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General Information Regarding Penance

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The Sacrament of Penance

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"The sacrament of Penance, also called Confession, is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ to remit the sins committed after Baptism." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"The Sacrament of Penance remits sins and restores the friendship of God to the soul by means of absolution of the priest." (Baltimore Catechism)

"How thankful, then, should not sinners be to God for having bestowed such ample power on the priests of His Church! Unlike the priests of the Old Law who merely declared the leper cleansed from his leprosy, the power now given to the priests of the New Law is not limited to declaring the sinner absolved from his sins, but, as a minister of God, he truly absolves from sin. This is an effect of which God Himself, the author and source of grace and justice, is the principal cause." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

The Sacrament of Penance

Also Called: Confession, Sacrament of Reconciliation

"The manifold mercy of God came to the assistance of fallen men in such a way that the hope of eternal life might be recovered not only by the grace of baptism, but also by the remedy of penance, that those who have violated the gifts of regeneration, condemning themselves by their own judgment, might attain to the remission of their sins; the help of divine goodness having been so ordered that the indulgence of God cannot be obtained except by the supplications of the priests. For the Mediator of God and of men, the man [and God] Christ Jesus [1 Tim. 2:5] has entrusted this power to the leaders of the Church, that they might both grant the action of penance to those confessing, and admit the same [persons] cleansed by salutary satisfaction to the communion of the sacraments through the gate of reconciliation." (Pope St. Leo the Great, Doctor of the Church, 459 A.D.)

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Type of Sacrament

Is Sacrament Obligatory?


Can This Sacrament Be Repeated?

When Should Sacrament Be Received?

General Prerequisites

Ordinary Ministers

Form / Matter

Chief Effects

Additional Information | Page 2

For More Information Regarding Penance / Confession, Try...

Type of Sacrament: 'Sacrament of the Dead'  (click here for more info.)

Is Sacrament Obligatory? Yes (for those who have reached the age of reason). As stated by the Council of Trent: "For those who fall into sin after Baptism the Sacrament of Penance is as necessary to salvation as is Baptism for those who have not been already baptized." Also, Church law may require the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year. 

"The sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation to all who have committed a mortal sin after Baptism." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Can. 989 After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"As the frailty and weakness of human nature are universally known and felt by each one in himself, no one can be ignorant of the great necessity of the Sacrament of Penance." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[T]he Church obliges all to confess once a year; because she commands all to receive Holy Communion once a year, viz. at Easter, wherefore all must go to confession before that time." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"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. §2 It is recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"My children, it is like a person who has a slight illness; he need not go and see a doctor, he may cure himself without. If he has a headache, he need only go to bed; if he is hungry, he has only to eat. But if it is a serious illness, if it is a dangerous wound, he must have the doctor; after the doctor come the remedies. In the same way, when we have fallen into any grievous sin, we must have recourse to the doctor, that is the priest; and to the remedy, that is confession." (Catechism of St. John Vianney)

"We are bound to confession on two counts: first, by the Divine law, from the very fact that confession is a remedy, and in this way not all are bound to confession, but those only who fall into mortal sin after Baptism; secondly, by a precept of positive law, and in this way all are bound by the precept of the Church laid down in the general council (Lateran iv, canon 21) under Innocent III, both in order that everyone may acknowledge himself to be a sinner, because 'all have sinned and need the grace of God' (Romans 3:23); and that the Eucharist may be approached with greater reverence; and lastly, that parish priests may know their flock, lest a wolf may hide therein." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Baptism is administered but once, and cannot be repeated; Penance may by administered and becomes necessary, as often as we may have sinned after Baptism. Hence the Council of Trent declares: For those who fall into sin after Baptism the Sacrament of Penance is as necessary to salvation as is Baptism for those who have not been already baptized. This saying of St. Jerome that Penance is a second plank, is universally known and highly commended by all subsequent writers on sacred things. As he who suffers shipwreck has no hope of safety, unless, perchance, he seize on some plank from the wreck, so he that suffers the shipwreck of baptismal innocence, unless he cling to the saving plank of Penance, has doubtless lost all hope of salvation." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Recipients: Persons of either sex who have "arrived at the use of reason"

"The custom of never admitting children to confession, or of never absolving them when they have arrived at the use of reason, is to be disapproved entirely. Therefore, the local ordinaries will see to it, even by applying the remedy of the law, that this custom is entirely abandoned." (Congregation on the Sacraments, August 8, 1910 A.D.)

"As the law of confession was no doubt enacted and established by our Lord Himself, it is our duty to ascertain, on whom, at what age, and at what period of the year, it becomes obligatory. According to the canon of the Council of person is bound by the law of Confession until he has arrived at the use of reason - a time determinable by no fixed number of years. It may, however, be laid down as a general principle, that children are bound to go to confession as soon as they are able to discern good from evil, and are capable of malice; for, when a person has arrived at an age when he must begin to attend to the work of his salvation, he is bound to confess his sins to a priest, since there is no other salvation for one whose conscience is burdened with sin." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Can This Sacrament Be Repeated? Yes. Frequent confession is recommended even for those who have not fallen into serious sin.

When Should Sacrament Be Received? The Sacrament becomes necessary once a person has committed a mortal sin and should be received as soon as possible. For those not guilty of a mortal sin (both children and adults), the Sacrament should be received regularly (even weekly). The Sacrament may also be obligatory each year before Easter. 

