritual life.

  14. Reading your post again, Banjopickinggirl, it seems that you definitely must have intended the latter reading of the question. :-)

    I don’t think it does any good to speculate too much as to whether one is better or worse than one’s neighbour. One deals with one’s own conscience. It is the only conscience into which most people have reasonable insight. Frequent confessions are good and an aid to growth if approached sincerely and healthily. Sacramental confession of venial sins is generally of great benefit.

  15. SonofMonica says:

    Sorry for the confusion. See, I’m a sinner and I don’t always want to go to confession. Because I’m human, some things are embarrassing to confess. So I struggle with doing it. I rationalize what I did. I tell myself it wasn’t mortal. There were extenuating circumstances. It wasn’t really on purpose. I didn’t hurt anyone. I don’t normally commit this sin… so on and so on. Because I’m a sinner, I sometimes don’t go to confession, and I go to communion because I’ve rationalized myself into thinking/believing/pretending I’m not in mortal sin. And I go to communion because I’m too embarrassed not to.

    So to be clear, I wasn’t recommending wallowing in mortal sin and waiting until you go out of town to go to confession. I was recommending that anyone else who struggles with this particular problem the way that I do take the opportunity to go to confession when you happen to be out of town. Certainly it would be better to go before, but if you’re a sinner like me, sometimes you rationalize away the sin. The anonymity and new setting, different priest, away from home parish, can sometimes help you to go and help you to realize the need to get it off your chest and to be more forthcoming and thoughtful in your confession.

  16. sallyr says:

    Seamus says –
    To forget is human. To later remember and not mention it at your next confession would be deliberately to conceal a mortal sin.

    I respond (quite sincerely – I’m not trying to be quarrelsome) – If the sin is truly forgiven, then I am not in a state of mortal sin. God has forgiven me for this sin because I made a good confession and was truly sorry for all of my sins.

    Why is it a good thing to confess a sin that has already been forgiven? Is it actually necessary (as opposed to just commendable) to confess this remembered sin? If I remember it and don’t confess it, am I now in a state of mortal sin?

    Is there some purpose other than being forgiven that is served by mentioning a sin that has already been forgiven? Is it just important to say out loud what the sin was? I could see that this might be the case if one had a regular confessor who was helping you through a pattern of sin. But if one doesn’t even know the priest to whom one is confessing, I honestly don’t see what purpose is served by confessing a sin that’s already been forgiven.

  17. SonofMonica, certainly we human beings don’t tend to act completely rationally and for our own good all the time, and we have much need of a patient and merciful God. Having access to completely anonymous confession can often be a great help when there is reticence due to the shame involved and a great aid to avoid self-deception in a lot of situations. I think most people encounter these dangers at some point or another and I’m sure that not a few of us have experienced falling into such traps.

  18. Seamas O Dalaigh says:

    Sallyr,

    Canon law imposes on us a duty to confess our mortal sins. There is no “unless-it’s-already-been-forgiven- at-a-previous-confession-where-you-forgot-to-menttion-it” clause. It’s simple: just tell the priest that at your last confession you forgot to mention such-and-such.

    James Daly

  19. Seamas O Dalaigh says:

    Sallyr,

    There’s also the matter of penance. At the previous confession where you forgot to mention something you should’ve, you weren’t assigned a penance for that sin. We need to do penance.

  20. albizzi says:

    Maltese, you should not worry too much about Purgatory if you try frequently to earn plenary indulgences.
    The one I prefer is to pray the Rosary before the Tabernacle in adoration for at least half an hour.
    If you die in the very next moment after leaving the church, you go straight to Heavens.
    Very easy, don’t you think so? I strive to earn one every friday.
    I am more worried regarding the unconfessed sins of my pagan youth. I made a general confession 6 or 7 years ago in a written form of 2 pages. But retrospectively I think it was too superficial . Unless you write a 100 pages autobiography, is it possible to go deeper? A priest whom I spoke about replied that God isn’t a merciless account keeper and required me to cease coming back on my past sins.
    Therefore by the end every confession, I add this formula:
    “Father, I am sincerely, grievously and humbly sorry for all the sins of my life since I am in age to sin, and peculiarly for all the bad confessions and the bad communions I ever did.”

