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Gen'l. Information Regarding Penance (Cont.)

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Confession

The Sacrament of Penance (Cont.)

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Additional Information, Cont.:

* On earth, only validly ordained priests of the Catholic Church truly and licitly have the power (and authority) to forgive sins. This power (and authority) was given by Christ and is bound in heaven. The priests are actually Christ's instrument for dispensing forgiveness.

"(Jesus) said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'" (Jn. 20:21-23)

"The priests of the Church exercise the power of forgiving sins by hearing the confession of sins, and granting pardon for them as ministers of God and in His name." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Jesus Christ gave His Apostles the power of remitting sin thus: Breathing upon them He said: 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain they are retained.'" (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"But although the absolution of the priest [in the sacrament of Penance] is the granting of a gift that is not his own, nevertheless, it is not merely a simple ministry that consists in announcing the gospel or of declaring that the sins are remitted; but it is like a judicial act whereby the sentence is pronounced by the priest as a judge." (Council of Trent)

"Sins are forgiven by the Holy Ghost... Men discharge a ministry for the remission of sins; they do not exercise any power of their own. For they forgive sins not in their own name but in that of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. They ask, the Godhead gives; the service is man's, the reward is of the Power on high." (St. Ambrose, Doctor of the Church, 381 A.D.)

"The enemies of our religion are right when they say man cannot forgive sins if they mean that he cannot forgive them by his own power, but they are certainly wrong if they mean that he cannot forgive them even by the power of God, for man can do anything if God gives him the power. The priest does not forgive sins by his own power as man, but by the authority he receives as the minister of God." (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)

"After His Resurrection He breathed on the Apostles, assembled together, saying: Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. Now in giving to priests the power to retain and forgive sins, it is evident that our Lord made them also judges in this matter. Our Lord seems to have signified the same thing when, having raised Lazarus from the dead, He commanded His Apostles to loose him from the bands in which he was bound. This is the interpretation of St. Augustine. The priests, he says, can now do more: they can exercise greater clemency towards those who confess and whose sins they forgive. The Lord, in giving over Lazarus, whom He had already raised from the dead, to be loosed by the hands of His disciples, wished us to understand that to priests was given the power of loosing. To this also refers the command given by our Lord to the lepers cured on the way, that they show themselves to the priests, and subject themselves to their judgment." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Although the priests have the power to forgive all sins, a particular priest may not have to authority to forgive certain serious sins: "The priest has the power to forgive all sins in the Sacrament of Penance, but he may not have the authority to forgive them all. To forgive sins validly in the Sacrament of Penance, two things are required (1) The power to forgive sins which every priest receives at his ordination, and (2) the right to use that power which must be given by the bishop, who authorizes the priest to hear confessions and pass judgment on the sins." (Baltimore Catechism)

Reserved sins: "The sins which the priest has no authority to absolve are called reserved sins. Absolution from these sins can be obtained only from the bishop, and sometimes only from the Pope, or by his special permission. Persons having a reserved sin to confess cannot be absolved from any of their sins till the priest receives faculties or authority to absolve the reserved sin also." (Baltimore Catechism)

"If any one saith, that bishops have not the right of reserving cases to themselves, except as regards external polity, and that therefore the reservation of cases hinders not but that a priest may truly absolve from reserved cases; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

"And it hath seemed to our most holy Fathers to be of great importance to the discipline of the Christian people, that certain more atrocious and more heinous crimes should be absolved, not by all priests, but only by the highest priests: whence the Sovereign Pontiffs, in virtue of the supreme power delivered to them in the universal Church, were deservedly able to reserve, for their special judgment, certain more grievous cases of crimes... Nevertheless, for fear lest any may perish on this account, it has always been very piously observed in the said Church of God, that there be no reservation at the point of death, and that therefore all priests may absolve all penitents whatsoever from every kind of sins and censures whatever: and as, save at that point of death, priests have no power in reserved cases, let this alone be their endeavor, to persuade penitents to repair to superior and lawful judges for the benefit of absolution." (Council of Trent)

"Although the priest may be unable to absolve the penitent from all his sins, yet the latter is bound to confess all to him, that he may know the total quantity of his guilt, and refer him to the superior with regard to the sins from which he cannot absolve him." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Reasons for reserving absolution for some sins to a bishop or the Pope: "The absolution from some sins reserved to the Pope or bishop to deter or prevent, by this special restriction, persons from committing them, either on account of the greatness of the sin itself or on account of its evil consequences." (Baltimore Catechism)

In danger of death, a priest may absolve even from reserved sins: "Any priest can absolve a person in danger of death from reserved sins without the permission of the bishop, because at the hour of death the Church removes these restrictions in order to save, if possible, the soul of the dying." (Baltimore Catechism)

* The priests' power to forgive sins implies the obligation of going to them for confession: "The power to forgive sins implies the obligation of going to confession because as sins are usually committed secretly, the priest could never know what sins to forgive and what not to forgive unless the sins committed were made known to him by the persons guilty of them." (Baltimore Catechism)

* Rather than confess our sins directly to God in secret, the Lord has established the obligation of confessing to priests in order to obtain pardon: "Certainly, God could forgive our sins if we confessed them to Himself in secret, but He has not promised to do so; whereas He has promised to pardon them if we confess them to His priests. Since He is free to pardon or not to pardon, He has the right to establish a Sacrament through which alone He will pardon." (Baltimore Catechism)

* The priest acts in God's place, as a judge: "[T]he penitent must submit himself to the judgment of the priest, who holds God's place, in order to enable him to award a punishment proportioned to the gravity of the sin committed." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Invested, then, as they are, by our Lord with power to remit and retain sins, priests are evidently appointed judges of the matter on which they are to pronounce" (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* The priest also acts as a teacher, father, and physician: "In the confessional the priest performs the duties (1) Of a judge, by listening to our self-accusations and passing sentence upon our guilt or innocence; (2) Of a father, by the good advice and encouragement he gives us; (3) Of a teacher, by his instructions, and (4) Of a physician, by discovering the afflictions of our soul and giving us the remedies to restore it to spiritual health." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Can. 978 §1 In hearing confessions the priest is to remember that he is at once both judge and healer, and that he is constituted by God as a minister of both divine justice and divine mercy, so that he may contribute to the honor of God and the salvation of souls. §2 In administering the sacrament, the confessor, as a minister of the Church, is to adhere faithfully to the teaching of the magisterium and to the norms issued by the competent authority." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* Only the Catholic Church has the authority to forgive sins. This forgiveness of sins, dispensed in the Sacrament of Penance, requires a validly ordained priest: "[Our Lord] calls the power of administering this Sacrament, the key of the kingdom of heaven. Just as no one can enter any place without the help of him who has the keys, so no one is admitted to heaven unless its gates be unlocked by the priests to whose custody the Lord gave the keys. This power would otherwise be of no use in the Church. If heaven can be entered without the power of the keys, in vain would they to whom the keys were given seek to prevent entrance within its portals. This thought was familiar to the mind of St. Augustine. Let no man, he says, say within himself: 'I repent in secret to the Lord. God, who has power to pardon me, knows the inmost sentiments of my heart.' Was there, then, no reason for saying 'whatsoever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,' no reason why the keys were given to the Church of God? The same doctrine is taught by St. Ambrose in his treatise On Penance, when refuting the heresy of the Novatians who asserted that the power of forgiving sins belonged solely to God. Who, says he, yields greater reverence to God, he who obeys or he who resists His commands? God commands us to obey His ministers; and by obeying them, we honor God alone." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Penance shows God's goodness: "The institution of the Sacrament of Penance shows the goodness of Our Lord, because having once saved us through Baptism, He might have left us to perish if we again committed sin." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The Sacrament of Penance [is] the masterpiece of God's goodness." (Pope Pius XII)