"The faithful should be careful above all to cleanse their consciences from sin by frequent confession. When a person is in mortal sin nothing can be more salutary, so precarious is human life, than to have immediate recourse to confession. But even if we could promise ourselves a long life, yet it would be truly disgraceful that we who are so particular in whatever relates to cleanliness of dress or person, were not at least equally careful in preserving the luster of the soul unsullied from the foul stains of sin." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"In the same canon holy Church has defined the period within which we are especially bound to discharge the duty of confession. It commands all the faithful to confess their sins at least once a year. If, however, we consult our eternal interests, we will certainly not neglect to have recourse to confession as often, at least, as we are in danger of death, or undertake to perform any act incompatible with the state of sin, such as to administer or receive the Sacraments. The same rule should be strictly followed when we are apprehensive of forgetting some sin, into which we may have fallen; for we cannot confess sins unless we remember them, neither do we obtain pardon unless our sins are blotted out through sacramental confession." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

General Prerequisites: Contrition for sin, intention of making satisfaction, proper faith/disposition. Note: For other requirements of penance, see below

Ordinary Ministers: A validly ordained priest with proper jurisdiction.

"Can. 965 A priest alone is the minister of the sacrament of penance." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"The minister of the sacrament of Penance is a priest authorized by the Bishop to hear confessions." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Whoever discharges this sacred function must be invested not only with the power of orders, but also with that of jurisdiction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[T]he minister of the Sacrament of Penance must be a priest possessing ordinary or delegated jurisdiction" (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"A priest must be authorized by the Bishop to hear confessions because to administer this sacrament validly the power of Orders is not enough, but there is also necessary the power of jurisdiction, that is, the power to judge, which must be given by the Bishop." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Can. 966 §1 The valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution." (1983 Code of Canon Law) 

"Can. 991 All Christ's faithful are free to confess their sins to lawfully approved confessors of their own choice, even to one of another [approved Catholic] rite." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Therefore, since the nature and essence of a judgment require that the sentence be imposed only on subjects, there has always been the conviction in the Church of God, and this Synod confirms it as most true, that this absolution which the priest pronounces upon one over whom he has no ordinary or delegated jurisdiction has no value." (Council of Trent)

"Can. 986 §2 In an urgent necessity, every confessor is bound to hear the confessions of Christ's faithful, and in danger of death every [validly ordained] priest is so obliged." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 976 Any [validly ordained] priest, even though he lacks the faculty to hear confessions, can validly and lawfully absolve any penitents who are in danger of death, from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"In order that none may perish, if there is imminent danger of death, and recourse cannot be had to the proper priest, the Council of Trent teaches that according to the ancient practice of the Church of God it is then lawful for any [validly ordained] priest, not only to remit all kinds of sin, whatever faculties they might otherwise require, but also to absolve from excommunication." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"The absolution of the penitent, for the sake of which he makes his confession, is imparted by none but priests to whom the keys are intrusted... The grace which is given in the sacraments, descends from the Head to the members. Wherefore he alone who exercises a ministry over Christ's true body is a minister of the sacraments, wherein grace is given; and this belongs to a priest alone, who can consecrate the Eucharist. Therefore, since grace is given in the sacrament of Penance, none but a priest is the minister of the sacrament: and consequently sacramental confession which should be made to a minister of the Church, should be made to none but a priest." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Can. 881 § 1 All priests of either type of clergy ["secular clergy" and "regular clergy"] who are approved for the hearing of confessions in a place, wither so enabled by ordinary or delegated jurisdiction, can also validly and licitly absolve wanderers and travelers from another diocese or parish coming to them, and likewise Catholics of any oriental rite." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

Form / Matter: Absolution by the priest: "I absolve thee..." / Acts of the Penitent ("the three parts of Penance"): (1) contrition, (2) confession ["A sacramental accusation of one's sins {to the priest}, made to obtain pardon by virtue of the keys." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)], and (3) satisfaction. Note: Sins may also be considered the matter (see below).

"The form of the sacrament of Penance is this: 'I absolve thee from thy sins.'" (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Absolution is the form of prayer or words the priest pronounces over us with uplifted hand when he forgives the sins we have confessed. It is given while we are saying the Act of Contrition after receiving our Penance." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The parts of the sacrament of Penance are contrition, confession, and satisfaction on the part of the penitent, and absolution ["the sentence which the priest pronounces in the name of Jesus Christ when remitting the penitent's sins"] on the part of the priest." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Now it is peculiar to this Sacrament that besides matter and form, which it has in common with all the other Sacraments, it has also, as we have said, those parts which constitute Penance, so to say, whole and entire; namely, contrition, confession and satisfaction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Now the form is: I absolve thee, as may be inferred not only from the words, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven, but also from the teaching of Christ our Lord, handed down to us by the Apostles. Moreover, since the Sacraments signify what they effect, the words, I absolve thee, signify that remission of sin is effected by the administration of this Sacrament; and hence it is plain that such is the perfect form of the Sacrament." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"The matter of the sacrament of Penance is divided into remote and proximate. The remote matter consists of the sins committed by the penitent after Baptism; and the proximate matter are the acts of the penitent himself, that is, contrition ["contrition or sorrow for sin is a grief of the soul leading us to detest sins committed and to resolve not to commit them any more"], confession ["confession of sins consists in a distinct accusation of our sins made to the confessor in order to obtain absolution and receive penance for them"], and satisfaction ["satisfaction or penance is that prayer or other good work which the confessor enjoins on the penitent in expiation of his sins"]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"The holy synod doth furthermore teach, that the form of the sacrament of penance, wherein its force principally consists, is placed in those words of the minister, I absolve thee, &c: to which words indeed certain prayers are, according to the custom of holy Church, laudably joined, which nevertheless by no means regard the essence of that form, neither are they necessary for the administration of the sacrament itself. But the acts of the penitent himself, to wit, contrition, confession and satisfaction, are as it were the matter of this sacrament. Which acts, inasmuch as they are, by God's institution, required in the penitent for the integrity of the sacrament, and for the full and perfect remission of sins, are for this reason called the parts of penance." (Council of Trent)

