ASK FATHER: Confession of serious sins in both kind and number.

From a reader…


According to canon law, we are obliged to confess our mortal sins in “both kind and number.” Would my sins be absolved if I failed to mention the venial sins in number?

YES!  Number, too… for serious sins.

You are not obliged to confess venial sins, though doing so is good and helpful, especially as one proceeds in the spiritual life and overcomes major faults.

If you choose to confess venial sins, sure, go ahead and confess them in kind and number if you wish, although you are not obliged to.

In regard to serious, mortal sins, you are obliged.  Why?

If you confess that you “lied”, that might mean that you lied once or that you lied 50 times.  The former could be a one-off.  The latter means that you have a serious problem as an inveterate liar.  There’s a difference.

So, it is smart to confess sins in number, because we learn who we are for the sake of our journey towards our heavenly fatherland.

It is smart, but it is also the law.  It is the law, precisely because it is smart and good for us.

In the 1983 Code of Canon Law we read:

Canon 988 – §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, for which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.
§2. It is to be recommended to the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed.


Remember that each sacrament has both matter and form. The matter of the sacrament of penance is the telling of sins.

While we are not obliged to include all sorts of circumstantial information surrounding the sins, we do need to indicate number and/or frequency, by number can change the severity of the sin and indicate to the confessor (and to yourself) where your principle problems are.

Sometimes it will happen that your memory is not clear about the number of times you committed a sin. In that case, just do your best.  If you truly cannot recall clearly, that’s okay.  Ultra posse nemo tenetur.

Even when your memory is faulty, if you do your best the sins you don’t remember or confess (through no fault of your own) are also indirectly remitted.

However, if you are aware that you should confess sins in both kind and number (or at least give an idea of frequency) and you deliberately avoid indicating number… that’s not good.

A regular, daily examination of conscience will help you in developing the good habits involved in making a good confession.

So, everything, really pry into yourself and then…


And, Fathers!  TEACH people about how to make a good confession.  And go to confession yourselves!  Souls, in including your own, depend on it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Hmmmm. I thought to confess I kind and number was correct. The last time I did so, however, I was corrected by the priest who chuckled and said that many people “still had the mistaken notion” that one must confess this way. He said Jesus doesn’t care how mamy times you did something, whether you did it one time or a hundred, it was the same. [He was DEAD WRONG to say that.] I was confused, and I didn’t know what to do, so I thanked him for the correction and continued on as best as I could. I haven’t confessed in kind and number since, because I didn’t want to go against what that priest told me. Yet another church I can’t go to for confession anymore, I guess. I am quite tired of trying to find a good confessor around here. Between this incident and the one where the priest laughed at me and told me something I confessed wasn’t even a sin (I know for a fact it was), I don’t know what to do. Can priests just stop laughing at me in their confessional when all I’m trying to do is do my best to confess? It’s hard enough as it is. [Perhaps you might address a question to that priest, citing the canon. If he doesn’t give you a response, you might ask the local bishop if that canon is still in force.]

  2. youngcatholicgirl says:

    Would “giving an idea of frequency” mean saying you committed a sin “a few times”, “several times”, or “quite a few times”? I generally do that, unless I can actually recall an exact number of times I committed a given sin. I’m not sure if I should be doing it differently, though.

    [I think we can all do better than “a few times” or “quite a few times” if… if… we regularly examine our consciences. Let’s not be mediocre in the confessional. We are our own prosecutors.]

  3. Adaquano says:

    5 years ago this Advent I returned to Confession after 5 1/2 years, what bothers me when I read is I wonder if I was precise enough in that Confession. Is saying that you made a habit of those vices over the years enough to absolve us?

    [When it is a matter of years, you do your best. If are sincere in your confession, you are good to go. You are your own prosecutor, not torturer.]

  4. un-ionized says:

    Adaquano, I asked a priest that same question once and he said yes, you have been absolved.

  5. Huber says:

    I went to Catholic school in the late 80s and 90s, and had my first confession and communion in 1990. We were never taught this, nor have I ever encountered it until finding myself at an FSSP parish where the pastor gave a sermon on how to give a proper confession. It would be nice Catholicism was actually taught in the modern church. [Wouldn’t it, though?]