"My children, we cannot comprehend the goodness of God towards us in instituting this great Sacrament of Penance. If we had had a favor to ask of Our Lord, we should never have thought of asking Him that. But He foresaw our frailty and our inconstancy in well-doing, and His love induced Him to do what we should not have dared to ask. If one said to those poor lost souls that have been so long in Hell, 'We are going to place a priest at the gate of Hell: all those who wish to confess have only to go out,' do you think, my children, that a single one would remain? The most guilty would not be afraid of telling their sins, nor even of telling them before all the world. Oh, how soon Hell would be a desert, and how Heaven would be peopled! Well, we have the time and the means, which those poor lost souls have not." (Catechism of St. John Vianney)

* We should accuse ourselves of our sins in confession: "This sacrament is also called Confession, because to obtain pardon for sins it is not enough to detest them, but it is necessary also to accuse oneself of them to the priest, that is, to make a confession of them." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"It is rightly called an accusation, because sins are not to be told as if the sinner boasted of his crimes, as they do who are glad when they have done evil; nor are they to be related as stories told for the sake of amusing idle listeners. They are to be confessed as matters of self- accusation, with a desire, as it were, to avenge them on ourselves." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Confession is called an accusation, because it must not be a careless recital, but a true and sorrowful manifestation of our sins." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

The principal qualities which the accusation of our sins ought to have are five: "It ought to be humble [without pride or boasting; but with the feelings of one who is guilty, who confesses his guilt, and who appears before his judge], entire [all mortal sins we are conscious of having committed since our last good confession must be made known, together with the circumstances (which change the species of the sin - those by which a sinful action from being venial becomes mortal and those by means of which a sinful action contains the malice of two or more mortal sins) and number], sincere [we must unfold our sins as they are, without excusing them, lessening them, or increasing them], prudent [we should use the most careful words possible and be on our guard against revealing the sins of others] and brief [we should say nothing that is useless for the purpose of confession]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* Confession must be complete and entire: "All mortal sins must be revealed to the priest. Venial sins, which do not separate us from the grace of God, and into which we frequently fall, although they may be usefully confessed, as the experience of the pious proves, may be omitted without sin, and expiated by a variety of other means. Mortal sins, as we have already said, are all to be confessed, even though they be most secret, or be opposed only to the last two Commandments of the Decalogue. Such secret sins often inflict deeper wounds on the soul than those which are committed openly and publicly." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Again the priest in hearing a confession takes the place of God, so that confession should be made to him just as contrition is made to God: wherefore as there would be no contrition unless one were contrite for all the sins which one calls to mind, so is there no confession unless one confess all the sins that one remembers committing." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"So important is it that confession be entire that if the penitent confesses only some of his sins and willfully neglects to accuse himself of others which should be confessed, he not only does not profit by his confession, but involves himself in new guilt. Such an enumeration of sins cannot be called sacramental confession; on the contrary, the penitent must repeat his confession, not omitting to accuse himself of having, under the semblance of confession, profaned the sanctity of the Sacrament." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Can. 7. If anyone says that in the sacrament of penance it is not necessary by divine law for the remission of sins to confess each and all mortal sins, of which one has remembrance after a due and diligent examination, even secret ones and those which are against the two last precepts of the decalogue, and the circumstances which alter the nature of sin; but that this confession is useful only for the instruction and consolation of the penitent, and formerly was observed only for imposing a canonical satisfaction; or says, that they who desire to confess all their sins wish to leave nothing to be pardoned by divine mercy; or, finally, that it is not lawful to confess venial sins: let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

"In prescribing medicine for the body, the physician should know not only the disease for which he is prescribing, but also the general constitution of the sick person, since one disease is aggravated by the addition of another, and a medicine which would be adapted to one disease, would be harmful to another. The same is to be said in regard to sins, for one is aggravated when another is added to it; and a remedy which would be suitable for one sin, might prove an incentive to another, since sometimes a man is guilty of contrary sins, as Gregory says (Regulae Pastoralis iii,3). Hence it is necessary for confession that man confess all the sins that he calls to mind, and if he fails to do this, it is not a confession, but a pretense of confession." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* Confession must be done with great care: "In confession we should employ all that care and exactness which we usually bestow upon worldly concerns of great moment, and all our efforts should be directed to the cure of our soul's wounds and to the destruction of the roots of sin. We should not be satisfied with the bare enumeration of our mortal sins, but should mention such circumstances as considerably aggravate or extenuate their malice. Some circumstances are so serious as of themselves to constitute mortal guilt. On no account whatever, therefore, are such circumstances to be omitted. Thus if one man has killed another, he must state whether his victim was a layman or an ecclesiastic. Or, if he has had sinful relations with a woman, he must state whether the female was unmarried or married, a relative or a person consecrated to God by vow. These circumstances change the nature of the sins; so that the first kind of unlawful intercourse is called by theologians simple fornication, the second adultery, the third incest, and the fourth sacrilege. Again, theft is numbered in the catalogue of sins. But if a person has stolen one golden coin, his sin is less grievous than if he had stolen a hundred or two hundred, or an immense sum; and if the stolen money belonged to the Church, the sin would be still more grievous. The same rule applies to the circumstances of time and place, but, the examples are too well known from many books to require mention here. Circumstances such as these are, therefore, to be mentioned; but those which do not considerably aggravate the malice of the sin may be lawfully omitted." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Confession should be 'plain, simple and undisguised': "In the second place our confession should be plain, simple and undisguised; not artfully made, as is the case with some who seem more intent on defending themselves than on confessing their sins. Our confession should be such as to disclose to the priest a true image of our lives, such as we ourselves know them to be, exhibiting as doubtful that which is doubtful, and as certain that which is certain. If, then, we neglect to enumerate our sins, or introduce extraneous matter, our confession, it is clear, lacks this quality." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Confession necessitates prudence and modesty: "Prudence and modesty in explaining matters of confession are also much to be commended, and a superfluity of words is to be carefully avoided. Whatever is necessary to make known the nature of every sin is to be explained briefly and modestly." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Secrecy regarding confession must be observed by both priest and penitent: "Secrecy as regards confession should be strictly observed, as well by the penitent as by the priest. Hence, no one can, on any account, confess by messenger or letter, because in those cases secrecy would not be possible." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Each should take care in selecting a confessor: "The faithful, therefore, will see the great care that each one should take in selecting (as confessor) a priest, who is recommended by integrity of life, by learning and prudence, who is deeply impressed with the awful weight and responsibility of the station which he holds, who understands well the punishment due to every sin, and can also discern who are to be loosed and who to be bound." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Note that if someone is uncomfortable about attending Confession in a particular Catholic parish, he / she may attend Confession at another appropriate Catholic parish.  

* It is good (but not necessary) to go always to the same confessor: "It is beneficial to go always, if possible, to the same confessor, because our continued confessions enable him to see more clearly the true state of our soul and to understand better our occasions of sin." (Baltimore Catechism)

"We should not remain away from confession because we cannot go to our usual confessor, for though it is well to confess to the same priest, it is not necessary to do so. One should never become so attached to a confessor that his absence or the great inconvenience of going to him would become an excuse for neglecting the Sacraments." (Baltimore Catechism)

* To obtain forgiveness, penitents must be truly contrite for sins and resolved to avoid them in the future.

