ASK FATHER: In confession, must we say which sins are mortal, which venial?

penance_confession_stepsFrom a reader…


I know, to make a good confession, we need to confess mortal sins and the number of times we committed the sins. But I am often confused about whether a sin I committed is mortal or not. So I just go ahead and confess the sins along with the number, whether it is mortal or venial. Is it necessary for a good confession, as opposed to simply preferable, to come up with *which ones* are mortal and *which ones* are venial ? Nowadays, I simply preface my confession with something like “I have a hard time discerning if a sin is mortal or venial, so I just confess them indiscriminately”. Is that good practice ? The priests I confessed to have never inquired any further. And if it is necessary, do I have to mention the sins with the appropriate qualification in my next confession ?

It sounds to me as if you are doing just fine.  Don’t worry.   Your practice of simply confessing the sins you identify by kind and number is great.   If you aren’t quite sure about the gravity of a particular sin, just go ahead and confess it.

We are required to confess all mortal sins in kind and number.  We may confess venial sins.  You may say “These are my venial sins….”, if you wish.  You don’t have to.   You don’t have to confess your sins in order of gravity or severity.  Just confess them all sincerely.   If it helps you to be orderly, great!  Be orderly.  If you confess venial sins, they are forgiven too, along with the more serious ones.  As a matter of fact, your unconfessed venial sins are also forgiven along with the mortal sins.

So long as we do our best and make a sincere confession of the serious sins which we can remember, all our sins are forgiven, mortal, venial, those we remember and confessed, those we don’t remember… all of them.

To make a good confession, it helps to examine your conscience every evening.  That way we keep tabs on ourselves more easily, and when it comes time to go to confession we are better prepared and more comfortable in getting it all out.  Also, we know ourselves better, which is important.

And for everyone out there reading this who has not gone for a while, for whatever reason…

What happens when you make your sincere confession? What happens even if you sincerely can’t remember every thing?

WHAMO! All your sins will be forgiven, taken away, gone.  They aren’t simply overlooked, or covered over.  They are eradicated, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, never to be held against you when you come to your judgment.

Also, and this is important, there is no sin so horrible that we little mortals can commit that God will not forgive provide we ask for forgiveness.

Though your sins be red as scarlet, they will become as white as snow.

So, dear readers, look at your life with honesty, and go to confession. That’s it. Then you will be able to go to Communion again just as if it were your First Holy Communion all over again.

If you are nervous, or don’t know quite what to do, just say that to the priest: “Father, it’s been awhile and I’m not quite sure how to start.  Could you give me a hand?”  Easy.  Remember that you, and not the priest, are your own prosecuting attorney.

To repeat, there is no sin that we little mortals can commit that is so bad that our almighty, loving God will not forgive, provided we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.

God’s mercy is magnificent and it is ours for the asking.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. frival says:

    Thank you, Father. I went to Confession last night and for some reason the part you wrote that our sins are “washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb” hit me like it never has before. He truly did, and does, provide everything we need.

  2. G1j says:

    Father, even though our sins are remitted when we confess them, is there not still temporal punishment or Devine [Divine]Justice that we incur or is due, and this is removed by the sufferings in Purgatory?

    [We can start doing penance in this life, of course. That’s the right thing to do. But if we die in the state of grace, and we still have some attachment to sin or we have not adequately done the penance we need to do for the sins we have committed, in His mercy God permits us a way to be purified and readied for our eventually admission to the Beatific Vision. So, having our sins forgiven is one thing, but doing penance, out of justice, is another. I’ll set apart the issue of the indulgences, those wonderful gifts allowed by God from the Church’s treasury of mercy.]

  3. aquinasadmirer says:


    Look ahead to Good Friday, which is day one of the Divine Mercy novena. What is offered on the feast of Divine Mercy is astounding when you compare it to an indulgence for the price to be paid in purgatory.

