ASK FATHER: Confessing remembered forgotten sins

From a reader…


I tend to get very nervous in confession and I do better if I just stick to the script so to speak so I don’t start rambling. Is there a formula for confessing mortal sins that were forgotten in a previous confession, or do I just list them off with all the new ones? Do we still confess forgotten sins in kind and number?

If sticking to the script works for you, that’s fine.  It works for confessors too!  Thank you for not rambling.

If later you remember something that you haven’t yet confessed, then confess it the next time you go.

Don’t worry: if your last confession was sincere and you confessed all that you could remember, ALL your sins were forgiven, including those which you had forgotten.   Remembering them does not mean that you lose the state of grace, or fall back into the state of sin.  The sins were forgiven.

However, we are nevertheless asked by the Church to confess all our sins in both kind and number.  If you remember something that you haven’t confessed, confess it the next time even though it was forgiven.

As for a formula: No, nothing formal.   You might say, “Since my last confession I remembered something that I haven’t previously confessed….”

I hope this helps.


We are coming up on a week or so when we can gain many plenary indulgences for the Poor Souls.  We have to be in the state of grace to gain plenary indulgences and we should be detached from any kind of sin.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    ” to gain plenary indulgences and we should be detached from any kind of sin.”
    This condition has always been hard for me to understand. How can we possibly be detached from any kind of sin, even venial sins ? If we were so it would mean that we have reached the highest degree of sanctity., wouldn’t it ? That’s not something most of us can easily relate to, I guess. Or what does “detached” really mean in such a context ?
    Thank you.

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Philippe Martin — Not in the broader, all the time sense (although that is what you try for), but in the sense of at least temporarily being repentant and contrite. You aren’t walking into Confession while looking forward to doing something sinful.

    The Church does not set up impossible conditions for normal good works, and earning indulgences for the souls in Purgatory is as ordinary as it comes.

  3. Shonkin says:

    Philippe’s remark brings out the reason why I don’t waste my opportunities to gain plenary indulgences by trying to gain one for myself. To do so would require having absolutely no attachment (whatever that may be) to venial sin. I am not perfect. However, that is not a requirement for gaining plenary indulgences for the Poor Souls. A state of grace and the usual conditions (confession, Holy Communion, and prayers for the Pope’s intentions) are required.
    I choose to do penance and gain plenary indulgences for souls in Purgatory instead. I’ll trust God to inspire someone to pray for me when I’m in Purgatory.

  4. Clinton R. says:

    Father says: “GO TO CONFESSION.” I have indeed gone to Confession, Father. Thank you always for imploring us to confess our sins in a worthy manner to the Lord. Thanks be to God for this Sacrament. There is no greater feeling than to be free of the bondage of sin.

  5. JustaSinner says:

    I always ask that the most forgotten soul in Purgatory be forgiven. Guess maybe when it is my time, someone will do the same for me. Kind of hope God hears and maybe, kinda, just ish, once grants my prayer. Would love to meet said soul in Heavan when I’m through…like an ultimate BFF?

  6. TonyO says:

    I have a possible answer for Phillipe, but I am not positive it is right and I ask others who may have more definitive information to correct me if I am wrong.

    The critical distinction, I think, is this: it is one thing to be free of attachments to sin, and another thing to be free of inordinate attachments to worldly goods. If these are distinct, then it is possible to be free of attachments to sin while still working on the inordinate attachments to worldly goods.

    Here are a couple examples to show the differences. Suppose you have been in the habit of viewing pornography. You might sometimes form the intention of remorse for past sins, and even (with considerable effort) form the intention of not giving in to the temptation in the future, but you do not (yet) wish to even no longer desire the sinful behavior. That willingness to remain tied to the desire for the sinful acts is an attachment to sin.

    On the other hand, suppose that in most matters of food you are relatively modest in how you eat, but you find that you regularly are inordinate about chocolate, you overeat chocolate with some frequency. You may well have remorse for the past acts of over-eating chocolate, and form an intention never to do so again, while realizing and respecting the fact that you have a weakness for chocolate and more likely than not you will sin again in this matter. The difference here is that eating chocolate is not a sin, it is the inordinate act of eating TOO MUCH chocolate that is a sin, and a “desire for chocolate” is not an attachment to a sin. The desire for chocolate is a desire for a good, and the attachment is inordinate in that it is too strong an attachment, but it remains an attachment to a good, not an attachment to sin. The disorder is in the degree or manner of attachment (i.e. not subordinated to the right order of goods), not in the mere fact of the attachment.

    People who have deep-seated vices, or who have had them in the past and are in the process of overcoming them, may have a very great difficulty getting to the point of being free of any attachment to sin. For others, I believe, it is a more realistic goal in this life even if we still fall short of true sanctity. And besides that, all things are possible with God, including achieving freedom from inordinate attachments. We ought to hope for that even if we don’t have an expectation of success in this life.

  7. LeeGilbert says:

    Related question regarding the confession of past sins:

    Somewhere, I think it was in Eugene Boylan’s This Tremendous Lover, I read that it is helpful to confess previously confessed sins as a way of humbling ourselves, preventing their further recurrence, loosening our attachment to them etc. And to me this makes perfect sense, since when I stone my confessor with the popcorn of my senectitude ( h/t Fulton Sheen), how is this humbling or difficult or meritorious? In fact, it may convey the impression of relative innocence and be an attempt at vainglory! And moreover, it is the way I was instructed to confess my sins: ” Father, my last confession was a month ago. Since that time I have been guilty of a, b and c. And, as a sin of my past life, I mention the sin of d.” For using this form I was commended by an ancient priest of an illustrious order, “Thank you,” he said, “For using the correct form.”