"Sorrow for sin consists in grief of soul and in a sincere detestation of the offence offered to God." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"We should hate and avoid sin as one hates and avoids a poison that almost caused his death." (Baltimore Catechism)

"[T]he priest should be careful to observe if the penitent be truly contrite for his sins, and deliberately and firmly resolved to avoid sin for the future." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Contrition, or sorrow for sin, is a hatred of sin and a true grief of the soul for having offended God, with a firm purpose of sinning no more." (Baltimore Catechism)

"In going to confession we should certainly be very solicitous to have a true sorrow for our sins, because this is of all things the most important; and if sorrow is wanting the confession is no good." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"[T]he perfection of Penance requires contrition of the heart, together with confession in word and satisfaction in deed." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"We should be sorry for our sins, because sin is the greatest of evils and an offence against God our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, and because mortal sin shuts us out of heaven and condemns us to the eternal pains of hell." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Of all the parts of the sacrament of Penance the most necessary is contrition, because without it no pardon for sins is obtainable, while with it alone, perfect pardon can be obtained, provided that along with it there is the desire, at least implicit, of going to confession." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Baptism blots out all sins together and introduces a new life; whereas Penance does not blot out each sin, unless it be directed to each. For this reason it is necessary to be contrite for, and to confess each sin." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"We cannot do penance worthily unless we know what penance really is. For to do penance is both to weep for wicked deeds done, and not to do anymore what we would have to weep over. For anyone who deplores some sins but still commits others either dissimulates in doing penance, or does not know what penance is." (Pope St. Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church, 6th century A.D.)

"Contrition, which holds the first place amongst the aforesaid acts of the penitent, is a sorrow of mind, and a detestation for sin committed, with the purpose of not sinning for the future. This movement of contrition was at all times necessary for obtaining the pardon of sins; and, in one who has fallen after baptism, it then at length prepares for the remissions of sins, when it is united with confidence in the divine mercy, and with the desire of performing the other things which are required for rightly receiving this sacrament. Wherefore the holy Synod declares, that this contrition contains not only a cessation from sin, and the purpose and the beginning of a new life, but also a hatred of the old, agreeably to that saying; Cast away from you all your iniquities, wherein you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. " (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

Note that if one makes a confession without true contrition, he makes a bad confession. To obtain contrition for sin:

"To have sorrow for our sins we should ask it of God with our whole heart, and excite it in ourselves by the thought of the great evil we have done by sinning." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Take a house which has been for a long time very dirty and neglected - it is in vain to sweep out, there will always be a nasty smell. It is the same with our soul after confession; it requires tears to purify it. My children, we must ask earnestly for repentance. After confession, we must plant a thorn in our heart, and never lose sight of our sins. We must do as the angel did to St. Francis of Assisi; he fixed in him five darts, which never came out again." (Catechism of St. John Vianney)

"To excite myself to detest my sins: (1) I will consider the rigour of the infinite justice of God and the foulness of sin which has defiled my soul and made me worthy of the eternal punishment of hell; (2) I will consider that by sin I have lost the grace, friendship and sonship of God and the inheritance of Heaven; (3) That I have offended my Redeemer who died for me and that my sins caused His death; (4) That I have despised my Creator and my God, that I have turned my back upon Him who is my Supreme Good and worthy of being loved above everything else And of being faithfully served." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

Consider the evil of sin: "[S]in is the greatest of evils because its effects last the longest and have the most terrible consequences. All the misfortunes of this world can last only for a time and we escape them at death, whereas the evils caused by sin keep with us for all eternity and are only increased at death." (Baltimore Catechism)

Necessary components of sorrow for sin: "The sorrow we should have for our sins should be interior [it should come from the heart, and not merely from the lips], supernatural [prompted by the grace of God, and excited by motives which spring from faith (for reasons that God has made known to us, such as the loss of heaven, the fear of hell or purgatory, or the dread of afflictions that come from God in punishment for sin), and not merely natural motives (reasons made known to us by our own experience or by the experience of others, such as loss of character, goods or health)], universal [we should be sorry for all our mortal sins without exception], and sovereign [we should grieve more for having offended God than for any other evil that can befall us]." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Sorrow in order to be true must have four qualities: It must be internal [it must exist in the heart and will, and not in words alone], supernatural [excited in us by the grace of God and conceived through motives of faith], supreme [we must look upon and hate sin as the greatest of all evils, being as it is an offence against God] and universal [it must extend to every mortal sin committed]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* True sorrow for sin, and not just the appearance of sorrow is required: "But in process of time the severity of ancient discipline was so relaxed and charity grew so cold, that in our days many of the faithful think inward sorrow of soul and grief of heart unnecessary for obtaining pardon, imagining that a mere appearance of sorrow is sufficient." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Perfect and imperfect contrition:

"There are two kinds of contrition: perfect contrition and imperfect contrition." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Sorrow is of two kinds: perfect sorrow or contrition [a grief of soul for having offended God because He is infinitely good and worthy of being loved for His own sake]; and imperfect sorrow or attrition [that by which we repent of having offended God because He is our Supreme Judge, that is, for fear of the chastisement deserved in this life or in the life to come, or because of the very foulness of sin itself]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Perfect contrition is that which fills us with sorrow and hatred for sin, because it offends God, who is infinitely good in Himself and worthy of all love." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Perfect contrition will obtain pardon for mortal sin without the Sacrament of Penance when we cannot go to confession, but with the perfect contrition we must have the intention of going to confession as soon as possible, if we again have the opportunity." (Baltimore Catechism) Note, however, that even with perfect contrition, one who has committed a mortal sin must receive a Sacramental confession before partaking of the Holy Eucharist: "No one who has a mortal sin on his conscience shall dare receive the Holy Eucharist before making a sacramental confession, regardless of how contrite he may think he is. This holy council declares that this custom is to be kept forever by all Christians" (Council of Trent)

"Perfect sorrow does not obtain us pardon of our sins independently of confession, because it always includes the intention to confess them." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"The Council teaches, furthermore, that though it sometimes happens that this contrition is perfect because of charity and reconciles man to God, before this sacrament [of Penance] is actually received, this reconciliation nevertheless must not be ascribed to the contrition itself without the desire of the sacrament which is included in it." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

"Imperfect contrition is that by which we hate what offends God, because by it we lose heaven and deserve hell; or because sin is so hateful in itself." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Imperfect contrition is called attrition. It is called imperfect only because it is less perfect than the highest grade of contrition by which we are sorry for sin out of pure love of God's own goodness and without any consideration of what befalls ourselves." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Imperfect contrition is sufficient for a worthy [sacramental] confession, but we should endeavor to have perfect contrition." (Baltimore Catechism)

"That imperfect contrition which is called attrition, since it commonly arises either from the consideration of the baseness of sin or from fear of hell and its punishments, if it renounces the desire of sinning with the hope of pardon, the Synod declares, not only does not make a person a hypocrite and a greater sinner, but is even a gift of God and an impulse of the Holy Spirit, not indeed as already dwelling in the penitent, but only moving him, assisted by which the penitent prepares a way for himself unto justice. And though without the sacrament of penance it cannot per se lead the sinner to justification, nevertheless it does dispose him to obtain the grace of God in the sacrament of penance. For the Ninivites, struck in a salutary way by this fear in consequence of the preaching of Jonas which was full of terror, did penance and obtained mercy from the Lord [cf. Jonas 3]." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

