- Make a good and complete examination of your conscience.
- Confess all your mortal sins, omitting none, in both kind and number…. number… number!.. to the best of your ability.
Pay no attention to the liberals who belittle the necessity of confessing in kind and number by stupid phrases like “laundry list”. These anti-nomians have become addled.
In the 1983 Code of Canon Law we read:
Can. 988 §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.
Let’s also account for the fact that we are human beings with really bad memories. We are also susceptible attacks of the nerves.
If we cannot remember the number of our sins, tell the number as nearly as possible or even the relative frequency, such as how often we may have sinned in a day, a week, or a month, and how long the habit or practice has lasted. If you forget something, don’t fret. If you were sincere and did your best at the moment, all your sins are forgiven. The next time you go to confession, mention what you forgot all with any new matter that must be absolved.
Also, since we are frail and beset by the world, the flesh and the devil, since we are sometimes mired in habits, there are times when you will not feel perfect sorrow for sins. Again, do not fret. It is enough for valid absolution to feel sorrow for sins even because we “dread the loss of heaven and the pains of Hell”. Perfect sorrow, called “contrition” rises from love of God. That is what we must throughout our whole lives strive to attain. That said, less than perfect sorrow, attrition, rising from fear of the loss of heaven is sufficient for absolution. This is why we state our sorrow for sins through what we call the “Act of Contrition”. Yes, the fact that you are there in the confessional is a strong indicator that you are sorry for your sins. But stating the fact openly to the priest lets Father know for sure that he can go ahead and give you absolution. He has to know that you are sorry.
I can hear the objections from some of you who may be confused about the number thing… did I mention kind and number?
“But Father! But Father!”, some are saying, “Don’t you know that it’s more important to feel the warm embrace of God’s unconditional love? We all just need Jesus – if we haven’t moved beyond him yet like the LCWR – to give us a big hug. You are trying to make everyone feel inadequate and scrupulous. That’s against Vatican II!”
And your point is?
Frankly, while feeling God’s love is nice and all, I am more concerned that you make a good and complete confession. I want you to get out of the confessional knowing, first and foremost, that your sins were in fact absolved.
The gravity of sins changes according to their circumstances. The number or frequency of your sinning in a certain way is vital for the priest to know and, importantly, for yourself to know. You need to know yourself and where your problems are or you won’t be able to form a plan to heal them. There is a difference between, say, kicking your dog or subscribing to the National catholic Reporter once, which could be a one-off or a mistake, and doing it 43 times. The frequency of your sin can indicate that you have a problem in a certain area. Lie once in two weeks and you have perhaps slipped. Lie 25 times in a week and you are a liar. The number makes a difference. I grant that some people are hearing this for the first time and that some are scrupulous to an unhealthy degree, but if you haven’t drilled into your sinful behavior according to frequency or number, it is questionable that you made a good examination of conscience.
Never willfully conceal a mortal sin. Never never never never never. Did I mention never?
So, make a plan to go to confession, even if that means finding a ride or driving some distance or going to a priest whom you don’t particularly like.
PS: Afterward you will probably also feel the warm embrace of God’s love.