A good way to start the new year of grace would be…

… go to confession.

  1. Make a good and complete examination of your conscience.
  2. 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.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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42 Responses to A good way to start the new year of grace would be…

  1. tealady24 says:

    I like this very much. Confession is good for the soul! It’s absolutely essential to bringing yourself to a higher dimension in your faith journey. Being friends with Jesus is wonderful; but, I need to understand my own motivations before I can truthfully stand before the Lord.

  2. Father:

    Thanks for your emphasis on this. In the past year or two, I have found myself emphasizing this sacrament more. I think I’ve always given it a fair amount of emphasis, but even more, lately. While there are several reasons, reading your reflections, week after week, have played a role.

    A funny thing happens to me as I find myself offering confessions more often: I reflect on the sacrament more. In the spaces–sometimes extended–between penitents, I tend to work on particular aspects of the sacrament as we experience it; I try to answer some of the questions others–or I–have about it. Such as:

    > Why do we have to specify mortal sins by kind and number–and, related, why does the priest ask you to be more specific–and, related, why do we even need to say our sins at all?

    My answer is along these lines. God does not need us to tell him our sins; he knows them already. The priest only has some need; while it helps in giving counsel, my comprehension of the penitent’s sins does not seem critical. If a person confesses to me in a language I do not understand, that doesn’t invalidate the confession.

    No, I submit the penitent is the one who needs the sins to be named, out loud. Until the words are voiced, I haven’t actually admitted them. Until that point, I can minimize or exaggerate them. I can turn one sin into three; or decide that such-and-such wasn’t really my fault after all. And when I specify the number, I am acknowledging something concrete about my situation–again, to myself above all.

    And that admission of a specific rebellion or failing is at the same time, an invitation to grace. What does it mean to experience grace, apart from experiencing it in concrete ways? Abstract grace sounds nice, but grace right here, right now, for this situation…that’s wonderful!

    And, it reminds us that while we can’t save ourselves, God won’t save us without our cooperation.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring post, Fr. It is so reassuring to read solid advice on this topic, like the number and kind; and what it means to have contrition. I am planning to go to confession this weekend.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Lists are good, making one humble, less subjective and more objective about sins, imperfections, tendencies, patterns. In all my long years, only one lib priest in Ireland has objected to my list. Sometimes, I wish I had a shredder. (reminds me of Gilbert and Sullivan)

  5. KristinLA says:

    I wish there had been more emphasis on this sacrament in my family while I was growing up. As a young adult I had not gone regularly because it had not become a habit in my youth. In my late 30s I developed a true appreciation for the sacrament, but I still like to be encouraged to go–so Thank You Fr. Z!

  6. AnAmericanMother says:

    As somebody who came from a tradition where there was only “General Confession” in the ordinary course of the service, I can tell you that auricular confession is a precious, precious gift and should be cherished by us all.
    I am a list-maker even in ordinary life, but I always had the grues about ‘leaving my sins in the A&P’, to quote an old joke. The iPhone app is a real boon, because I can make a passworded list, and once I go to confession it is wiped clean . . . just like my sins, right? :-)
    The first time I showed up with my iPhone the priest whispered through the grating (in his inimitable County Kerry accent) “Now, you’re going to delete that right away, aren’t you?” I assured him it was passworded (and provisionally approved by Father Z). He laughed out loud and we got down to business.

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    About the, “Laundry List,” thing: this happened to me in the confessional, today. I tried to explain to the confessor that I had only been indicating relative amounts in prior confessions and that I wanted to try to give a more exact number. He said, that, “God does not want an accountants ledger,” (or something close to this). This confessor is an orthodox and well-known moral theologian (he was visiting – I think he teaches at Catholic University, but I may be wrong). He may have thought I was being scrupulous (I was not) and was trying to put me at ease.