* Penance is twofold: "Penance is twofold, internal and external. Internal penance is that whereby one grieves for a sin one has committed, and this penance should last until the end of life. Because man should always be displeased at having sinned, for if he were to be pleased thereat, he would for this very reason fall into sin and lose the fruit of pardon. Now displeasure causes sorrow in one who is susceptible to sorrow, as man is in this life; but after this life the saints are not susceptible to sorrow, wherefore they will be displeased at, without sorrowing for, their past sins, according to Isaiah 65:16. 'The former distresses are forgotten.' External penance is that whereby a man shows external signs of sorrow, confesses his sins verbally to the priest who absolves him, and makes satisfaction for his sins according to the judgment of the priest. Such penance need not last until the end of life, but only for a fixed time according to the measure of the sin." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* Penitents should not make excuses for or try to justify their sins: "The pride of some who seek by vain excuses to justify or extenuate their offences is carefully to be repressed. If, for instance, a penitent confesses that he was wrought up to anger, and immediately transfers the blame of the excitement to another, who, he complains, was the aggressor, he is to be reminded that such apologies are indications of a proud spirit, and of a man who either thinks lightly of, or is unacquainted with the enormity of his sin, while they serve rather to aggravate than to extenuate his guilt. He who thus labors to justify his conduct seems to say that then only will he exercise patience, when no one injures him - a disposition than which nothing can be more unworthy of a Christian. Instead of lamenting the state of him who inflicted the injury he disregards the grievousness of the sin, and is angry with his brother. Having had an opportunity of honoring God by his exemplary patience, and of correcting a brother by his meekness, he turns the very means of salvation to his own destruction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Penitents should not fear to disclose all sins: "Still more pernicious is the fault of those who, yielding to a foolish bashfulness, cannot induce themselves to confess their sins. Such persons are to be encouraged by exhortation, and are to be reminded that there is no reason whatever why they should fear to disclose their sins, that to no one can it appear surprising if persons fall into sin, the common malady of the human race and the natural consequence of human infirmity." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Satisfaction for sins must be accompanied by a firm resolve to avoid sin in the future: "Only that satisfaction constitutes part of the Sacrament which, as we have already said, is offered to God for sins at the command of the priest. Furthermore, it must be accompanied by a deliberate and firm purpose carefully to avoid sin for the future. For to satisfy, as some define it, is to pay due honor to God: and this, it is evident, no person can do, who is not entirely resolved to avoid sin. Again, to satisfy is to cut off all occasions of sin, and to close every avenue against its suggestions. In accordance with this idea of satisfaction some have defined it as a cleansing, which effaces whatever defilement may remain in the soul from the stains of sin, and which exempts us from the temporal chastisements due to sin." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Although sin forgiven by the priest effaces eternal punishment, temporal punishment may still be required: 

"The Sacrament of Penance remits the eternal punishment due to sin, but it does not always remit the temporal punishment which God requires as satisfaction for our sins." (Baltimore Catechism)

"[Sin] carries in its train two evils, the stain and the punishment. Whenever the stain is effaced, the punishment of eternal death is forgiven with the guilt to which it was due; yet, as the Council of Trent declares, the remains of sin and the temporal punishment are not always remitted." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Why in the Sacrament of Penance, as in that of Baptism, the punishment due to sin is not entirely remitted is admirably explained in these words of the Council of Trent: Divine justice seems to require that they who through ignorance sinned before Baptism, should recover the friendship of God in a different manner from those who, after they have been freed from the thralldom, of sin and the devil and have received the gifts of the Holy Ghost, dread not knowingly to violate the temple of God and grieve the Holy Spirit. It is also in keeping with the divine mercy not to remit our sins without any satisfaction, lest, taking occasion hence, and imagining our sins less grievous than they are, we should become injurious, as it were, and contumelious to the Holy Ghost, and should fall into greater enormities, treasuring up to ourselves wrath against the day of wrath. These satisfactory penances have, no doubt, great influence in recalling from and, as it were, bridling against sin, and in rendering the sinner more vigilant and cautious for the future." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* In confession, the priest gives the penitent penance in order to satisfy for his sins.

"The priest gives us a penance after Confession that we may satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to our sins." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Mere renouncement of sin is not sufficient for the salvation of penitents, but fruits worthy of penance are also required of them." (St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

"The name of Penance is given to this sacrament, because to obtain pardon for sins it is necessary to detest them penitently; and because he who has committed a fault must submit to the [appropriate] penance which the priest imposes." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Satisfaction, which is also called sacramental penance, is one of the acts of the penitent by which he makes a certain reparation to the justice of God for his sins, by performing the works the confessor imposes on him." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"A penance is imposed because, after sacramental absolution which remits sin and its eternal punishment, there generally remains a temporal punishment to be undergone, either in this world or in Purgatory." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Of ourselves we cannot make satisfaction to God, but we certainly can do so by uniting ourselves to Jesus Christ, who gives value to our actions by the merits of His passion and death." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Can. 981 The confessor is to impose salutary and appropriate penances, in proportion to the kind and number of sins confessed, taking into account the condition of the penitent. The penitent is bound personally to fulfil these penances." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"It is not enough for a man to change his ways for the better and to give up the practice of evil, unless by painful penance, sorrowing humility, the sacrifice of a contrite heart and the giving of alms he makes amends to God for all that he has done wrong." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church) 

"There is another kind of satisfaction, which is called canonical, and is performed within a certain fixed period of time. Hence, according to the most ancient practice of the Church, when penitents are absolved from their sins, some penance is imposed, the performance of which is commonly called satisfaction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Can. 1340 §1 A penance, which is imposed in the external forum, is the performance of some work of religion or piety or charity. §2 A public penance is never to be imposed for an occult [secret] transgression. §3 According to his prudent judgement, the Ordinary may add penances to the penal remedy of warning or correction." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Although the entire punishment may be remitted by contrition, yet confession and satisfaction are still necessary, both because man cannot be sure that his contrition was sufficient to take away all, and because confession and satisfaction are a matter of precept: wherefore he becomes a transgressor, who confesses not and makes not satisfaction." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Therefore the priests of the Lord ought, as far as the Spirit and prudence shall suggest, to enjoin salutary and suitable satisfactions, according to the quality of the crimes and the ability of the penitent; lest, if haply they connive at sins, and deal too indulgently with penitents, by enjoining certain very light works for very grievous crimes, they be made partakers of other men's sins. But let them have in view, that the satisfaction, which they impose, be not only for the preservation of a new life and a medicine of infirmity, but also for the avenging and punishing of past sins. For the ancient Fathers likewise both believe and teach, that the keys of the priests were given, not to loose only, but also to bind." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

* According to the Council of Trent, there are two things particularly required for satisfaction: "[T]hat he who satisfies be in a state of grace, the friend of God" and "that the works performed be such as are of their own nature painful or laborious. They are a compensation for past sins, and, to use the words of the holy martyr Cyprian, the redeemers, as it were, of past sins, and must, therefore, in some way be disagreeable. It does not, however, always follow that they are painful or laborious to those who undergo them. The influence of habit, or the intensity of divine love, frequently renders the soul insensible to things the most difficult. Such works, however, do not therefore cease to be satisfactory. It is the privilege of the children of God to be so inflamed with His love, that while undergoing the most cruel tortures, they are either almost insensible to them, or bear them all with the greatest joy."

* The nature of sin determines the satisfaction required: "The nature of the sin, therefore, will regulate the extent of the satisfaction." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Satisfaction is primarily of three kinds: 

"[A]ll kinds of satisfaction are reducible to three heads: prayer, fasting and almsdeeds, which correspond to three kinds of goods which we have received from God, those of the soul, those of the body and what are called external goods. Nothing can be more effectual in uprooting all sin from the soul than these three kinds of satisfaction... [I]f we consider those whom our sins injure, we shall easily perceive why all kinds of satisfaction are reduced especially to these three. For those (we offend by our sins) are: God, our neighbor and ourselves. God we appease by prayer, our neighbor we satisfy by alms, and ourselves we chastise by fasting." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life." (Baltimore Catechism)

* As the Baltimore Catechism states, "[W]hen we willfully sinned after baptism, it is but just that we should be obliged to make some satisfaction." In the early ages of the Church, penances were long & severe: 

"The severe penances of the first ages of the Church were called canonical penances, because their kind and duration were regulated by the Canons or laws of the Church." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The Christians in the first ages of the Church did public penance, especially for the sins of which they were publicly known to be guilty. Penitents were excluded for a certain time from Mass or the Sacrament, and some were obliged to stand at the door of the Church begging the prayers of those who entered." (Baltimore Catechism)