"The fourth sacrament is penance, the matter of which is, as it were, the acts of the penitent, which are divided into three parts. The first of these is contrition of heart, to which pertains grief for a sin committed together with a resolution not to sin in the future. The second is oral confession, to which pertains that the sinner confess integrally to his priest all sins of which he has recollection. The third is satisfaction for sins according to the decision of the priest, which is accomplished chiefly by prayer, fasting, and alms. The words of absolution which the priest utters when he says: Ego te absolvo etc., are the form of this sacrament, and the minister of this sacrament is the priest who has either ordinary authority for absolving or has it by the commission of a superior. The effect of this sacrament is absolution from sins." (Pope Eugenius IV, "Exultate Deo", 1439 A.D.)

"There is nothing that should be better known to the faithful than the matter of this Sacrament; hence they should be taught that Penance differs from the other Sacraments in this that while the matter of the other Sacraments is some thing, whether natural or artificial, the matter, as it were, of the Sacrament of Penance is the acts of the penitent, - namely, contrition, confession and satisfaction, - as has been declared by the council of Trent. Now, inasmuch as these acts are by divine institution required on the part of the penitent for the integrity of the Sacrament, and for the full and perfect remission of sin, they are called parts of Penance. It is not because they are not the real matter that they are called by the Council the matter as it were, but because they are not of that sort of matter which is applied externally, such, for instance, as water in Baptism and chrism in Confirmation. As regards the opinion of some who hold that sins themselves are the matter of this Sacrament, it will be found, when carefully examined, that it does not really differ from the explanation already given. Thus we say that wood which is consumed by fire is the matter of fire. In the same way, sins which are destroyed by Penance may properly be called the matter of Penance." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Chief Effects:

* Takes away all sins: "Penance...takes away all the sins of thought and deed committed after Baptism" (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"The sacrament of Penance has the power of remitting all sins no matter how numerous and great they are, provided it is received with the requisite dispositions." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Can. 870 In the sacrament of penance, through judicial absolution imparted by a legitimate minister, those sins committed after baptism are remitted from the rightly disposed faithful." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

* Restores sinners to friendship with God: "First of all, then, the great efficacy of Penance consists in this, that it restores us to the grace of God, and unites us to Him in the closest friendship." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Reconciles the sinner with the Church: "Can. 959 In the sacrament of penance the faithful who confess their sins to a lawful minister, are sorry for those sins and have a purpose of amendment, receive from God, through the absolution given by that minister, forgiveness of sins they have committed after baptism, and at the same time they are reconciled with the Church, which by sinning they wounded." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* In pious souls, may restore tranquility of conscience and bring joy to the soul: "In pious souls who approach this Sacrament with devotion, profound peace and tranquility of conscience, together with ineffable joy of soul, sometimes accompany this reconciliation. For there is no sin, however great or horrible, which cannot be effaced by the Sacrament of Penance, and that not merely once, but over and over again. On this point God Himself thus speaks through the Prophet: If the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgment, and justice, living he shall live, and shall not die, and I will not remember all his iniquities that he hath done. And St. John says: If we confess our sins; he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins; and a little later, he adds: If any man sin - he excepts no sin whatever - we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the just; for he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Puts out the fires of hell: "Confession puts out the fires of hell for you." (St. Pacianus of Barcelona)

"It is of faith that Heaven exists for the good and Hell for the wicked. Faith teaches that the pains of Hell are eternal, and it also warns us that one single mortal sin suffices to condemn a soul forever because of the infinite malice by which it offends an infinite God." (St. Anthony Mary Claret)

"[B]y sin we have offended God, the supreme and most amiable Good; have lost heaven and deserved hell." (Catechism of St. John Neumann)

* Repairs a sinful man instantly: "[A] man is repaired in an instant by Divine grace." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* Gives the penitent graces to avoid future sin: "[I]t is an excellent thing to go to confession often, because the sacrament of Penance, besides taking away sin, gives the graces necessary to avoid sin in the future." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* Restores virtues: "[G]race is infused into man through Penance. Now all the gratuitous virtues flow from grace, even as all the powers result from the essence of the soul... Therefore all the virtues are restored through Penance." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* Reduces punishment in purgatory: "[O]ne who has confessed and received absolution will be less punished in Purgatory than one who has gone no further than contrition." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* Frees a soul from the chains of sin: "For sins are, so to say, the chains by which the soul is bound, and from which it is freed by the Sacrament of Penance." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Leads to piety and holiness: "[M]ost holy persons are firmly persuaded that whatever of piety, of holiness, of religion, has been preserved to our times in the Church, through God's goodness, must be ascribed in great measure to confession. It cannot, therefore, be a matter of surprise that the enemy of the human race, in his efforts to destroy utterly the Catholic Church, should, through the agency of the ministers of his wicked designs, have assailed with all his might this bulwark, as it were, of Christian virtue. It should be shown, therefore, in the first place that the institution of confession is most useful and even necessary to us." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Discourages penitents from relapsing into sin since they will have to confess their sins and do penance for them / Provides remedies for the remains of sin: "For, doubtless, these satisfactory punishments greatly recall from sin, and check as it were with a bridle, and make penitents more cautious and watchful for the future; they are also remedies for the remains of sin, and, by acts of the opposite virtues, they remove the habits acquired by evil living." (Council of Trent)

* Encourages fear of the Lord and satisfies our obligations to the Lord.