    There are some sins (thoughts, in particular) that occur from the passions which are flash-sins and are over without taking extensive notice. These are usually venial, at worse, but people may have a resentment that they nurse and don’t even think to count the number of times in a day they lash out in their minds at the offending party or they may be in a sexually charged environment (such as young people at many secular colleges) and thoughts about the attractiveness of an individual get dwelled on for too long. They mention relative numbers or generalities in confession and when they finally realize they should get more specific, they have little to go on. Still, in some cases they can approximate better than using terminology like, “some,” ,”once in a while,”” every other day,” etc. How long does one to dwell on a temptation before it becomes mortally sinful? These are all things to be taken into account in determining a number.

    Kind is, usually, much easier to deal with.

    Father Z wants pithy statement, so, I am putting on my “pith” helmet and beak gag and shutting up. Just wanted to ask about the, “numbers,” issue a bit.

    The Chicken

    P. S. Belated Christmas wishes. I’ve been off the grid for about two weeks.

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    That is, relative amounts about some sins. Others, I am usually very specific. [Good. If you can be, do be. Specific, that is. Don’t not confess in number for the sake of sparing the addled, though perhaps well-intentioned, confessor.]

    The Chicken

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    To be fair to my confessor, I think he did mention something about using relative frequency, so, maybe he did think my bringing up numerical values of past sins that didn’t specify at the time was getting close to being scrupulous.

    The Chicken

  10. Stumbler but trying says:

    Keeping a “list” of my failures/sins is not something I want to do as I fear becoming “scrupulous” and obsessing over everything I may or may not do. I will re-read what you advise, dear Fr. Z and will pray on it and ask the Lord and our Lady for help and understanding.
    I already plan to go to confession on Friday of this week and already know the Lord will help me to make a good and honest confession despite being nervous and at times, stumbling due to shame. Please pray for me as I pray for all of you.

  11. blackcharlie says:

    Last priest in my parish told me not to be too scrupulous — because I went to confession once or twice per month. That’s a lot, according to him. Interesting attitude.

    New priest in my parish thinks I’m somewhere near Jack the Ripper in character, and need to go once every week for long discussions with him so I can rid myself of all the seven deadlies that I am apparently the poster boy of, for this parish.

    Good grief, in the end neither one is capable of giving any sort of decent counsel. So I go to confession wherever I can, knowing that whoever the priest is, he likely is not going have much of a clue. In a way, this is good to understand, as I can go with my sins to confess, and say I’m sorry — which I am or I wouldn’t bother going at all — and receive absolution, say the prayers given for penance, and get on with the practice of the Catholic faith by studying and praying and receiving the sacraments and doing what I can to be kind and helpful when allowed to.

    How much longer will we have to endure the foolishness, everything from one extreme to the other, of self-serving priests who sit in the confessional with their own particular idea of what God wants from us all and then project their own bias and pride onto poor hapless penitents unfortunate enough to have paid any attention to their self-serving counsel.

    Make your list, kind and number, and confess as best you can. Frequently. But don’t expect any words of wisdom or guidance or real help in that regard, from the priest. Listen carefully to the words when he absolves you. You are forgiven, even though it may not really seem like it, coming from some of these boneheads. Stay true to Holy Mother Church, and the teachings of the Magisterium. Perhaps never before has there been so much selfishness to distract you from the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We truly do need to be wise as serpents and simple as doves far too much of the time, not only outside of the Church, but when dealing with many of those within. The Culture of Me Me Me…….. and all the sophistry and hypocrisy that goes along with it …….. this is the main force that drives this culture of death.

    If you have found a priest that seems able to put his own pride and prejudices aside and gives decent counsel, well, God has indeed blessed you. If not, then go to confession anyway, and just grit your teeth when the axe starts grinding from behind the screen. And remember that just like Jesus in the most Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Confession is valid no matter how “nasty” or “nice” the priest may be, no matter how clueless either type might be as to the crisis of faith within the Holy Catholic Church .