* As time went on, the Church relaxed its severe penances: "The Church moderated its severe penances, because when Christians - terrified by persecution - grew weaker in their faith, there was danger of some abandoning their religion rather than submit to the penances imposed. The Church, therefore, wishing to save as many as possible, made the sinner's penance as light as possible. (Baltimore Catechism)

* Nowdays, the penances given are slight and may not sufficiently satisfy for all the sins committed: "The slight penance the priest gives us is not sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed: (1) Because there is no real equality between the slight penance given and the punishment deserved for sin; (2) Because we are all obliged to do penance for sins committed, and this would not be necessary if the penance given in confession satisfied for all. The penance is given and accepted in confession chiefly to show our willingness to do penance and make amends for our sins." (Baltimore Catechism)

"If any one saith, that God always remits the whole punishment together with the guilt, and that the satisfaction of penitents is no other than the faith whereby they apprehend that Christ has satisfied for them; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)]

"The penance which the confessor imposes does not ordinarily suffice to discharge the punishment remaining due to our sins; and hence we must try to supply it by other voluntary penances [e.g. Prayer, Fasting/Mortification, and Alms-deeds/works of mercy]." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Our Lord has willed to remit all the punishment due to sin in the sacrament of Baptism, and not in the sacrament of Penance, because the sins after Baptism are much more grievous, being committed with fuller knowledge and greater ingratitude for God's benefits, and also in order that the obligation of satisfying for them may restrain us from falling into sin again." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

Note that one must satisfy for all sins committed, even so called 'slight' sins. One may either satisfy for one's sins on earth by relatively easy means (e.g. fasting/almsdeeds) or one may have to suffer great torments after death (e.g. in purgatory). To satisfy for sins, one may voluntarily exercise self-denial/mortification, depriving the senses of what is agreeable, obtaining indulgences, etc., in addition to the penances given in confession. Note: Click here for more information on indulgences.

* In addition to gaining indulgences, patiently bearing trials and afflictions is a means to acquire satisfaction and merit: "As this life is chequered by many and various afflictions, the faithful are to be particularly reminded that those who patiently bear all the trials and afflictions coming from the hand of God acquire abundant satisfaction and merit; whereas those who suffer with reluctance and impatience deprive themselves of all the fruits of satisfaction, merely enduring the punishment which the just judgment of God inflicts upon their sins." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* The penance given by the priest is most meritorious: "The penance which the confessor imposes is the most meritorious, because being part of the sacrament it receives greater virtue from the merits of the passion of Jesus Christ." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* One person may satisfy for another: "In this the supreme mercy and goodness of God deserve our grateful acknowledgment and praise, that He has granted to our frailty the privilege that one may satisfy for another. This, however, is a privilege which is confined to the satisfactory part of Penance alone. As regards contrition and confession, no one is able to be contrite for another; but those who are in the state of grace may pay for others what is due to God, and thus we may be said in some measure to bear each other's burdens." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

Note, however, that some advantages which accrue from satisfaction are not transferable: "This, however, is not true in reference to all the advantages to be derived from satisfaction. For works of satisfaction are also medicinal, and are so many remedies prescribed to the penitent to heal the depraved affections of the soul. It is clear that those who do not satisfy for themselves can have no share in this fruit of penance." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* The priest may refuse absolution to some penitents: "Confessors not only may, but must defer or refuse absolution in certain cases so as not to profane the sacrament." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Confessors should give absolution to those only whom they judge properly disposed to receive it." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"The priest must and does refuse absolution to a penitent when the thinks the penitent is not rightly disposed for the Sacrament. He sometimes postpones the absolution till the next confession, either for the good of the penitent or for the sake of better preparation - especially when the person has been a long time from confession." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A confessor who defers absolution because he does not believe the penitent well enough disposed, is not too severe; on the contrary, he is very charitable and acts as a good physician who tries all remedies, even those that are disagreeable and painful, to save the life of his patient." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Penitents who are to be accounted badly disposed are chiefly the following: (1) Those who do not know the principal mysteries of their faith, or who neglect to learn those other truths of Christian doctrine which they are bound to know according to their state; (2) Those who are gravely negligent in examining their conscience, who show no signs of sorrow or repentance; (3) Those who are able but not willing to restore the goods of others, or the reputations they have injured; (4) Those who do not from their heart forgive their enemies; (5) Those who will not practice the means necessary to correct their bad habits; (6) Those who will not abandon the proximate occasions of sin." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"When the priest has refused or postponed absolution, the penitent should humbly submit to his decision, follow his instructions, and endeavor to remove whatever prevented the giving of the absolution and return to the same confessor with the necessary dispositions and resolution of amendment." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A sinner to whom absolution is deferred or refused, should not despair or leave off going to confession altogether; he should, on the contrary, humble himself, acknowledge his deplorable state, profit by the good advice his confessor gives him, and thus put himself as soon as possible in a state deserving of absolution." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Can. 980 If the confessor is in no doubt about the penitent's disposition and the penitent asks for absolution, it is not to be denied or delayed." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* One must have a firm purpose of sinning no more, including the determination to avoid occasions of sin: 

"We must firmly resolve with the grace of God to avoid every sin and every dangerous occasion, and to lead a good life." (Catechism of St. John Neumann)

"A good resolution consists in a determined will not to commit sin for the future and to use all necessary means to avoid it." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"We are strictly bound to shun those dangerous occasions which ordinarily lead us to commit mortal sin, and which are called the proximate occasions of sin." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"[A] firm purpose of sinning no [means] a fixed resolve not only to avoid all mortal sin, but also its near occasions [e.g. persons, places, and things that may easily lead us into sin]." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A person who is determined to avoid the sin, but who is unwilling to give up its near occasion when it is possible to do so, is not rightly disposed for confession, and he will not be absolved if he makes known to the priest the true state of his conscience." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A resolution [to avoid future sin], in order to be good, should have three principal conditions: It ought to be absolute [without any restrictions of time, place or person], universal [we should avoid all mortal sins, both those already committed as well as those which we can possibly commit], and efficacious [there must be a determined will to lose everything rather than commit another sin; to avoid the dangerous occasions of sin (those circumstances of time, place, person, or things, which, of their very nature or because of our frailty, lead us to commit sin); to stamp out our bad habits (an acquired disposition to fall easily into those sins to which we have become accustomed); and to discharge the obligations that may have been contracted in consequence of our sins]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"There are four kinds of occasions of sin: (1) Near occasions, through which we always fall; (2) remote occasions, through which we sometimes fall; (3) voluntary occasions or those we can avoid; and (4) involuntary occasions or those we cannot avoid. A person who lives in a near and voluntary occasion of sin need not expect forgiveness while he continues in that state." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Persons, places and things are usually occasions of sin: (1) The persons who are occasions of sin are all those in whose company we sin, whether they be bad of themselves or bad only while in our company, in which case we also become occasions of sin for them; (2) the places are usually liquor saloons, low theaters, indecent dances, entertainments, amusements, exhibitions, and all immoral resorts of any kind, whether we sin in them or not; (3) the things are all bad books, indecent pictures, songs, jokes, and the like even when they are tolerated by public opinion and found in public places." (Baltimore Catechism)

Those who can't avoid an occasion of sin should consult a good confessor.

* We are obliged to confess all mortal sins and we should also confess venial sins: "We are bound to confess all our mortal sins, but it is well also to confess our venial sins." (Baltimore Catechism)

"We are bound to confess all our mortal sins; it is well, however, to confess our venial sins also." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"[We must confess a]ll grievous sins together with their number and circumstances." (Catechism of St. John Neumann)

"It is well to confess also the venial sins we remember (1) because it shows our hatred of all sin, and (2) because it is sometimes difficult to determine just when a sin is venial and when mortal." (Baltimore Catechism)

* Confession of venial sins and frequent confessions are recommended:

"[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) 

"A person should not stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to confess, for the Sacrament of Penance, besides forgiving sin, gives an increase of sanctifying grace, and of this we have always need, especially to resist temptation. The Saints, who were almost without imperfection, went to confession frequently." (Baltimore Catechism)

"We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by [venial] sins; but still, they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs, which allow the soul to come only with difficulty to the embrace of the heavenly Spouse, of whom it is written 'He prepared for Himself a Church having neither spot nor blemish.'" (St. Caesar of Arles, c. 540 A.D.)