* Turns away God's wrath: "Neither indeed was there ever in the Church of God any way accounted surer to turn aside the impending chastisement of the Lord, than that men should, with true sorrow of mind, practice these works of penitence. Add to these things, that, whilst we thus, by making satisfaction, suffer for our sins, we are made conformable to Jesus Christ, who satisfied for our sins, from whom all our sufficiency is; having also thereby a most sure pledge, that if we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

* Confers grace, remits punishment, revives merits, aids against future sin, restores peace of conscience: "The sacrament of Penance confers sanctifying grace by which are remitted the mortal sins and also the venial sins which we confess and for which we are sorry; it changes eternal punishment into temporal punishment, of which it even remits more or less according to our dispositions; it revives the merits of the good works done before committing mortal sin; it gives the soul aid in due time against falling into sin again, and it restores peace of conscience." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* Opens the gates of heaven for sinners by providing an easier means for the salvation of sinners than perfect contrition: "Contrition, it is true, blots out sin; but who does not know that to effect this it must be so intense, so ardent, so vehement, as to bear a proportion to the magnitude of the crimes which it effaces? This is a degree of contrition which few reach; and hence, in this way, very few indeed could hope to obtain the pardon of their sins. It, therefore, became necessary that the most merciful Lord should provide by some easier means for the common salvation of men; and this He has done in His admirable wisdom, by giving to His Church the keys of the kingdom of heaven. According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, a doctrine firmly to be believed and constantly professed by all, if the sinner have a sincere sorrow for his sins and a firm resolution of avoiding them in future, although he bring not with him that contrition which may be sufficient of itself to obtain pardon, all his sins are forgiven and remitted through the power of the keys, when he confesses them properly to the priest. Justly, then, do those most holy men, our Fathers, proclaim that by the keys of the Church the gate of heaven is thrown open, a truth which no one can doubt since the Council of Florence has decreed that the effect of Penance is absolution from sin." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Healing and cleansing of sinners: "To appreciate further the great advantages of confession we may turn to a fact taught by experience. To those who have led immoral lives nothing is found so useful towards a reformation of morals as sometimes to disclose their secret thoughts, all their words and actions, to a prudent and faithful friend, who can assist them by his advice and cooperation. For the same reason it must prove most salutary to those whose minds are agitated by the consciousness of guilt to make known the diseases and wounds of their souls to the priest, as the vicegerent of Christ our Lord, bound to eternal secrecy by the strictest of laws. (In the Sacrament of Penance) they will find immediate remedies, the healing qualities of which will not only remove the present malady, but will also have such a heavenly efficacy in preparing the soul against an easy relapse into the same kind of disease and infirmity." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"In the life of the body a man is sometimes sick, and unless he takes medicine, he will die. Even so in the spiritual life a man is sick on account of sin. For that reason he needs medicine so that he may be restored to health; and this grace is bestowed in the sacrament of Penance." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Confession is a fair ornament of the soul, which both cleanses a sinner and makes the righteous more thoroughly cleansed. Without confession, the righteous is deemed ungrateful, and the sinner accounted dead." (St. Bernard, Doctor of the Church)

* Helps preserve the social order: "Another advantage of confession, which should not be overlooked, is that it contributes powerfully to the preservation of social order. Abolish sacramental confession, and that moment you deluge society with all sorts of secret and heinous crimes - crimes too, and others of still greater enormity, which men, once that they have been depraved by vicious habits, will not dread to commit in open day. The salutary shame that attends confession restrains licentiousness, bridles desire and checks wickedness." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Restrains the movements of the soul: "Nothing is better able to restrain the movements of the soul, better able to subject to right reason the natural appetites, than penance." (Pope Pius XII)

* According to the Council of Trent, satisfaction: "Atones to the Church, deters others from sin, makes us like unto Christ, heals the wounds of sin, and disarms the vengeance of God and averts punishments decreed against us."

* Obtains for us pardon for our sins: "We confess our sins with a view to obtain pardon. In this respect the tribunal of penance differs from other tribunals, which take cognizance of capital offences, and before which a confession of guilt does not secure acquittal and pardon, but penalty and punishment." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Makes penitents more conscious of sin and more aware that they have offended Almighty God.

* Helps excite the faithful to a hatred for sin: "Pastors should also take care that the faithful be excited to a supreme hatred of sin, both because its turpitude and baseness are very great and because it brings us the gravest losses and misfortunes. For sin deprives us of the friendship of God, to whom we are indebted for so many invaluable blessings, and from whom we might have expected and received gifts of still higher value; and along with this it consigns us to eternal death and to torments unending and most severe." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Destroys uneasiness: "Christ our Lord was pleased to number Penance among the Sacraments. One of His reasons certainly was to leave us no room for doubt regarding the remission of sin which was promised by God when He said: If the wicked do penance, etc. For each one has good reason to distrust the accuracy of his own judgment on his own actions, and hence we could not but be very much in doubt regarding the truth of our internal penance. It was to destroy this, our uneasiness, that our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Penance, by means of which we are assured that our sins are pardoned by the absolution of the priest; and also to tranquilize our conscience by means of the trust we rightly repose in the virtue of the Sacraments. The words of the priest sacramentally and lawfully absolving us from our sins are to be accepted in the same sense as the words of Christ our Lord when He said to the paralytic: Son, be of good heart: thy sins are forgiven thee." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Jesus was not content with giving us his assurance that if, after having sinned, we have recourse with humble repentance to the divine Majesty, we shall obtain pardon: as the sentence of God's mercy would thus be without any outward sign, a cruel anxiety would have ever been upon us, leaving us in doubt of our forgiveness. Therefore did this loving Savior ordain that men should give us pardon, in his name. That we might know that the Son of Man hath power on earth go forgive sins, he gave power to his delegates to pronounce over us a sentence of absolution which our very ears might hear, and which would convey to our souls the sweet confidence of pardon. O ineffable sacrament, by whose means heaven is peopled by countless numbers who else had been lost, and who will for ever sing the mercies of the Lord! O irresistible power of the words of absolution, which, deriving their efficacy from the Blood of our Redeemer, take away all our iniquities, and plunge them into the abyss of divine mercy! The eternity of torments due to these iniquities would never have expiated them; and yet these few words of the priest: I absolve thee, have utterly annihilated them. Such is the sacrament of penance. In return for the humble confession of our sins and the sincere sorrow for having committed them, we receive pardon, and this not only once or twice only, but as often as we approach the sacred tribunal; not for this or that kind of sin only, but for every sin whatsoever." (Dom Gueranger)