  21. Fr. Frank says:

    Sallyr,
    The sins you confess aloud to the priest are the sins that he absolves. He can only forgive what you bring before him. Our Lord looks at the heart. If you have genuinely forgotten a sin, or Lord sees that you are not attempting to conceal it. However, if you later remember the sin then you become accountable for it. To refuse to confess a remembered mortal sin becomes an act of deliberate concealment and is no longer covered by any prior absolution. Hope this clears up the logic of the issue.

  22. sallyr says:

    Thanks for the replies to my questions, although I have to say I still find this a bit confusing. I think it leads to a bit of the problem mentioned by Albizi, above. I am not completely sure that I have confessed every mortal sin I ever committed.

    For many years, up into my 20’s I never really went to confession. In recent years I go regularly. From time to time I think of things I’ve done in the past and I have no specific recollection of confessing them. I may have done so under a vague heading, or I may not have said anything, or I may have confessed them. I really just can’t remember.

    So this idea of being accountable for a mortal sin that I now remember and may or may not have confessed is confusing. On the one hand, Fr. Z. says they are forgiven, and then on the other hand we ought to confess them. I think I could spend a lot of time and effort trying to go back over things that happened 20 years ago that I may or may not have sufficiently confessed rather than focusing on what has happened since my last confession.

  23. Elizabeth D says:

    If I confess all my mortal sins that I’m aware of, and am absolved and in the state of grace, then later remember another sin of my past life committed long ago, am I then in mortal sin again and may not receive Communion till I am able to confess it, even though I committed no new sin? Or does the lack of intention to conceal the sin in past confessions mean it suffices to confess this old sin at my next regular time of confession without abstaining from receiving Our Lord in the intervening time? I am confused; as a daily communicant, this is making me a little paranoid.

  24. Will D. says:

    I went more than 15 years between confessions, SonofMonica, for similar reasons. Since then, I’ve been going every few weeks. Now that I’m in the habit of regular confession, it is a much less daunting task, and I find that I’m less likely to forget/rationalize sins when I examine my conscience.

    For those who have been away from the sacrament for a long time, be not afraid. Do a good examination of conscience (I use the one in Michael Dubruiel’s A Pocket Guide to Confession) and then go, pronto, to confession. It’s like taking off a bandaid, it’s less painful when it’s done quickly.

  25. SonofMonica says:

    Will D. – thanks for the suggestion of going every few weeks. For me, that’s a daunting task if I want to remain anonymous, however. If I schedule the confession, I don’t see how it could be anonymous. And it’s really hard to go 30 mins. before Mass most of the time, because my wife and I have a newborn, and trying to get to Mass even on time is arduous, with the feeding times, etc. Anyway, when I find it hard to get to confession for any reason, it becomes easier for me to rationalize the sin away. If I could find a way to go regularly no matter what, that may help.

  26. Seamas O Dalaigh says:

    Elizabeth D,

    The sin has been forgiven. You are in a state of grace. You may, and should, receive Holy Communion. The obligation to confess the forgotten/now remembered sin at your next confession remains. The need to do penance remains.

  27. Jerry says:

    @sallyr:

    I think I could spend a lot of time and effort trying to go back over things that happened 20 years ago that I may or may not have sufficiently confessed

    My understanding is that one need not go back and look for grave sins that might not been confessed — only that one confess those which the Holy Spirit brings into one’s conscience.

    I sometimes can’t remember whether I confessed a particular sin or not. If I felt I had to confess it again the next time, I might spend quite a lot of time trying to remember whether or not I confessed something

    Another approach is to confess the sin you are unsure of without spending undue time trying to remember whether it has been confessed.

    One of the principles of ethics is that it is never lawful to act with a doubtful conscience. If one willful acts in a manner they suspect may be wrong, they are morally culpable even if it turns out the act was not objectively immoral because the contempt of law shows bad will. [Fagothey, Right and Reason (2nd ed.), pg. 214] In the situation where there is a possibly unconfessed grave sin, since it is not immoral to confess the sin a second time, this is the safest course to take.