"While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call 'light': if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession" (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope Pius VI in "Auctorem Fidei": "The declaration of the synod about the confession of venial sins, which it does not wish, it says, to be so frequently resorted to, lest confessions of this sort be rendered too contemptible, [is condemned as] rash, dangerous, contrary to the practice of the saints and the pious which was approved by the sacred Council of Trent.'" (Errors of the Synod of Pistoia, This error was condemned by Pope Pius VI in the Constitution "Auctorem Fidei", Aug. 28, 1794 A.D.)

"As you well know, Venerable Brethren, it is true that venial sins may be expiated in many ways which are to be highly commended. But to ensure more rapid progress day by day in the path of virtue, We will that the pious practice of frequent confession, which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, should be earnestly advocated. By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself. Let those, therefore, among the younger clergy who make light of or lessen esteem for frequent confession realize that what they are doing is alien to the Spirit of Christ and disastrous for the Mystical Body of our Savior." (Pope Pius XII, "Mystici Corporis Christi", 1943 A.D.)

Although one may confess only venial sins, one must be careful to have sufficient sorrow for sin: "If one confesses only venial sins without having sorrow for at least one of them, his confession is in vain; moreover it would be sacrilegious if the absence of sorrow was conscious." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"To render the confession of venial sins more secure it is prudent also to confess with true sorrow some grave sin of the past, even though it has been already confessed." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"If one has only venial sins to confess it is enough to repent of some of them for his confession to be valid; but to obtain pardon of all of them it is necessary to repent of all he remembers having committed." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"One who has only venial sins to confess should tell also some sin already confessed in his past life for which he knows he is truly sorry; because it is not easy to be truly sorry for slight sins and imperfections, and yet we must be sorry for the sins confessed that our confession may be valid - hence we add some past sin for which we are truly sorry to those for which we may not be sufficiently sorry." (Baltimore Catechism)

* General confessions: "A general confession is the telling of the sins of our whole life or a great part of it. It is made in the same manner as an ordinary confession, except that it requires more time and longer preparation." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A general confession (1) is necessary when we are certain that our past confessions were bad; (2) it is useful on special occasions in our lives when some change in our way of living is about to take place; (3) it is hurtful and must not be made when persons are scrupulous." (Baltimore Catechism)

* What to avoid in confession: "In making our confession, we are to avoid: (1) Telling useless details, the sins of others, or the name of any person; (2) Confessing sins that we are not sure of having committed; exaggerating our sins or their number; multiplying the number of times a day by the number of days to get the exact number of habitual sins; (3) Giving a vague answer, such as 'sometimes', when asked how often, waiting after each sin to be asked for the next; (4) Hesitating over sins through pretended modesty and thus delaying the priests and others; telling the exact words in each when we have committed several sins of the same kind, cursing, for example; and, lastly, leaving the confessional before the priest gives us a sign to go." (Baltimore Catechism)

* Preparing for confession: The examination of conscience

"The examination of conscience is an earnest effort to recall to mind all the sins we have committed since our last worthy confession." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The examination of conscience is a diligent search for the sins committed since the last good confession." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"Before beginning the examination of conscience we should pray to God to give us light to know our sins and grace to detest them." (Baltimore Catechism)

"In the examination of conscience the same diligence is demanded as is used in a matter of great importance." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"We can make a good examination of conscience by calling to memory the commandments of God, the precepts of the Church, the seven capital sins, and the particular duties of our state in life, to find out the sins we have committed." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The examination of conscience is made by carefully calling to mind before God all the sins committed but not confessed, in thought, word, deed and omission, against the Commandments of God and the Church, and against the duties of our state." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"[Before confession, we should pray, examining our conscience, considering:] the sins that we committed since our last confession in thought, word or deed, and in omission of the good works that we are obliged to perform." (Catechism of St. John Neumann)

"We should also examine ourselves on our bad habits and on the occasions of sin." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"In our examination we should also try to discover the number of our mortal sins." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"For a sin to be mortal three things are required: (1) Grave matter [when the thing under examination is seriously contrary to the laws of God and His Church], (2) Full advertence [when we know perfectly well that we are doing a serious evil], (3) Perfect consent of the will [when we deliberately determine to do a thing although we know that thing to be sinful]." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"More or less time should be spent in the examination of conscience according to the needs of each case, that is, according to the number or kind of sins that burden the conscience and according to the time that has elapsed since the last good confession." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"The examination of conscience is rendered easy by making an examination of conscience every evening upon the actions of the day." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

Note: For commandments, precepts of the Church, information regarding sin (mortal sin, deadly sin, etc.), etc., try the Catholic Basics Section (click here). For prayers in preparation for confession, try here.

* It is grievously sinful to willfully conceal a mortal sin in confession and if someone does so, he/she has made a sinful, worthless confession.

"It is a grievous offence willfully to conceal a mortal sin in Confession, because we thereby tell a lie to the Holy Ghost and make our Confession worthless." (Baltimore Catechism)

"He who, through shame or some other motive, willfully conceals a mortal sin in confession, profanes the sacrament and is consequently guilty of a very great sacrilege." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* One tempted to willfully conceal a mortal sin in confession should consider:

"It is foolish to conceal sins in confession: (1) Because we thereby make our spiritual condition worse; (2) We must tell the sin sometime if we ever hope to be saved; (3) It will be made known on the day of judgement, before the world, whether we conceal it now or confess it." (Baltimore Catechism)

"He who is tempted to conceal a mortal sin in confession should reflect: (1) That he was not ashamed to sin, in the presence of God who sees all; (2) That it is better to manifest his sin secretly to the confessor than to live tormented by sin, die an unhappy death, and be covered with shame before the whole world on the day of general judgment; (3) That the confessor is bound by the seal of confession under the gravest sin and under threat of the severest punishments both temporal and eternal." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* What one must do if he/she willfully conceals a mortal sin:

"He who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in Confession must not only confess it, but must also repeat [that is, confess again] all the sins he has committed since his last worthy Confession." (Baltimore Catechism)

"One who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in confession must, besides repeating [that is, confessing again] all the sins he has committed since his last worthy confession, tell also how often he has unworthy received absolution and Holy Communion during the same time." (Baltimore Catechism)

"He who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in confession, must reveal to his confessor the sin concealed, say in how many confessions he has concealed it, and make all these confessions over again, from the last good confession." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* If one unintentionally forgets to confess a mortal sin:

"If a mortal sin forgotten in confession is afterwards remembered we are certainly bound to confess it the next time we go to confession." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"If without our fault we forget to confess a mortal sin, our Confession is worthy, and the sin is forgiven; but it must be told in Confession if it again comes to mind." (Baltimore Catechism)

"He who through pure forgetfulness does not confess a mortal sin, or a necessary circumstance, makes a good confession, provided he has been duly diligent in trying to remember it." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"A person who has forgotten to tell a mortal sin in confession may go to Communion before again going to confession, because the forgotten sin was forgiven with those confessed, and the confession was good and worthy." (Baltimore Catechism)

"But should the confession seem defective, either because the penitent forgot some grievous sins, or because, although intent on confessing all his sins, he did not examine the recesses of his conscience with sufficient accuracy, he is not bound to repeat his confession. It will be sufficient, when he recollects the sins which he had forgotten, to confess them to a priest on a future occasion. It should be noted, however, that we are not to examine our consciences with careless indifference, or to be so negligent in recalling our sins as to seem as if unwilling to remember them. Should this have been the case, the confession must by all means be made over again." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* It is wrong to confess sins that one did not commit: "It is wrong to accuse ourselves of sins we have not committed, because, by our so doing, the priest cannot know the true state of our souls, as he must do before giving us absolution." (Baltimore Catechism)

* If one cannot remember the actual number of sins, he should tell the number as close as he can: "If we cannot remember the number of our sins, we should tell the number as nearly as possible" (Baltimore Catechism)

"He who does not distinctly remember the number of his sins must mention the number as nearly as he can." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* If one is not certain of committing a particular sin: "If a penitent is not certain of having committed a sin he is not bound to confess it; and if he does confess it, he should add that he is not certain of having committed it." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* During confession:

* The penitent, after making the sign of the cross, should tell how long it has been since his last confession [e.g. "Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been ... (length of time) since my last confession"].