  12. Torpedo1 says:

    Actually Fr. Z, I do suffer from Scrupulosity and it was the number and kind which saved me. I went to Confession once, with some confusion about whether or not I had committed a mortal sin and the priest told me that a mortal sin was simply that we didn’t love God, or something to that degree. Obviously, this did no good and so I went to a different priest the next time I had to go and he sat with me for about 15 minutes, asking my age, my state in life, when the scruples manifest themselves and how often, but the most important thing he said was, 1. That I should “always” recieve Communion unless I am absolutely certain of being in the state of mortal sin. 2. On the heels of that I suppose, he again refreshed me on the criteria of mortal sin. I needed the lists, I needed that criteria to help me to trust God’s mercy again. If you aren’t scrupulous, you have no idea how tangled up in your own thoughts and fears you can become. If I hadn’t had the number and kind in Confession, I don’t know how things would’ve ended up.
    Scrupulosity leads to hell, just like laxity does, but scruples, at least for me, started out as a good intention. I didn’t want to hurt God. It was as simple as that and I think, that’s most often where we trip and fall flat on our faces, without even realizing it. If anyone else suffers from this, I’ll leave you with something I read which I always keep close, especially when I have to go to Confession, which I’m going to do this weekend. “Christ loves you, and he will never allow you to lose your soul.”

  13. albizzi says:

    Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,
    …” The number or frequency of your sinning in a certain way is vital for the priest to know and, importantly, for yourself to know”…
    Yes, I acknowledge, you are certainly right.
    But why none of your colleagues priests during the many confessions I did in my life never asked me “how many times” ?
    Are they considering this point to be of a lesser importance than you think?

    [Your Earth’s yellow Sun does not increase my psychic powers. However, I suppose that they a) were not taught this or b) they are timid about mentioning it, or c) don’t believe it or want to obey it.]

  14. Will D. says:

    Fr. Fox’s description of why we need to confess is similar to the one I used with a protestant friend of mine. We need to diligently examine our consciences and confess our sins so that we are aware of our weaknesses and know what we need to pray about and correct.
    Like the Masked Chicken, I struggle with the number of my sins. Some are easy. “I took the Lord’s name in vain once.” I know because it’s an open and shut case. I said it, I know when and why I said it and I have no doubt about the gravity of it. On the other hand, some are difficult. I struggle with keeping custody of my eyes and my thoughts. When does a random erotic thought cross the line into “dwelling on impure thoughts?” I don’t usually confess numbers on that one, because I believe it usually is a venial sin. It’s difficult to be sure because the advice I see usually falls into two diametrically opposed camps. The fluffy-cloud, loving embrace camp and the fire and brimstone camp.
    One thing, however, that I am sure of is that frequent confession (I average every two weeks, since getting back into the habit) gives graces that allow me to resist temptations and better examine my conscience when the time comes to revisit the sacrament.

    Finally, Peggy Noonan wrote a blog entry at the WSJ about going to confession at St. Patrick’s in New York. It’s rare to see Confession discussed positively in a secular publication, so I was pleased to see that.

  15. lana says:

    Thank you for the great post, Father! In Fr Faber’s Spiritual Conferences (which are on google books) starting on page 237, there is one on ‘Why so little comes of frequent Confession’. I like his advice for what to do when you are not feeling particularly (or afraid of hell either, for that matter)

  16. Father, this is for me a rather urgent personal question, but since it is probably not unique to me, I’ll ask it in this public forum:
    “In number and in kind” is all very well, but what about surrounding circumstances? If I, as a penitent, have information that I think is likely either to extenuate or (more importantly, at least to me) substantially aggravate a sin I am confessing, should I provide that information, even if my confessor hasn’t asked for it? I attend a church where there are frequently very long lines for confession and I don’t want to waste Father’s time, but still….

