ASK FATHER: Is it a sin to laugh or joke when in need of confession?

penance_confession_stepsFrom a reader…


Is it grave matter to laugh or joke when in need of Confession? (That is, when one has committed mortal sin and intends to go to Confession at the next opportunity.)

Aristotle points out that man is the only animal that laughs.  Critters might look like they are “laughing”, but they aren’t.  So, it’s human to laugh.

Mark Twain points out that man is the only animal that blushes… or needs to.  Hence, because we are sinners, it’s human to blush.

It doesn’t help us to mope around all long-face before confession, though we should indeed pray that we feel remorse and shame and guilt for sins, true compunction, so that we might even blush, at least when alone or when making amends to others.

Latin compunctio is a compound of cum + punctum from pungo, “to pierce, prick”. It means “the sting of remorse”.

Non-stop levity isn’t perhaps your best option in the state of sin.  Neither is relentless melancholy.

So, before making your good confession be penitentially joyful, or joyfully penitent. Be, at the same time, cheerfully remorseful, or remorsefully cheerful.

If, while in the state of that separation from God which we call mortal sin, we truly meditate on our state, we will get to confession as quickly as possible. Right away we should make the very best act of contrition which we can summon. Then we should hie ourselves hence.

Simultaneously, we can be of good cheer because we know that God loves us, that He is already giving us graces to make our good confession, and that, shortly, we shall be shriven.

There is nothing happy about sins, but confession and reconciliation are everything to be happy about.


From the Mass for begging for compunction of heart in the 1962 Missale Romanum:

Omnipotens et mitissime Deus, qui sitienti populo fontem viventis aquae de petra produxisti: educ de cordis nostri duritia lacrimas compunctionis; ut peccata nostra plangere valeamus, remissionemque eorum, te miserante, mereamur accipere. Per Dominum.

Almighty and most gentle God, who, when Thy people were parched, from out the rock drew forth living water, draw now forth tears of remorse from out the stone-hardness of our hearts, so that we may bewail our sins and, as you show mercy, merit to receive their forgiveness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, GO TO CONFESSION, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    I think Fr. Z gave prudent advice. Speaking as an expert in humor theory, humor has moral dimensions similar to any normal human act. There are two aspects of humor that can have moral dimensions – the creation of humor (joking, etc.) and the perception or witnessing of humor. If one wanted to do an examination of conscience about one’s use of humor, one would proceed to look at the intent of the humor, of the object towards which the humor is directed, and the results of the joking. With regards to the watching of humor, one would use the same three criteria.

    I don’t want to give a long discussion of what humor is (we are getting close to a useful answer), so I will just say that humor, in itself, is morally neutral. Theologically, it is allied with the virtue of hope, but one can hope for both good things and objectively bad things (although one might wrongly perceive them to be good, such as when an enemy stumbles).

    As in any moral act, intent, object, and environment can be factors determining the moral nature of the act (I forget the elements that St. Thomas lists in the Summa, but they can be readily found).

    Confession, itself, is the fulfilling of the hope for a clean soul, so, as Fr. Z points out happiness and compunction are not opposites and can co-exist in a person in mortal sin, although compunction is a thought about the present while the happiness is a thought about a possible good in the future.

    If your humor tends to be vicious, then it can be a habit of sin best avoided, but if your usual humor tends to be virtuous, then, as a natural habit, it is not, ordinarily, affected too much by sin, except as all acts are. Humor can be supernaturally graced, as many a saint facing death has shown, but such supernatural graces spring from infused hope given at baptism and can be cultivated to the same extent that hope can be cultivated. Humor, in itself, is not an indication of holiness, because there have been saints, such as St. Philip Neri who were known for their humor, but also saints (I forget his name), who never laughed or even smiled as a living witness to Christ’s suffering. Both types of witness can have grace.

    It is true that St. Teresa of Avila said, “God save us from sullen saints,” but the word sullen means brooding, which flies in the face of hope.

    So, the answer of laughing and joking while one is in mortal sin depends very much on how much one wants to get out of mortal sin. The greater the desire, the less likely the joking is to be a sin.

    The Chicken

  2. Gaz says:

    I love that collect. I found it many years ago. In my people’s missal is it titled the collect ‘for the gift of tears’.

  3. Luvadoxi says:

    The only thing I might add, from the perspective of a convert, is that coming into the Church has been like coming into a completely foreign culture. Jokes are kind of a family thing, as are complaints about liturgy, etc. When I first came into the church I was asking some nice Catholic folks something about “what happens if I do x” or something to that effect, and they answered, with a straight face, “you go to hell.” To this day, I don’t know if they were serious. Humor doesn’t always translate well to other cultures. To many, many non-Catholic Christians, hearing Catholics joke about confession makes them think we don’t take it seriously. I heard this in a conversation just last week.

  4. Pingback: SUNDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit

  5. Kennedy says:

    A couple of months ago, when I went to confession, the priest made a witty comment about the reason why I was committing a certain sin. I’ve never emerged from a confessional laughing my head off in the over fifty years since my first confession. He taught me a prayer from St. Faustina for my penance. After a couple of days my wife commented on a certain change in my personality. When we visited my son he asked what had made me so calm. The power of prayer, Father E teasing me, St. Faustina and the Lord’s gift of mercy! Confession is good for the soul and a sense of humour is a gift from God. Surely one of the reasons we visit this site is to learn from Fr. Z who teaches the truth leavened with wit!

  6. Imrahil says:

    The short answer no.

    The long answer is: God gave us the gift of humour, at least among other things, that we may cope with a sometimes (though not always) depressing world. And what could be more depressing than to have unconfessed mortal sin on one’s conscience?

    And the en passant advice is to say and mean an act of contrition as soon as possible.

Comments are closed.