* The penitent should humbly accuse himself (telling the priestly clearly and specifically) of all mortal sins that he has committed since his last confession and also any venial sins that he is confessing, and also the number of sins, and any circumstances which may change the species of sin (relevant information which can help the priest assess the seriousness of the sins). 

"We gather furthermore, that those circumstances which change the species of the sin are also to be explained in confession, because that, without them, the sins themselves are neither entirely set forth by the penitents, nor are they known clearly to the judges; and it cannot be that they can estimate rightly the grievousness of the crimes, and impose on the penitents, the punishment which ought to be inflicted, on account of them." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

"Can. 901. Any one who has committed mortal sins after baptism, which have not yet been directly forgiven by the keys of the Church, is obliged to confess all such sins which he can remember after a careful examination of his conscience, and explain in confession any circumstances surrounding them which may alter the nature of the sin." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

* The penitent should end by mentioning in a general way all other sins that he cannot remember: "[The penitent] should say: 'For all these sins and for those I do not remember, I ask pardon of God with my whole heart, and penance and absolution of you, my spiritual Father.'" (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* The priest may ask questions and give advice. Note that he should not ask your name, or ask curious or improper questions.

"When the confessor asks us questions we must answer them truthfully and clearly." (Baltimore Catechism)

"After telling our sins we should listen with attention to the advice which the confessor may think proper to give." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Having finished the accusation of my sins I should listen respectfully to what the confessor says, accept the [proper] penance with a sincere intention of performing it; and, from my heart, renew my act of contrition while he gives me absolution." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* The priest should also enjoin a penance and give absolution (if he judges it appropriate). At the absolution, the penitent should make the sign of the cross.

* The penitent must say an Act of Contrition: "We should say the Act of Contrition in a tone that can be heard by the priest." (Catechism of St. John Neumann) Note: If not said during confession, the Act of Contrition should be made privately outside of confession.

* The penitent should thank the priest before leaving the confessional.

If you have difficulty during confession, simply ask the priest for help. For additional instructions and assistance in making a good confession, review all other applicable items herein and consult a good priest.

* After confession, the penitent must complete the penance given by the confessor:

"[After confession, we] must say our penance and do all that the confessor has told us to do." (Catechism of St. John Neumann) 

"Having received absolution I should thank the Lord, perform my penance as soon as possible, and put in practice the advice of the confessor." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"If the confessor has fixed no time, the penance should be performed as soon as convenient, and as far as possible while in the state of grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"The penance should be performed entirely and devoutly." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

[Naturally the above assumes that the instruction / advice / penance is not contrary to faith or morals.]

* If someone is unable to perform the penance given by the priest, he should ask for another: "[A] penitent who knows he cannot perform the penance given should ask the priest for one that he can perform." (Baltimore Catechism)

"[T]he penitent is bound to accept the [appropriate] penance imposed on him by the confessor if he can perform it; and if he cannot, he should humbly say so, and ask some other penance." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

* If one forgets the penance give by the priest we must ask for it again: "When we forget the penance given we must ask for it again, for we cannot fulfil our duty by giving ourselves a penance." (Baltimore Catechism)

* An bad/sinful priest does not invalidate the Sacrament, although the priest must act seriously and absolve truly: "[This holy Synod] also teaches, that even priests, who are in mortal sin, exercise, through the virtue of the Holy Ghost which was bestowed in ordination, the office of forgiving sins, as the ministers of Christ; and that their sentiment is erroneous who contend that this power exists not in bad priests. But although the absolution of the priest is the dispensation of another's bounty, yet is it not a bare ministry only, whether of announcing the Gospel, or of declaring that sins are forgiven, but is after the manner of a judicial act, whereby sentence is pronounced by the priest as by a judge: and therefore the penitent ought not so to confide in his own personal faith, as to think that, - even though there be no contrition on his part, or no intention on the part of the priest of acting seriously and absolving truly, - he is nevertheless truly and in God's sight absolved, on account of his faith alone. For neither would faith without penance bestow any remission of sins; nor would he be otherwise than most careless of his own salvation, who, knowing that a priest but absolved him in jest, should not care fully seek for another who would act in earnest." (Council of Trent) 

* True penance takes away all mortal sin: 

"It is impossible for Penance to take one sin away without another. First because sin is taken away by grace removing the offense against God. Wherefore it was stated ... that without grace no sin can be forgiven. Now every mortal sin is opposed to grace and excludes it. Therefore it is impossible for one sin to be pardoned without another. Secondly, because...mortal sin cannot be forgiven without true Penance, to which it belongs to renounce sin, by reason of its being against God, which is common to all mortal sins: and where the same reason applies, the result will be the same. Consequently a man cannot be truly penitent, if he repent of one sin and not of another. For if one particular sin were displeasing to him, because it is against the love of God above all things (which motive is necessary for true repentance), it follows that he would repent of all. Whence it follows that it is impossible for one sin to be pardoned through Penance, without another. Thirdly, because this would be contrary to the perfection of God's mercy, since His works are perfect, as stated in Deuteronomy 32:4; wherefore whomsoever He pardons, He pardons altogether. Hence [it is said], that 'it is irreverent and heretical to expect half a pardon from Him Who is just and justice itself.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"It is impossible for any of our mortal sins to be forgiven unless they are all forgiven because as light and darkness cannot be together in the same place, so sanctifying grace and mortal sin cannot dwell together. If there be grace in the soul, there can be no mortal sin and if there be mortal sin, there can be no grace, for one mortal sin expels all grace." (Baltimore Catechism)

* General absolution: 

"Can. 961 §1 General absolution, without prior individual confession, cannot be given to a number of penitents together, unless: 1° danger of death threatens and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents; 2° there exists a grave necessity, that is, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors available properly to hear the individual confessions within an appropriate time, so that without fault of their own the penitents are deprived of the sacramental grace or of Holy Communion for a lengthy period of time. A sufficient necessity is not, however, considered to exist when confessors cannot be available merely because of a great gathering of penitents, such as can occur on some major feastday or pilgrimage. §2 It is for the diocesan Bishop to judge whether the conditions required in §1, n. 2 are present; mindful of the criteria agreed with the other members of the Episcopal Conference, he can determine the cases of such necessity." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

 "Can. 962 §1 For a member of Christ's faithful to benefit validly from a sacramental absolution given to a number of people simultaneously, it is required not only that he or she be properly disposed, but be also at the same time personally resolved to confess in due time each of the grave sins which cannot for the moment be thus confessed. §2 Christ's faithful are to be instructed about the requirements set out in §1, as far as possible even on the occasion of general absolution being received. An exhortation that each person should make an act of contrition is to precede a general absolution, even in the case of danger of death if there is time." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 963 Without prejudice to the obligation mentioned in can. 989, a person whose grave sins are forgiven by a general absolution, is as soon as possible, when the opportunity occurs, to make an individual confession before receiving another general absolution, unless a just reason intervenes." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* One may not receive the Sacrament of Penance from an absent confessor: "His Holiness...condemned and forbade as false, rash, and scandalous the proposition, namely, 'that it is lawful through letters or through a messenger to confess sins sacramentally to an absent confessor, and to receive absolution from that same absent confessor,' and orders in turn that that proposition thereafter not be taught in public or private gatherings, assemblies, and congresses; and that it never in any case be defended as probable, be given the stamp of approval, or be reduced in any way to practice." (Pope Clement VIII, 1602 A.D.)