    [If there is some attendant detail that changes the sin, yes, you must mention it. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail, but it takes very little time to add a critical detail. “Bless me Father, I have sinned. I stole a loaf of bread from a) a little old lady on a pension; b) Bill Gates…” The “little old lady” makes it worse. We can also debate about the monetary of the loaf, but you get the idea. You might add also, “I was starving at the time”, which could diminish your guilt for the theft. If you don’t know about how some detail might change the gravity, ask the priest to clarify it. Simple, direct, non-rambling questions are okay. His exaratis… pulsis? transmissis? per-clicktis?, thanks for wanting to be brief. If there is not a long line and if you are not 5 minutes away from when Father needs to get out of the confessional to go say Mass, don’t worry.]

  17. aragonjohn7 says:

    Merry Christmas

  18. Imrahil says:

    I give some kind of enumeration (“once”, “twice”, “too often” [in things in themselves not forbidden], “in a sort of habit”, “every” or “almost every single once I tried”) but frankly I’d expect the priest, if he needs more precise information, to ask.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Torpedo1, thank you for that! I perhaps overgeneralize a bit but I guess this is how it always is.

    Frankly, as it was (did not seem to me) the usual thing to go to Confession, I did not make it to go for 7 years until I did go by the Lord’s grace. You can be assured that I had a long list, yet no real reading light in the Confessional… anyway, even so, the thing that surprised me was how very many things are not sins (or not grave).

  20. joan ellen says:

    I love this Sacrament. It gives me great hope that as a sinner I can be redeemed. It took many years to get used to the idea that I was a sinner…I knew it…but not that being a sinner was inevitable, “…so get used to it” one confessor said. Am kinder to myself now…but still detest my bad wilful decisions and choices that are offensive to Almighty God.

    I have been lax before. Get out of the Church and lax can become easy. For me lax is worse than scrupulous as I know how to be also. Like doubt vs. certainty. One priest told me when in doubt do not receive our Blessed Lord. Another said “And it has to be that deliberate.” Certain. For sure.

    I take to the confessional what I think, say, and do against God and neighbor. Grave (mortal sin) is easy for a often spur of the moment mouth like mine. Problem is that includes the thought also. The problem with the thought is usually slothful thinking which makes for a lack of self-control. So, is a spur of the moment deliberate? In my case, yes, when the sloth or lack of self control is habitual. Sloth being the deadly sin at the root of my mouthyness.

    On the other hand, my temptations are not something that I desire nor want. They just pop into my head and I try to quickly banish them. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. If not then I have matter (sins) for the confessional.

    For number, I’ve had to say ‘millions of times’ to cover every one of my mouthy sins, especially in a general confession, where I find a written down list a way to cut down on the time and get the
    matter (my sins) of the confession done.

    Confession is not easy…but the Grace of Absolution is worth every bit of time and effort put into making a good confession. I try to ask for help during my EOC…examination of conscience, especially from some miracle Saints.

    The Sacrament of Baptism to erase Original Sin, and any sins committed, easy for the babe new in the faith. The Sacrament of the Sick, also easy to receive and to erase sins. The Sacrament of Penance not so easy. These 3 avenues (ordinarily) of Sanctifying Grace are what the Church provides me from Our Lord for Blessed Assurance. Well, how long that Blessed Assurance lasts after Absolution for some confessions is not very long. I can blow it quickly. But, each time I go to Confession, the Blessed Assurance of Absolution seems to last longer. :) Hope. It is in the confessional.

  21. joan ellen says:

    Confession is wonderful for us who have received all of the Sacraments in order. But what of our family, friends, neighbors, and others who have not. How can they, if they have only been Baptized, maybe made their 1st Holy Communion, and maybe have even been confirmed, but NEVER made a Confession…receive this important Sacrament? How can we help them, besides prayer? Or what can we tell them, in case they may be interested in going to Confession?

  22. Elodie says:

    @black charlie: YES! I’ve experienced the wide extremes.