  6. TomG says:

    My FSSP pastor recommends that mortal sins that have NOT been confessed in number should over a reasonable period of time be re-introduced in the confessional in number (as best one can estimate). I’m 71 years old. I’m making a list and checking it twice.

    [We are obliged to confess all mortal sins. If we remember something from the past, and we are not sure that we have confessed it or we know that we haven’t, then confess it. And, yes, kind and number is important… for the reasons I have explained and explained and explained.]

  7. JustASeminarian says:

    Yeah, so when it comes to number, I’ve always viewed it as the notion of general frequency. So one can say once, a couple times, a few times, several times, a lot, etc. In grammar, number simply refers to singular or plural. I think reason would dictate an interpretation of a little more specificity than that, but not to the point of scrupulousity. The same goes for how many days since one’s last confession. The more frequent one goes, the more specific it ought to be for a better handle of the problem, but if you can’t remember the date of your last confession or simply don’t want to do the math, saying that it’s been about a year and a half even if it has actually been 489 days is fine. Thoughts?

    [I’d say you are over-analyzing. The canon says, confess in kind and number. If we make regular examination of conscience, and make progress in the spiritual life, and make good use of the sacrament of penance, this isn’t complicated. Think about it.]

  8. smithUK says:

    I get the ‘number’ bit, but what is meant by ‘kind’? Does it mean mortal vs venial? Or does it mean the type of sin, eg. sin against the 4th Commandment.

    [“I lied (KIND) 4 times (NUMBER).”]

  9. Jonathan Marshall says:

    For UK readers I cannot recommend highly enough Fr Bede Rowe’s concise book “A Guide to Confession”. Concise, clear and engagingly written, it is quite simply the best explanation of the sacrament of confession I have come across. It’s published by and is also available through Amazon.
    I don’t know if you can get it in the US, but if you can – do!

  10. kolbe1019 says:

    Question… What are the rules concerning a general confession of ones entire life that would include sins already confessed? [There aren’t any “rules” for this.] Let’s say a person for whatever reason wants to make a general confession of sins already confessed. Perhaps she/he has something that is troubling them from their past that they want to get out though they maybe have confessed it before or perhaps totally forgotten about it previously… can they skip over some mortal sins for brevity? shame? etc? [If you know you have previously confessed a mortal sin, you are never obliged to confess it again. However, if a person wants to make a “general confession” – something which I think should be both rare and by appointment – confess whatever it is that weighs heavily on your mind. A general confession, by definition, should be thorough, so it needs a lot of preparation BEFORE making the appointment and going to the confessor. BEFORE.]

    Also what is the hard and fast rule concerning mortal sins that a person genuinely forgot in the confessional? Some people say not to worry your intention was to come clean and you genuinely forgot. Others say you must remember to confess it next time… [This also has been answered before in these pages. I you truly forgot something, it was nevertheless forgiven when you received absolution. However, we are still obliged to confess it. You could add something like, I remembered this since my last confession….]

    Thank you for bringing up the importance of kind and number I know many young people especially are ignorant of this and will just come up with a few minor things to tell the priest and not fully come clean. God bless you!

  11. Imrahil says:

    The thing is that the number is often not easy to ascertain, especially if you are under the impression that you are to apply it to venial or at least the-stronger-sort-of-venial sins; and also if you have to cover a long period where you haven’t practiced your faith or attended your Confession, really.

    It can also become difficult if you are a practicing Catholic but, like so many of us were, hadn’t been told or at least not really told about not receiving Holy Communion after (not totally ghastly) mortal sins, and find it hard to count all the Holy Communion that may have possibly been sacrilegious which you may have possibly some culpability for.

    I was (begging the reverend host’s and priest readers’ pardon) under the impression that I of course don’t lie in the Confessional, but if I’m not specific enough in a matter I touched for the Confession-father to understand, then let him ask.

  12. veritas vincit says:

    I always interpreted the requirement for “number” to be as best you can remember, but not to the point of scrupulosity, such as in making up “laundry lists” of sins (“Forgive me Father, I did X 3 times, Y 5 times, Z 4 times…”). [That’s not being scrupulous. That’s being accurate. Scrupulousity consists mostly of constant self-doubts, second-guessing, fearing that something isn’t exactly correct and agonizing over it. It can be paralyzing for some.]

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