* Remits sin, gives grace, restores peace, reopens the gates of heaven, preserves us in the future, enables us to gain indulgences: "A good confession: (1) Remits the sins we have committed and gives us the grace of God; (2) Restores us peace and quiet of conscience; (3) Reopens the gates of Heaven and changes the eternal punishment of hell into a temporal punishment; (4) Preserves us from falling again, and renders us capable of partaking of the treasury of Indulgences." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* Is good for one's psychological health: "There are many souls stretched out on a psychoanalytic couch today who would be far better off if they brought their consciences to the confessional box." (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

* Teaches us how to do better. Not only can good confessors provide advice to help us in the future, but our own preparing for confession may help us realize how we could have done better.

* Comforts the sinner: "What a comfort to the guilty, when, stung with remorse and repenting of his sins, he hears the word of the priest who says to him in God's name: 'I absolve thee from thy sins!'" (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

* Helps the sinner become more humble.

* Renews our baptism and gives us a 'second life': "Repentance is the renewal of Baptism and a contract with God for a second life." (St. John Climacus)

* Helps us to encounter Christ: "You know the story of the box which was long ignored and even ridiculed as worthless; and one day it was opened and found to contain the great heart of a giant. In every Catholic Church that box exists. We call it the confessional box. It is ignored and ridiculed by many, but in it is to be found the Sacred Heart of the forgiving Christ, forgiving sinners through the uplifted hand of His priest as He once forgave through His own uplifted hands on the Cross. There is only one forgiveness - the Forgiveness of God. There is only one 'Forgive' - the 'Forgive' of an eternal Divine act in which we come in contact at various moments of time. As the air is always filled with symphony and speech, but we do not hear it unless we tune it in on our radios, so neither do souls feel the joy of that eternal and divine 'Forgive' unless they are attuned to it in time; and the confessional box is the place where we tune in to that cry from the Cross." (Archbishop Fulton Sheen)

* Helps us to become more grateful towards God and assists us in increasing our love of God.

Additional Information:

* While we are alive, it is never too late for repentance:

"To him who still remains in this world no repentance is too late. The approach to God's mercy is open, and the access is easy to those who seek and apprehend the truth...pardon is granted to the man who confesses, saving mercy is given from the divine goodness to the believer, and a passage is opened to immortality even in death itself." (St. Cyprian, 3rd century A.D.)

* Now is the time for repentance: 

"Don't imitate those who deceive themselves by saying, 'I will sin and then go to confession.' How do you know that you will have time to make your confession? Isn't it madness to wound yourself, in the hope that a doctor will be found to heal the wound?" (St. John Bosco)

"There is hope of mercy in time and in eternity; but there is confession in time only, and not in eternity. There is no confession of sins in any time except in this present life. By his own will each man is permitted and has throughout life the freedom to choose confession. But when we die we lose life and along with it the right to exercise our will. For then a law already set down unto rest or unto punishment sustains, in accord with its past exercise" (St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, c. 365 A.D.)

"I entreat you, beloved brethren, that each one should confess his own sin, while he who has sinned is still in this world, while his confession may be received, while the satisfaction and remission made by the priests are pleasing to the Lord. Let us turn to the Lord with our whole heart, and expressing our repentance for our sin with true grief, let us entreat God's mercy." (St. Cyprian, 3rd century A.D.)

"O folly of sinners! If you purchase a house, you spare no pains to get all the securities necessary to guard against the loss of your money; if you take medicine, you are careful to assure yourself that it cannot injure you; if you pass over a river, you cautiously avoid all danger of falling into it; and for a transitory enjoyment, for the gratification of revenge, for a beastly pleasure, which lasts but a moment, you risk your eternal salvation, saying: I will go to confession after I commit this sin. And, when, I ask are you to go to confession? You say: On tomorrow. But who promises you tomorrow? Who assures you that you shall have time for confession, and that God will not deprive you of life, as he has deprived so many others, in the act of sin?... You cannot be certain of living for another hour" (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church)

* All sins must be punished: "If you want God to forgive, you must confess. Sin cannot go unpunished. It were unseemly, improper, and unjust for sin to go unpunished. Since, therefore, sin must not go unpunished, let it be punished by you, lest you be punished for it. Let your sin have you for its judge, not its patron. Go up and take the bench against yourself, and put your guilt before yourself. Do not put it behind you, or God will put it in front of you." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 5th century A.D.)

* All sins can be forgiven, without exception. 

"In the Church there is no denial of a place of repentance for any crime whatsoever." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

"[God] promised His mercy to all, and granted to His priests the license of forgiving sins without any exception." (St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church, c. 387 A.D.)