  28. benedetta says:

    I think SonofMonica is on to something interesting here. Moving from an urban to suburban environment I discovered that it had been much easier to go to confession, practically, ‘efficiently’, and (aside from certain aberrant issues that I had to endure but I do not think most people) anonymity assured, in urban environment, and, regardless of whether from the way Mass was celebrated (and for the great majority of Masses in this Archdiocese there was reverence and a real observance of the Real Presence) or how one could perceive the slant of the priest or religious order even if not time for a drawn out discussion or spiritual direction I reliably encountered, nothing but encouragement in the sacrament as a whole and found the reception of the sacrament a great help in many ways. Not something I planned or was taught at all really but discovered that in fact it was concretely a great help. Whereas I expect in many places the by appointment only kind of approach has really deterred a lot of people from even checking into it. And for a lot of us we are just going by a lot of negativity that others have put out there regarding the sacrament and are not even dealing with experiential knowledge or intellectual knowledge or anything like wisdom about it.

    I would suggest that regional retreat day offered at a shrine or by visiting religious can also be a good option for people who are shy about being one of the few to head into one’s own parish on the half hour on Saturday or make an appointment. I suppose it depends on your region but if one is willing to drive an hour or two once a month one could find a retreat day which includes opportunity for confession and this way one could continue a practice of regular confession.

  29. ed_k says:

    Don’t forget that when you attend Mass you also receive forgiveness!

    As I understand it, it is illogical to receive the Eucharist in a state with sin. Which is why at the beginning of every mass, the priest offers forgiveness of your sins. Of course, this forgiveness is only offered for venial sins.

    Mortal sins must be confessed in penance for them to be forgiven.

    CCC 1458 supports this conclusion, it states in part “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church….”

  30. RJS007 says:

    @Dirichlet Exactly. When you enter a confessional you pronounce the sins and if you recall that you missed one or more of either Mortal or Venial, all was forgiven in Confession. We are always urged to mention it the next time we go to confession.

  31. Jerry,

    ‘One of the principles of ethics is that it is never lawful to act with a doubtful conscience.’

    Actually, this is not true absolutely always and for absolutely everybody. It depends on what kind of conscience one has and for someone with a demonstrably scrupulous conscience [mark: not tender conscience but truly scrupulous], this may not only not be correct; it may lead them in the direction of despair.

    People probably deal best with these issues of doubt in their particular cases in counsel with a good priest.

  32. Issues of true doubt, I should say. Sometimes there is an understandable reluctance from those of us who confessed years of sins without realising the rule to confess in number to go over it again when we know fine rightly that we didn’t confess the sins from our years in the wilderness properly in number. That in of itself is not so much doubt as reluctance. I can testify to the benefit of taking the bull by the horns and arranging to do a general confession preceded by a thorough examination of conscience complete with numbers.

  33. albizzi says:

    Catholicofthule,
    The problem is with the priests: I don’t remember any asked me “how many times” but possibly one or two times in my life (I am 62 yo)
    This issue (the number of sins in kind) doesn’t look to be of a major importance in their eyes.

  34. Albizzi, yes, I agree that this is a great problem. I wish some priests would understand that in a perhaps mistaken desire to make things easier for a sincere penitent, they are in fact making things much much harder. Not least in adding to an environment of distrust for those consciences who truly need to be able to trust and be guided by the advice of their priests. And it is why I said ‘a good priest’. In the absence of any basis for trust, we need to do our best, I guess, though, perhaps we are tending towards too much suspicion as well, and perhaps doing some of our priests a great injustice. I don’t know. ‘Tis all confusing.

    I was just wary of the very absolute statement by Jerry on the issues of doubt because I know it isn’t always true at all times for all consciences. If someone who truly did suffer from scrupulosity came across it with no one to offer some qualifications to the statement, it could in fact have entirely unintended and disastrous effects, which is why I saw fit to comment on it. Obviously I am wary that statements on the internet in either direction can always be taken up wrong and be misused by people. Perhaps some might mistakenly and without any good cause decide to ‘self diagnose’ as a scrupulous person in order to avoid resolving doubts on the side of caution when in fact this is exactly what they should do. This would be wrong. And there is a danger of that.

    But on the other hand, people obviously have some responsibility themselves not to do so, and I thought it equally wrong to risk the disastrous effects which I know could all too easily ensue in the mind of a scrupulous person who perhaps does not have sound knowledge on the matter from the statement I commented upon. Because I know it could be truly disastrous. If ‘never’ was really taken as absolutely never, it could even undermine trust for a worthy and solid spiritual director. Of course, again, people have a responsibility not to take comments by a random Catholic on the internet uncritically as the basis for their spiritual practices, but I thought that it was perhaps necessary to comment.