    Also, I have (often) been left feeling that I’m wasting parish time in the loooong line because my sins are venial in nature – or because I have more sins of omission than commission. In speaking with priests socially, and in reading priests online, I know that these things need the Sacrament, as well. But I am sometimes left feeling like a simpleton for showing up with my list of sins. Yes, it keeps me from more frequent confession – I’ve told God that I know I may have to face the music when I stand naked before Him.

  23. benedetta says:

    joan ellen, Even for many of us brought up with watered down or absent catechesis and de-emphasis of the sacrament, it was still standard that we made a first confession before first communion, at least, so if one has received that sacrament they will have been given at least a cursory presentation on the sacrament. Clearly though if that is all it is, in adulthood many will be reluctant to go again so we all do need the encouragement. It’s helpful if children are taught how to examine conscience and how to receive the sacrament and then reviewed as they get older. Going as a family is helpful for many. I have found the outlines and examens downloadable from Fr. Finigan’s parish website to be very helpful for helping young people understand what it’s about and how it benefits them. Here is the link — see “Confession Leaflets”

    http://www.blackfencatholic.org/?page_id=203#2

  24. irishthree says:

    Thank you Fr. Z!
    I really enjoy your confession posts and re-read many of them before each confession. Thanks to your continued urging I’m now going monthly, and sometimes more often, after being away for 25 years.

    I do feel the warm embrace of God’s love each time.
    Jeff

  25. Desertfalcon says:

    Unfortunately, sometimes I have had to be less than precise regarding number, as the figure is too difficult to keep count of. Embarrassing.

  26. JKnott says:

    That dear St. Francis de Sales wrote that:
    In confession …… You will also practice the virtues of humility, obedience, simplicity, and charity. In the single act of confession you will exercise more virtues than in any other act whatsoever.

    That’s a better deal than buy one get one free.

    Once I heard a priest say that every time we go to confession it is like telling Jesus that we love him. And the more often we go, and say, “I’m sorry”, the closer He embraces us to His loving Heart.
    It is really such a beautiful sacrament that leaves us with true joy.

  27. PA mom says:

    It is so important, and wonderful, and challenging. Scraping off the crust that forms on us and leaving us able to grow again.

    So hard though, with no screen. Please. Even with mental preparation and lists, so hard to concentrate with someone staring directly at you. Please, it flusters me totally to find no screen. Can hardly think in complete sentences, much less numberical values. Got caught by surprise in my pre-Christmas confession. Far less quality, so I hope that the Lord understands and makes up the difference.

  28. Catholictothecore says:

    I find the more frequently one goes for confession, I try to go every other week, the more graces we receive to resist temptation which ultimately is God’s way to lead us in the path of holiness.

  29. joan ellen says:

    benedetta said: “I have found the outlines and examens downloadable from Fr. Finigan’s parish website to be very helpful for helping young people understand what it’s about and how it benefits them. Here is the link — see “Confession Leaflets”
    http://www.blackfencatholic.org/?page_id=203#2

    Thank you for the link and your words of help as well.

  30. Father, many thanks for the reply and clarification above. I really do appreciate it.

  31. Sword40 says:

    And thank you, Fr. Z for this wonderful blog. Yes, I got to Confession yesterday. It was a great relief to know that I had done my best to confess in both kind and number.

  32. backtothefuture says:

    When I hear the priest say “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the father, son and the holy spirit, it’s the best feeling in the world.

  33. I did exactly that today, Deo Gratias!

  34. Navarricano says:

    This is exactly what I did to begin the New Year; instead of making a long list of New Year’s resolutions, I made a list of my sins and went to Confession. And yes, I do feel the warm embrace of God’s love, and it’s also marvelous way to continue the celebration of Christmas.

    Thank you for your clear and frequent posts about Confession, Father. They have done so much good, for me and for others.

  35. The Masked Chicken says:

    “For number, I’ve had to say ‘millions of times’ to cover every one of my mouthy sins, especially in a general confession, where I find a written down list a way to cut down on the time and get the
    matter (my sins) of the confession done.”