"It is most evident from the preaching of the Lord that we have been commanded to restore the grace of heavenly Sacrament to those guilty even of the most grave crime, if, with their whole heart and by an open confession of their sin, they do penance. It is certain, therefore, that you have no excuse for remaining in your sins." (St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church, c. 387 A.D.)

"When we read in Scripture that certain persons did not obtain pardon from God, even though they earnestly implored it, we know that this was due to the fact that they had not a true and heartfelt sorrow for their sins. Thus when we find in Sacred Scripture and in the writings of the Fathers passages which seem to assert that certain sins are irremissible, we must understand the meaning to be that it is very difficult to obtain pardon for them. A disease is sometimes called incurable, because the patient is so disposed as to loathe the medicines that could afford him relief. In the same way certain sins are not remitted or pardoned because the sinner rejects the grace of God, the only medicine for salvation. It is in this sense that St. Augustine wrote: When a man who, through the grace of Jesus Christ, has once arrived at a knowledge of God, wounds fraternal charity, and, driven by the fury of envy, lifts up his head against grace, the enormity of his sin is so great that, though compelled by a guilty conscience to acknowledge and confess his fault, he finds himself unable to submit to the humiliation of imploring pardon." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Without penance, the guilt of sins committed long ago still remains: "Just as in the case of those sins which cannot themselves be permanent, because they pass away as soon as they are committed, but their guilt remains, and if not remitted, will remain in eternity, so too with concupiscence; when remitted, guilt is taken away. For not to have sin means not to be guilty of sin. If anyone, for example, committed adultery, even if he never does it again, he is guilty of adultery until it be remitted... He has the sin, therefore, although that which he committed no longer exists because it passed away along with the passing of time at which he committed it." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 419 A.D.)

* Persons should not be ashamed, bashful, or reluctant about confessing their sins:

"For if the sick man is ashamed to confess his wound to the physician, medicine will not cure that to which it is not applied." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"[T]he case is not desperate for a person to have been wounded, but for him to neglect the cure of his wounds." (St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church)

"Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon." (Pope St. Leo the Great, Doctor of the Church)

"We should perform our penance overwhelmed with joy at being able to satisfy God, whom we have offended, and at finding such an easy means of effacing our sins which should have earned eternal sufferings for us." (St. John Vianney)

"Let no one then ever put forth so cold an excuse as, I dare not, I am ashamed, I cannot open my mouth. The devils have that kind of fear. The devil would fain close against you every door of access to God." (St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church)

"After we have offended God, the Devil labors to keep the mouth closed, and to prevent us from confessing our guilt." (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church)

"For just as fevers are not able to be assuaged when they are deep seated, but offer a hope of cessation when they break, so too the illness of sins burn on while it is hidden, but disappears when it shows itself in confessions." (St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church, c. 385 A.D.)

"Remember that when the priest gives you absolution, you have but one thing to think of - that the Blood of the good God is flowing over your soul to purify it and make it as bright as it was made by its Baptism." (St. John Vianney)

"Confession is an act of honesty and courage; an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to a loving and forgiving God. It is an act of the prodigal son who returns to his Father and is welcomed by Him with the gift of peace." (Pope John Paul II)

"My children, when we have a little stain on our souls, we must do like someone who has a beautiful crystal globe of which she takes great care. If the globe gets a little dusty, when she sees it, she will pass a sponge over it, and there is the globe bright and shining again." (St. John Vianney)

"The difficulty and the shame of confessing one's sins could seem heavy indeed, if it were not lightened by many wonderful advantages and consolations which most assuredly are conferred in absolution on all those who approach this sacrament [of Penance] worthily." (Council of Trent)

"Although it may be a heavy burden to confess one's sins to another, still it must be done, because it is of divine precept, and because pardon can be obtained in no other way; and, moreover, because the difficulty is compensated by many advantages and great consolations." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"If the serpent, the devil, has secretly and without the knowledge of a third person, bitten anyone, and has infused into him the poison of sin; if unwilling to disclose his wound to his brother or master, he is silent and will not do penance, his master, who has a tongue ready to cure him, can render him no service." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church)

"Why should the sinner be ashamed to make known his sins, since they are already known and manifest to God, and to His angels, and even to the blessed in heaven? Confession opens the door to heaven. Confession brings hope of salvation. Because of this the Scripture says: 'First, tell thy iniquities, that you may be justified' (Is 43:26). Here we are shown that the man will not be saved who, during his life does not confess his sins." (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church)

"Boethius says (De Consolatione Philosophiae i): 'If you want the physician to be of assistance to you, you must make your disease known to him.' But it is necessary for salvation that man should take medicine for his sins. Therefore it is necessary for salvation that man should make his disease known by means of confession." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"If, when we are seriously ill, the medicines prepared for us by the art and industry of the physician are want to be welcome and agreeable to us, how much more welcome and agreeable should those remedies prove which the wisdom of God has established to heal our souls and restore us to the life of grace, especially since they bring with them, not, indeed, uncertain hope of recovery, like the medicines that are applied to the body, but assured health to such as desire to be cured!" (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"But how grand are these other words of our Gospel: Whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven! Oh, the hope and joy they bring to our hearts! How countless is the number of sinners, who are soon to feel the truth of this consoling promise! They will confess their sins, and offer to God the homage of a contrite and humble heart; and, at the very moment that the hand of the priest shall loose them upon earth, than hand of God will loose them from the bonds which held them as victims to eternal punishment." (Dom Gueranger)

"For anyone who has been wounded in a battle ought not be reluctant to put himself in the care of a wise physician, because he was overcome and lost the battle. And when he has been healed, he will not be rejected by the king, but will again be counted and reckoned in his army. So also he that has been struck by Satan ought not be ashamed to bewail his folly, and to give it up, and to seek a remedy in repentance... [If] anyone is ashamed, he will not be able to be cured, since he does not wish to make his ills known to the physician" (St. Aphraates, c. 336-345 A.D.)