* We confess only to authorized priests: "The same rationale is observed in the declaring of one's sins as in the detection of physical diseases. Just as the diseases of the body are not divulged to all, nor haphazardly, but to those who are skilled in curing them, so too our declaration of our sins should be made to those empowered to cure them" (St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, c. 371 A.D.)

* Confessors should not be 'overly kind': "Let confessors remember the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori on a similar matter: 'In general...in such cases the more severity the confessor uses with his penitents, the more will he help them towards their salvation; and on the contrary, the more cruel will he be the more he is benign.' St. Thomas of Villanova called such over-kind confessors: Impie pios - 'wickedly kind'; 'such charity is contrary to charity.'" (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

* It is not necessary to feel that one's sins are forgiven for them actually to be forgiven: 

"If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

"If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent) 

Error CONDEMNED by Pope Leo X in the Bull 'Exsurge Domine': "Sins are not forgiven to anyone, unless when the priest forgives them he believes they are forgiven; on the contrary the sin would remain unless he believed it was forgiven; for indeed the remission of sin and the granting of grace does not suffice, but it is necessary also to believe that there has been forgiveness." (Pope Leo X, This error was condemned in the Bull 'Exsurge Domine', 1520 A.D.)

* The proper place for a Sacramental confession is a church or oratory: "Can. 964 §1 The proper place for hearing sacramental confessions is a church or oratory. §2 As far as the confessional is concerned, norms are to be issued by the Episcopal Conference, with the proviso however that confessionals, which the faithful who so wish may freely use, are located in an open place, and fitted with a fixed grille between the penitent and the confessor. §3 Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* Pastors and others charged with the care of souls are obligated to hear confessions: "Can. 986 §1 All to whom by virtue of office the care of souls is committed, are bound to provide for the hearing of the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them, who reasonably request confession, and they are to provide these faithful with an opportunity to make individual confession on days and at times arranged to suit them." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* Confessors are bound by the seal of confession:

"In every confession sin is laid bare to the priest, and closed to others by the seal of confession." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Can. 983 §1 The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason whatsoever. §2 The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 984 §1 The confessor is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent, even when all danger of disclosure is excluded. §2 A person who is in authority may not in any way, for the purpose of external governance, use knowledge about sins which has at any time come to him from the hearing of confession." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Can. 1388 §1 A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; he who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict. §2 Interpreters and the others mentioned in can. 983 §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"Since each one is most anxious that his sins and defilements should be buried in oblivion, the faithful are to be admonished that there is no reason whatever to apprehend that what is made known in confession will ever be revealed by the priest to anyone, or that by it the penitent can at any time be brought into danger of any sort. The laws of the Church threaten the severest penalties against any priests who would fail to observe a perpetual and religious silence concerning all the sins confessed to them. Let the priest, says the great Council of Lateran, take special care, neither by word or sign, nor by any other means whatever, to betray in the least degree the sinner." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)  

* Why not all confessions amend penitents' lives: "The chief reason that our confessions do not always amend our way of living is our want of real earnest preparation for them and the fact that we have not truly convinced ourselves of the need of amendment. We often confess our sins more from habit, necessity or fear than from a real desire of receiving grace and of being restored to the friendship of God." (Baltimore Catechism)

* It is good to regularly examine one's conscience and make frequent acts of contrition:

"It is well and most useful to make an act of contrition often, especially before going to sleep or when we know we have or fear we have fallen into mortal sin, in order to recover God's grace as soon as possible; and this practice will make it easier for us to obtain from God the grace of making a like act at time of our greatest need, that is, when in danger of death." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"They should all be admonished frequently to examine their consciences, in order to ascertain if they have been faithful in the observance of those things which God and His Church require. Should anyone be conscious of sin, he should immediately accuse himself, humbly solicit pardon from God, and implore time to confess and satisfy for his sins. Above all, let him supplicate the aid of divine grace, in order that he may not relapse into those sins which he now penitently deplores." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* The grace of the sacrament depends on the recipient: "Penance, considered in itself, has the power to bring all defects back to perfection, and even to advance man to a higher state; but this is sometimes hindered on the part of man, whose movement towards God and in detestation of sin is too remiss, just as in Baptism adults receive a greater or a lesser grace, according to the various ways in which they prepare themselves." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* One must confess without despair: "Even when one confesses his sins, he ought to do so with praise of God; nor is a confession of sins a pious one unless it be made without despair, and with a prayer for God's mercy." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, 5th century A.D.)

* Difference between sin committed before and after baptism: "Indeed the nature of divine justice seems to demand that those who have sinned through ignorance before baptism may be received into grace in one manner, and in another those who at one time freed from the servitude of sin and the devil, and on receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, did not fear to 'violate the temple of God knowingly' [1 Cor. 3:17], 'and to grieve the Holy Spirit' [Eph. 4:30]. And it befits divine clemency that sins be not thus pardoned us without any satisfaction, lest, seizing the occasion [Rom. 7:8], and considering sins trivial, we, offering injury and 'affront to the Holy Spirit' [Heb. 10:29], fall into graver ones, 'treasuring up to ourselves wrath against the day of wrath' [Rom. 2:5; Jas. 5:3]. For, without doubt, these satisfactions greatly restrain from sin, and as by a kind of rein act as a check, and make penitents more cautious and vigilant in the future; they also remove the remnants of sin, and destroy vicious habits acquired by living evilly through acts contrary to virtue. Neither was there ever in the Church of God any way considered more secure for warding off impending punishment by the Lord than that men perform these works of penance [cf. Matt. 3:28; 4:17; 11:21] with true sorrow of soul." (Council of Trent, 1551 A.D.)

* Difference between mortal and venial sin: "There are venial sins and there are mortal sins. It is one thing to owe ten thousand talents, another to owe [but a minor amount]. We shall have to give an accounting for an idle word no less than for adultery. But to be made to blush and to be tortured are not the same thing; not the same thing to grow red in the face and to be in agony for a long time... There is a great difference between one sin and another." (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, c. 393 A.D.)

* Public penance may be given for public sins: "The apostle admonishes that those who sin publicly are to be reproved openly. When, therefore, any one has, publicly and in the sight of many, committed a crime, whereby there is no doubt that others have been offended and scandalized; there must needs be publicly imposed upon him a penance suitable to the measure of his guilt; that so those whom he has allured to evil manners by his example, he may bring back to an upright life by the testimony of his amendment. The bishop, however, may, when he judges it more expedient, commute this kind of public penance into one that is secret." (Council of Trent, 1563 A.D.)

* One does not satisfy the obligation regarding Confession by a sacrilegious or intentionally null confession: "Can. 907 The precept of confessing sins is not satisfied by one who makes a sacrilegious confession or one that is intentionally null." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

* Meanings of the word 'penance':

"The name of Penance is given to this sacrament, because to obtain pardon for sins it is necessary to detest them penitently; and because the Confession is the telling of our sins to a duly authorized priest [one sent to hear confessions by the lawful bishop of the diocese in which we are at the time of our confession], for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness." (Baltimore Catechism) 

"The word Penance has other meanings. It means also those punishments we inflict upon ourselves as a means of atoning for our past sins; it means likewise that disposition of the heart in which we detest and bewail our sins because they were offensive to God." (Baltimore Catechism)

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