    This is a problem. Suppose one has been confessing a general frequency, which is acceptable (although not preferred) for venial sins, but some of the sins slipped over into mortal, but because venial sins make it harder to recognize mortal sins, you didn’t recognize them. Now, suppose you have been in this method of confessing this specific sin for years.

    First, does that make those past confessions invalid?

    Second, if one wants to confess in number, can one approximate? Let’s say one commits sin A 10 times a day, but only 3 are mortal (approximate reckoning). Over 10 years, that is about 11,000 times. If a priest heard the number 11,000 in a confessional, most would freak, no?

    Third, if the mortal sins were improperly confessed, does one, then, also have to include sacrilegious receptions of communion? Suppose you were a daily Mass attendee. That would mean about 4000 sacrilegious Masses in those ten years.

    I suppose what might be a saving argument is that the penitent, not recognizing the mortal sins, per accidens, because of ignorance, had been making valid confessions, but must, once they recognize the need, go back and try to give at least an approximate number at their next confession, even if the priest thinks the numbers are off the charts. Sadly, it may be a problem in priestly formation that most priests probably do not recognize that such a scenario is possible and, unfortunately, given the poor formation of the laity, probably more likely than not.

    I really wish God had given each person access to their Recording Angel – the one keeping track of their lives (each person has one, I think). That would make confessions so much easier :)

    Short of that, I have one very good suggestion to make: as Religious who say the Divine Office are supposed to do at Compline,

    MAKE A DAILY EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE BEFORE RETIRING IN THE EVENING

    That way, the knowledge of the sins are fresher, a better judgment of serverity and culpability can be made and a closer number can be collected.

    In other words, be a scientist collecting data about your sins and bad habits. It will quickly help to eliminate them or at least sensitize you to them.

    The Chicken

  36. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Chicken,

    I’d say

    first: no.

    second: obviously yes. Even with the most punctilious attitude, you can only require a penitent to do what he can. Ultra posse nemo obligatur. And you simply in many cases cannot but approximate, as our dear reverend host also acknowledged in his article (if I read that correctly).

    Third: no, because the respective Holy Communions were not sacrilegious. It is a sacrilege to receive Holy Communion while conscious of mortal sin, or unsure of having committed mortal sin. In these cases, we are speaking of perhaps less-than-optimally confessed, but validly absolved sins; and even if this were not so, still the receiver would have subjectively thought it was so. Hence, no sacrilege.

  37. Cafea Fruor says:

    Something I’ve not been so clear on is when you have only venial sins to confess. Should you still confess number, or should you generalize in terms like “frequently”, “a few times”, etc.? Of course the number obligation itself doesn’t apply to venial sins, but is it still more beneficial for the penitent and/or Father to be as exact as possible anyway?

  38. Weetabix says:

    How can sins be ” remitted directly through the keys of the Church?”

  39. Rita_mar says:

    I converted to Catholicism as an adult, so I obviously went for decades without ever making
    a confession. I received NO instruction (and I mean none) on the sacrament at all, and learned about it by reading on my own. Little by little, I learned how to make a good confession, according to Canon Law, but it took me several months to acquire the knowledge and my confessions at the beginning were usually a bit of a mess, since I had so many years of sins to confess and because I didn’t really even know how to confess properly. In addition, I would get very nervous and never know where/how to begin. I had good intentions but was really, really lost.

    In my first several confessions, I sometimes left out the number of times that I had committed mortal sins, and I have sometimes confessed mortal sins too generally, possibly leaving out important details. I confessed the sins this way because I didn’t know any better, and never had a priest interrupt me and ask me to provide more information, so I thought that everything was fine.

    I made a general confession last summer of all mortal sins that I remembered committing up to that point. While I’m pretty sure that I tried to quantify some of the sins, I’m also sure that I did not quantify all mortal sins. The priest knew that I was doing a general confession that was meant to cover many years, so he probably assumed that I had committed those sins multiple times. I should mention that most of the mortal sins that I confessed were quite old – some dating back to my childhood/teenage years – we aren’t talking about sins that I struggle with now, and need guidance on.