"[T]he faithful should not despair of the infinite goodness and mercy of God. For since God is most desirous of our salvation, He will not delay to pardon us. With a father's fondness, He embraces the sinner the moment he enters into himself, turns to the Lord, and, having detested all his sins, resolves that later on, as far as he is able, he will call them singly to mind and detest them. The Almighty Himself, by the mouth of His Prophet, commands us to hope, when He says: The wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him, in what day soever he shall turn from his wickedness." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Have you sinned? Go into church and wipe out your sin. As often as you might fall down in the marketplace, you pick yourself up again. So too, as often as you sin, repent your sin. Do not despair. Even if you sin a second time, repent a second time. Do not by any indifference lose hope entirely of the good things prepared. Even if you are in extreme old age and have sinned, go in, repent! For here there is a physician's office, not a courtroom; not a place where punishment of sin is exacted but where the forgiveness of sin is granted." (St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.) 

"I appeal first to you brethren who refuse penance for your acknowledged crimes: you, I say, who are timid after your impudence, who are bashful after your sins, who were not ashamed to sin but now are ashamed to confess. Remember that confession extinguishes hell for you. And you may guess the intensity of hell from what is visible. Some of its chimneys boil away the greatest mountains by its subterranean fires. Etna in Sicily and Vesuvius in the Campania burn with unflagging balls of fire; and they will test us, sear us, devour us in an eternity of judgement, nor will they be finished after any number of ages." (St. Pacian of Barcelona, c. 392 A.D.)

"And believe me when I tell you that afterwards you will feel more happy at having confessed your sins than if you had been made monarch of the whole earth. Recommend yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she will obtain for you strength to overcome all repugnance. And if you lack the courage to disclose your sins at once to the confessor, say to him: 'Father, I need your help. I have committed a certain sin which I cannot bring myself to confess.' The confessor will then adopt an easy means of dragging from its den the wild beast that would devour you. All you will have to do is answer Yes or No to his interrogations. And behold, both this temporal and eternal hell have disappeared, the grace of God is recovered, and peace of conscience reigns supreme." (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church)

"Confession is all of this, so that it may excite repentance; so that it may honor God by fear of danger; so that it may, by its own pronouncement against the sinner, stand in place of God's indignation; and so that it may by temporal mortification, I will not say frustrate, but rather expunge the eternal punishments. Therefore, while it abases a man, it raises him; while it covers him with squalor, the more it does cleanse him; while it condemns, it absolves. In so far as you do not spare yourself, the more, believe me, will God spare you! Most men, however, either flee from this work, as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness... 'But it is a miserable thing thus to come to confession!' Yes, evil leads to misery. But where there is repentance misery ceases, because it is thereby turned to salvation. If you are inclined to draw back from confession, consider in your heart the hell which confession extinguishes for you... Why do you hesitate to approach what you know will heal you?" [Tertullian ("an excellent early Christian writer" - although he would ultimately fall into heresy), c. 203 A.D.]

* The Sacrament of Penance is composed of three necessary parts: "Penance is composed of these three parts in such a way that though contrition and confession, which justify man, are alone required to constitute its essence, yet, unless accompanied by its third part, satisfaction, it necessarily remains short of its absolute perfection. These three parts, then, are so intimately connected with one another, that contrition includes the intention and resolution of confessing and making satisfaction; contrition and the resolution of making satisfaction imply confession; while the other two precede satisfaction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"If any one denieth that for the entire and perfect remission of sins there are required three acts of the penitent, which are as it were the matter of the sacrament of penance, to wit, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which are called the three parts of penance; or saith that there are two parts only of penance, to wit, the terrors with which the conscience is smitten upon being convinced of sin, and the faith, generated by the gospel or by the absolution, whereby one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

Some other elements for a worthy confession...

"Our confession is worthy when we have done all that is required for a good confession and when, through the absolution, are sins are really forgiven." (Baltimore Catechism)

"It is an abuse to confess any kind of sin, whether mortal or venial, without a will to be delivered from it, since confession was instituted for no other end." (St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church)

"Having prepared properly for confession by an examination of conscience, by sorrow, and by a purpose of amendment, I will go to make an accusation of my sins to the confessor in order to get absolution." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"See, my children, to receive the Sacrament of Absolution, we need three things: faith, which reveals to us the presence of God in the priest; hope, which enables us to believe that God will give us his pardon; charity, which makes us love God and fills our heart with regret for having displeased him." (St. John Vianney)

"The chief qualities of a good Confession are three: it must be humble, sincere, and entire [including the number and kinds of our sins (e.g. blasphemy, disobedience, anger, impurity, etc.) and the circumstances which change their structure (e.g. anything that makes it another kind of sin)]." (Baltimore Catechism)

The sixteen conditions usually assigned as necessary for confession as related in the Summa Theologica (as 'essential to confession or requisite for its well-being'): "Simple, humble, pure, faithful, frequent, undisguised, discreet, voluntary, shamefaced, entire, secret, tearful, not delayed, courageously accusing, ready to obey."