    How much easier it would be if all any lay person ever had to do on the subject of confession was ‘go and see a priest about it’! Sigh….

  35. “People probably deal best with these issues of doubt in their particular cases in counsel with a good priest.”

    I mean, in terms of how to handle doubt and confusion in general in their particular case…if they are in doubt about how to handle them….

  36. I wrote: “Issues of true doubt, I should say. Sometimes there is an understandable reluctance from those of us who confessed years of sins without realising the rule to confess in number to go over it again when we know fine rightly that we didn’t confess the sins from our years in the wilderness properly in number. That in of itself is not so much doubt as reluctance. I can testify to the benefit of taking the bull by the horns and arranging to do a general confession preceded by a thorough examination of conscience complete with numbers.”

    It struck me that perhaps I was not being fair to my confessors in my description of my own situation, which fault should really be speedily remedied when on becomes aware of it. It is possible that my confessors really were happy about the way I confessed in terms of number of sins and did not neglect to consider the issue. Perhaps, for instance, it met some kind of minimum standard almost by accident for sins that span numbers of years and so can not be brought down to the absolute accuracy one may expect in the regular confessions of a person in the middle of practising one’s Faith and not likely to amass hundreds and thousands of serious sins in between confession times. There would, after all, not have been a reason to ask if my manner of confession seemed to them to suffice. Yet to my mind there was a great deficiency here when I realised the obligation. I couldn’t get around that and so to me it felt like there was no actual doubt on the issue and it had to be resolved. I’m also mixing up general confessions (or general and semi-general ones), as I made one before I even knew about the problem as far as I remember, which was more general in scope than the ones I subsequently made to resolve the problem but less satisfactory in number. So things were not so tidy as the above might suggest.

    However, my main point remains, which was that one possible way for people to resolve the problem if they are not simply suffering from scrupulous fears could be to make a sort of general confession (at least including those things about which they truly do not believe that they have confessed satisfactorily in number) and truly make a good effort at quantifying to the best of their ability. And the best of our ability is all we can do. There are, to my mind, worse things than resolving this issue by going over things again in a confession quite general in scope rather than constantly dealing with individual memories. Personally, I think that after that, issues from the distant past were more easily dealt with (in relative terms) as there was a firmer basis upon which to deal with them; when each issue didn’t so easily raise the spectre of a million other issues. I really consider it one of the best things I have decided to do even if at the time it was very hard. I mean, obviously I am not claiming that one is obliged to do this instead of dealing with the individual memories as they come, but I believe it may sometimes be of benefit to some people to do so.

    It is also with some trepidation I return to the issue, because, while one should confess mortal sins in kind and number, it really seems that it may be the domain of priests to make more specified and individualised commentary and/or advice. At least, ideally it should be, but what is the case in what appears to be a less than ideal situation, I don’t know. I am not certain whether I overstepped the mark or not, for which carelessness I apologise (though when I first had, I thought I should add the above clarification). I confess to being conflicted as to what is proper on the issue of more specific commentary by lay people, and I don’t quite know, but perhaps it were better for me to say too little than too much then, and so long as I am conflicted it might have been careless of me to act otherwise. I should perhaps have limited myself to pointing out the nuances in the statement concerning doubtful consciences, for which I truly believed that there was a need for someone to do.

  37. Obviously the above goes to correct any unintended wrongful implication of whether anyone in particular could be considered a ‘good’ priest. I did not intend it to apply to a particular specific situation, but rather to what appears to be a widespread problem of people not realising that they need to confess mortal sins in number and so the clear advantage of finding a priest who appreciates the issue (perhaps by asking whether they do) if one has specific problems relating to it that one needs help with.

  38. And further to the above yet again (and hopefully for the last time): and hence priests who are’ good’ and knowledgeable in this particular area. My use of the expression ‘good priest’ was really far too vague. A priest should preferably be both good and knowledgeable, but the term I used is far too ‘vague’ or generalising that the opposite should automatically be applied even to a priest who did not know the matter from some defect in their education etc. He could be good in many other ways. Apologies to priests for using such a term too losely and with too little consideration. I realise that priests must suffer from generalisations and undue mistrust and harsh judgments and should not contribute to this by such ‘loose’ , or whatever would be the right term’, use of such terms.

    The sigh of my heart that there would generally be more guidance and direction in confession to make sure that we penitents fulfill the requirements remains….We need to know and we need to know that we can trust….