    (I’m sure Fr. Z will set me straight if I’m off here… )

  4. Boniface says:

    My take on this person’s question is that they are wondering if they need to say: “I committed the following mortal sins: abc… and I committed the following venial sins: x, y, z.” The answer would be no, I think all experts would agree. Most mortal sins probably speak for themselves as mortal simply when identified, i.e. “I committed adultery.” But for a penitent to have to always assess definitively for oneself whether or not a sin was mortal or venial when such sins can be qualified by context, or take on gravity based on a sort of “spectrum” of duration or intensity (i.e. anger, drunkenness, etc.), would create huge problems for scrupulous people who tend to perceive every sin as very serious. Fr. Z’s admonition to confess a sin when in doubt as to whether or not it is mortal or venial, then, makes much sense (which I believe is the manualists’ advice, as well; the issue of whether or not to confess “doubtful sins” – which I understand as in doubt of being at all sinful – is another matter).

  5. yatzer says:

    What if we can’t think of any sins that might be mortal?

  6. ASPM Sem says:

    A great examination of conscience booklet, which delineates mortal and venial sins:

  7. Amante de los Manuales says:


    A similar question is asked in the Baltimore Catechism:

    430. What should we do when we have committed no mortal sin since our last confession?

    The answer:

    When we have committed no mortal sin since our last confession, we should confess our venial sins or some sin told in a previous confession, for which we are again sorry, in order that the priest may give us absolution.

    I hope that helps.

  8. ajf1984 says:

    To follow-on to Father’s point about it not being necessary to confess one’s sins “in order of gravity or severity,” I offer the following two observations:
    1) A wise confessor once told me (in the context of a retreat) that it can often be beneficial to start with the most egregious sin we have, and then work our way down to the least severe ones, so as to “take the plunge,” so to speak–and so we don’t chicken-out midway through our list of less-serious sins and neglect to get to The Big One! The rationale being, it takes courage to admit to something very serious, and the rest of the sins should be (relatively-speaking) easier to confess after that…
    2) This has led, however, to at least one occasion where I confessed The Big One first, and then Father (a different priest than the one mentioned above), after offering some advice about combating The Big One, launched directly into the formula for absolution, before I had a chance to get to the other items…Thankfully, most priests I have gone to for confession wait for me to conclude with the “For these and for any sins I have forgotten, I am truly sorry” before offering either advice or the absolution.

    Final note: to all of you priests who frequent this blog, thank you thank you thank you for making Christ’s true mercy available in the Confessional. It is a wonderful gift of His love, and we laity should express our gratitude to you more than we do, as a rule…

  9. ajf1984 says:

    **Apologies for a second post**
    I was remiss in neglecting to thank our kind host for so frequently urging us to go to Confession. His reminders have prompted me more than a few times to hie me to the box sooner, rather than later, for which I am always grateful!

  10. NoraLee9 says:

    I particularly liked the “WHAMO.” And that’s just how it works too.

  11. ajf1984 says:

    Okay, one more comment on this post, because I had to share it and this is Father Z’s most recent post concerning Confession. The title of this little exchange could be “Why We Chose Authentic Catholic Education”…
    Context: My wife is chaperoning the school field trip to the zoo, and has 3 2nd graders in her charge, one of whom is our eldest son who will make his 1st Communion next month:

    Our Son: “Mom, can I go to confession this week before Easter?”
    My Wife: “Yes, honey; I’m going tonight at 6 and you can come with me!”
    Our Son: “Okay, thanks!”
    Son’s Friend 1: “I go every Sunday before Mass.”
    Son’s Friend 2: “Dude, why do you go every Sunday? We have Confession at school on Fridays!”
    Son’s Friend 1: “Dude, because the more you go, the more grace you get, duh!”

  12. Daniel W says:

    The ruling from the council of Trent regarding the necessity to confess all and each mortal sin allows a little ambiguity regarding formal and material mortal sin, and therefore raises the question as to whether it is necessary to confess sins that are grave in matter (materially mortal sin) but that the penitent has reason to believe where not sufficiently deliberate to constitute mortal sin as such (formal mortal sin).

    For example, if I renounced the faith publicly under serious duress, it would be a mortal sin materially but not formally. My ‘sensus fidei’ tells me it is not only healthy to confess such sins, but dangerous not to, as the idea of confession is to place one’s sins for judgement by a representative of Christ while avoiding scrupulosity.

    Has anyone read a weighty opinion dealing with this specifically?

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