    Basically, I think that I have confessed all past mortal sins, but in some cases I may have just named the sin or given a very general description, without even trying to come up with the frequency. For example, I remember confessing that I had disobeyed my parents, and think that I left it at that. I have no idea how many times that I have done this, and I may not have even said something like, “I disobeyed my parents many times.”

    As several months have gone by since that general confession, I don’t really even remember exactly which mortal sins I tried to quantify, and which mortal sins I named only and did not quantify in any manner. I also sometimes remember sins that I committed as a child or teenager, and can’t remember if I have already confessed them or not.

    I have sometimes thought that I should make another general confession, and simply re-confess everything another time, making sure to quantify all of the mortal sins as best as I can, even if it will mostly consist of saying, “many times,” plus adding in any details that I may have left out in previous confessions. This is the only way that I can be absolutely sure that I have confessed everything properly, and have not left anything out.

    I have spoken to at least 2 or 3 priests about this, and they have told me not to worry, and that I don’t need to re-confess any sins, provided that I made an attempt to confess them in the past, even if I may have left out the frequency or some details. I usually feel reassured after speaking to a priest, but then some time goes by and I start to worry that the priest was wrong, or was too liberal, or I didn’t explain things properly, etc…This has been a source of stress and anxiety for me. [Relax. You’re doing fine.]

    I actually started another Examination of Conscience today, and it looks like I am going to end up with about 15 pages worth of sins to confess if I go back over everything. I want to make sure that I am forgiven and that I am complying with Canon Law, but I also don’t want to carry things to extremes…Does anyone have any suggestions? [Again, relax. You are clearly sincere in making your confession. The confessional is not the rack. A suggestion would be to make an appointment with a confessor if you are going to make a “general confession” going back over your life.]

    I do confess old sins that come to mind if I am sure that I have never confessed them in the past, and I do my best to estimate a frequency.

    I have one final question – are we to confess sins committed from baptism and on, or from the age of reason? I was baptised at 3 months of age, but I have only confessed mortal sins committed from the age of five years old and on. I can remember committing a few things that could technically be considered mortal sins at the age of three or four, but I’ve always thought that I was just too young to really understand. [You can only confess what you remember and that you knew was wrong. Don’t torture yourself with this.]

  40. miserere mei says:

    After having fallen away and come back to the Church, I’ve been confessing my sins for several years now but didn’t know I had to say the number, only the kind. Does that mean I have to confess everything all over again? [No, I am sure you were sincere in making your confessions. In the future, however, give consideration to number or frequency.]

  41. Desert:

    As far as confessing number, and not remembering the number…

    I was taught that if one confesses something like, “twice a month over 5 years,” or even, “a handful of times,” particularly if the penitent is hazy about the memory, that is sufficient. Of course, other priests may have been taught differently. But as our genial host has pointed out, we can only confess what we remember. God forgives all our sins, including those we can’t recall. Bad memory is not a sin.

    For those who are troubled when they forget a sin, you can add–at the conclusion of your confession–the following words: “for these and all my sins, including those I cannot now remember, I am sorry.” I often direct penitents to do that, when they indicate they are hazy, or nervous, or it’s been awhile–precisely so they don’t have cause, later, to doubt God’s merciful action through the sacrament. Of course, I am not suggesting this is a substitute for a good attempt at careful confession–but as a way to avoid fear and anxiety over whether one has confessed properly and been fully forgiven.

    Thus, as to why priests don’t inquire as to the number, in addition to timidity–I readily admit it sometimes feels awkward to inquire, thus my explanation of why, offered above–is the fact that a penitent may, without realizing it, have told the priest a number, or else indicated that

  42. Rita_mar says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for clearing this up for me! I feel so much better.