"It is a beautiful thought, my children, that we have a Sacrament which heals the wounds of our soul! But we must receive it with good dispositions. Otherwise we make new wounds upon the old ones. What would you say of a man covered with wounds who is advised to go to the hospital to show himself to the surgeon? The surgeon cures him by giving him remedies. But, behold! this man takes his knife, gives himself great blows with it and makes himself worse than he was before. Well, that is what you often do after leaving the confessional [after a bad confession]." (Catechism of St. John Vianney)

* Proper dispositions for Penance: "The right dispositions for Penance are: (1) To confess all our moral sins as we know them; (2) To be sorry for them, and (3) to have the determination never to commit them or others again." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Can. 987 In order that the faithful may receive the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, they must be so disposed that, repudiating the sins they have committed and having the purpose of amending their lives, they turn back to God." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* Requirements to receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily: "To receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily we must do five things: 1.) We must examine our conscience, 2.) We must have sorrow for our sins, 3.) We must make a firm resolution never more to offend God, 4.) We must confess our sins to the priest, and 5.) We must accept the [appropriate] penance which the priest gives us." (Baltimore Catechism)

"To make a good confession five things are necessary: (1) Examination of conscience; (2) Sorrow for having offended God; (3) A resolution of sinning no more; (4) Confession of our sins; (5) Satisfaction or penance" (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* The most important part of preparation for confession is contrition for sins: "The most important part of the preparation for confession is sincere sorrow for the sins committed and the firm determination to avoid them for the future." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Neither will that confession deliver you which is made without true repentance. For true repentance is a grief of heart and sorrow of soul because of the evils a man has committed. True repentance causes us to grieve over them with a firm intention of never committing them again." (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church)

* According to the Fathers of the Council of Trent, contrition is defined as: "A sorrow and detestation for sin committed, with a purpose of sinning no more. And a little further on the Council, speaking of the motion of the will to contrition, adds: If joined with a confidence in the mercy of God and an earnest desire of performing whatever is necessary to the proper reception of the Sacrament, it thus prepares us for the remission of sin... From this definition, therefore, the faithful will perceive that the efficacy of contrition does not simply consist in ceasing to sin, or in resolving to begin, or having actually begun a new life; it supposes first of all a hatred of one's ill-spent life and a desire of atoning for past transgressions... To signify the intensity of this sorrow the name contrition has rightly been given to the detestation of sin of which we speak. The word means the breaking of an object into small parts by means of a stone or some harder substance; and here it is used metaphorically, to signify that our hearts, hardened by pride, are beaten and broken by penance. Hence no other sorrow, not even that which is felt for the death of parents, or children, or for any other calamity, is called contrition. The word is exclusively employed to express the sorrow with which we are overwhelmed by the forfeiture of the grace of God and of our own innocence." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Conditions Required for Contrition: "[S]orrow for sin and a firm purpose of avoiding sin for the future are two conditions indispensable to contrition" (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"We must, then, in the first place, detest and deplore all out sins. If our sorrow and detestation extend only to some sins, our repentance is not salutary, but feigned and false. Whosoever shall keep the whole law, says St. James, but offend in one point, is become guilty of all... In the next place, our contrition must be accompanied with a desire of confessing and satisfying for our sins... Thirdly, the penitent must form a fixed and firm purpose of amendment of life. This the Prophet clearly teaches in the following words: If the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgment, and justice, living he shall live, and shall not die: I will not remember all his iniquities which he hath done. And a little after: When the wicked turneth himself away from his wickedness which he hath wrought, and doth judgment and justice, he shall save his soul alive. Still further on he adds: Be converted and do penance for all your iniquities, and iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, by which you have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. To the woman taken in adultery Christ our Lord commanded the same thing: Go thy way, and sin no more; and also to the lame man whom He cured at the pool of Bethsaida: Behold, thou art made whole, sin no more." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Again, not less necessary for contrition than the other chief conditions is a care that it be accompanied by entire forgiveness of the injuries which we may have received from others. This our Lord and Savior admonishes when He declares: If you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences, but if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* God is always pleased with true contrition: "For whereas most other pious practices, such as alms, fasting, prayer and similar holy and commendable works, are sometimes rejected by God on account of the faults of those who perform them, contrition can never be other than pleasing and acceptable to Him. A contrite and humble heart, O God, exclaims the Prophet, thou wilt not despise. Nay more, the same Prophet declares elsewhere that, as soon as we have conceived this contrition in our hearts, our sins are forgiven by God: I said, I will confess my injustice to the Lord, and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin. Of this truth we have a figure in the ten lepers, who, when sent by our Lord to the priests, were cured of their leprosy before they had reached them; which gives us to understand that such is the efficacy of true contrition, of which we have spoken above, that through it we obtain from the Lord the immediate pardon of all sins." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Penitents are bound to make restitution: "[If] the penitent has taken anything from his neighbor, he is bound to restitution. Likewise if, by word or deed he has injured his neighbor's honor or reputation, he is under an obligation of repairing the injury by procuring him some advantage or rendering him some service. Well known to all is the maxim of St. Augustine: The sin is not forgiven unless what has been taken away is restored." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[P]riests should be very careful not to give absolution to any penitent, whose confession they have heard, without obliging him to make full satisfaction for any injury to his neighbor's goods or character for which he seems responsible. No person is to be absolved until he has first faithfully promised to restore all that belongs to others." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"We should make satisfaction to one whom we have offended, by asking his pardon, or by some other suitable reparation." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Besides performing his penance after confession, the penitent, if he [has injured] another in his goods or reputation, or if he has given him scandal, must as soon as possible, and as far as he is able, restore him his goods, repair his honor, and remedy the scandal [e.g. by removing the occasion of it and by edifying by word and example those whom he has scandalized]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

Continued On Next Page

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