    However, when I use the same form with the younger ( younger than sixty) priests of the same illustrious order, I was once upbraided at length for not believing in the efficacy of the sacrament and several times assured that it was all in the past, that the reset button had been pushed, that there was no need to worry or fret over the past (not that I was worrying or fretting over the past, just following the advice of Eugene Boylan and the priests of my youth), that current thinking does not favor this approach, etc.

    Here I would like to register a simple plea, that the presbyterate get its act together. And since younger priests are typically interested in the re-traditionalization of the Mass, that they consult older confessors about how to hear confessions and retraditionalize the confessional..

    And finally, apart from this, I would like to register that priests who have a marked devotion to the Sacred Heart not only are typically excellent confessors, but their very confessionals are redolent of grace from the moment one enters those precincts. Yet, it has been a quarter of a century since I have been in such a confessional or encountered such men, though at the moment I have several excellent confessors available, albeit with the above mentioned defect ( as I think it really is, but who am I?).

  8. Gab says:

    Father Z referred to this post some time ago about detachment from sin.

    Also, thank you to Tony O above for the chocolate example. It has clarified something for me.

  9. Gab says:

    Father Z referred to this post some time ago about detachment from sin.

    Also, thank you to Tony O above for the chocolate example. It has clarified something for me. .

  10. Gab says:

    It was so good I had to say it twice!

    Sorry, don’t know what happened there.

  11. Jana Parma says:

    In the spring I spoke with a deacon at my parish about this exact subject. I wanted to know what he was telling new people who were inquiring about the Catholic faith in a class he invited me to.

    He said that if you remembered a sin you forgot to mention in a confession, that God had already forgiven it because you didn’t intentionally leave it out. But also, that you shouldn’t go and confess it the next time because that would be a refusal to accept the forgiveness God had given you in the prior confession. So, I’m a little confused. Would it be a sin of refusing God’s mercy by confessing the next time the accidental omission?

    The deacon is brand new. He was just ordained. He told me he was studying under a Jesuit spiritual advisor.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. The rules for Confession are slightly different for people suffering from the spiritual condition called scruples. If you have that, follow your priest’s instructions on the matter.

    2. For people without the condition of scruples, mentioning a previously forgotten but forgiven-by-Confession sin is not a denigration of God’s grace, but a way to clear the air, and to get treated for the mindset that led you to that forgiven sin. If occasionally you get such promptings from your conscience, that is a sign that you probably need to confront that particular old dead sin, to ward off doing the same bad thing again. Confession is primarily for the forgiveness of sins, but other stuff folds into it.

    3. If your brain is constantly gnawing at old forgiven sins, in an unhealthy way that actually doubts God’s forgiveness or the validity of Confession, talk to your priest about your worries and habits of thought. You can even make an appointment, if you think you need to talk about a lot of concerns.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    4. It sounds like your deacon learned the obedience treatment for “scrupulous” people, mixed with the Jesuit spirituality of obedience.

    A lot of priests of a certain age assume that anybody who goes to Confession at all, these days, is scrupulous (unless he did a doozy sin, like murder). So everybody gets the scrupulosity treatment.

    Shrug. It won’t kill you, but it is not always helpful to the non-scrupulous. It does get the job done, though, and I guess a little obedience training is not a bad idea. But in this case, you do not have to worry because the deacon cannot hear Confessions. It might be a concern for RE, or for his preaching.

  14. Jana Parma says:

    Thank you @suburbanbanshee

    I don’t think I’m scrupulous at all. If anything I tend to be too blasé. I grew up a protestant going to many denominations and confession was not something you did. It was always a private matter between you and Jesus in prayer.

    Now that I’m Catholic (20 years!) I find my protestant background sneaking up on me and I forget my sins almost as soon as they are over. I don’t confess a vast majority of what I’ve done because I simply don’t have the training in remembering them and they don’t nag at my conscience unless they’re really big and I’m having flashbacks. I find this a conflict with my Catholic faith.

    I don’t think a lot of priests or deacons understand this problem with converts. I don’t think it’s just me trying to deal with this culture shock.

  15. MrsMacD says:

    @Jana Parma it can also be salutary, if you’ve rid yourself of mortal sins, to just confess one sin that you intend to work on that week/month, that way you can sort of knock em down one by one, or er try to knock em down one by one, the graces of confession will help. It’s also good to do a nightly examination of conscience, so you can evaluate where you’re at and it will help you to remember your sins. Finding sins not that big a deal is a problem for a lot of Catholics too, just witness the predominance of promiscuity, the long Communion lineups and the lack of available confession times and confession lines. Formation of priests is something that needs improvement, we used to be experts in forming priests before VII but we lost that with the Mass of ages. We have to be patient with our priests as they rediscover our patrimony and try to rebuild while not really knowing what they used to do.

  16. rhhenry says:

    I’ll share my practice about confessing already-forgiven sins, in the hope that it is useful for others:

    I include past sins in my brief biographical prelude. Something like the following, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been X weeks since my last confession. I am married with children, and I have struggled with X in the past. Since my last confession I have . . .”

    And I do try to thank priests, occasionally and briefly. Something like, “Thank you for hearing my confession, and thank you for saying the words of absolution so slowly and clearly. It’s often tough for me to screw up my courage enough to come in here, and it’s nice to leave with no doubt about the validity of the absolution.”

    I keep my “biographical prelude” and thanks very brief, so as not to weary either the confessor or the penitents still in line.

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