FAQs about Confesssion and Sin

♦ Confessions are heard at every Catholic Parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport on Tuesdays during Lent from 7 – 9pm. In addition, St. Ann’s also has confessions on Saturdays from 3-3:45pm.

Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest? That’s the way Jesus set it up on Easter Sunday evening. He told his apostles that just as God the Father had sent him — and God the Father sent him to save us from our sins — so he was sending them. He breathed on them the power of the Holy Spirit, giving them God’s power to forgive sins, since no one can forgive sins but God alone. He told them that whatever sins they forgive are forgiven and whatever sins they retain are retained (Jn 20:21-23; Mk 2:7). Since the apostles were unable to read minds, the only way that they would know which to forgive and which to retain is if people told them their sins. Jesus thus established the essential structure of the sacrament of confession. Just as he uses priests to give us his Body and Blood at Mass so he uses them to give us His mercy in Penance.

Why do people vary in calling it the Sacrament of Penance, Confession or Reconciliation? The names emphasize different aspects of the sacrament. Penance refers to our repentance, sorrow and resolution to amend our life with God’s help. Confession refers to the act by which we tell our sins to the priest. Reconciliation refers to the goal of the celebration by which the sinner is reconciled to God and the Church (see CCC 1423-1424). The ritual for the sacrament is called the Rite of Penance, but is fitting to refer to it with any of these titles. In fact, the Catechism refers to it also as “the Sacrament of Conversion” and the “Sacrament of Forgiveness.”

What do I need to do to make a good confession? The sacrament consists of three actions on the part of the penitent: contrition, which is sorrow for one’s sins; confession, that is examining one’s conscience and telling one’s sins to the priest; and penance, namely a desire to make up for one’s sins and amend one’s life. Together the three are called the “acts of the penitent.”

How do I examine my conscience well? One does so by asking for God’s help and prayerfully examining one’s actions in the light of Christ’s teaching and example. Some review their behavior by the Ten Commandments, others by Christ’s command to love God and love others, others by their correspondence to the beatitudes, others by comparing their behavior to the most important Christian virtues, and others by the seven “capital” sins (pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and gluttony). It is not enough merely to focus on how one has broken God’s “rules,” but rather how one has damaged his relationship with God and others and hurt himself interiorly. It is also important to examine for sins of omission. Pamphlets are available in the church, near the confessionals, for help.

How do I grow in contrition? There are two types of contrition: sorrow over hurting one we love (called perfect contrition) and sorrow over getting caught or over the punishment that comes because of sin (imperfect contrition). We should ask God to help us achieve that perfect contrition in which we are sorry for having wounded the God who loves us and whom we should love in return. Meditation on the consequence of ours sins — Christ’s brutal death on the Cross — often helps us to grow toward perfect contrition.

How does our sorrow translate into penance? When we are truly sorry for our sins, we regret having ever done them. That leads naturally to our trying to remedy the damage caused by sin and to having a firm purpose of amendment to avoid that and other types of sins in the future. The priest normally assigns us a penance (for example, prayer, fasting or other types of self-denial, sacrifices, almsgiving, spiritual or corporal works of mercy, or service of neighbor) as medicine to begin to repair the damage caused by sin, but this penance is light in comparison to the infinite harm our sins have done in bringing about Christ’s death. So we should voluntarily do penance to seek, with God’s help, to expiate our sins and repair that damage (CCC 1460)

What are the qualities of a good confession? A good confession is humble, sincere and complete. It’s humble when we accuse ourselves of our sins with a deep sorrow for having offended the Lord while imploring his loving mercy. It’s sincere when we tell all of our sins honestly and truthfully, without exaggerating or excusing them. It’s complete when we confess all of our mortal sins, including the number of times we have committed each one.

What is sin and what sins need to be confessed in the Sacrament of Penance? Sin is an offense against God that ruptures our communion with Him and with His Church (CCC 1440). It is far more than “breaking the rules,” but is a failure to love God and to love others, which causes real damage in all our relationships. There are sins totally incompatible with love for God and others (mortal sins, in which genuine love is “dead”), and ones in which love is less grievously wounded (venial or “easily forgiven”). The Church says that all grave or mortal sins must be confessed as soon as possible (CIC 988).

What is a mortal sin? A mortal sin involves an action whose object is grave matter that is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Grave matter is generally understood to be something that violates the Ten Commandments. Full knowledge means that one is aware that God or the Church he founded considers the act sinful (even if one doesn’t totally understand why it is sinful). Deliberate consent means a consent sufficiently intentional to be a personal choice (CCC 1857-1859).

 What are the consequences of a mortal sin? A mortal sin “results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back” (CCC 1861). This is why it is so important for mortal sins to be confessed to a priest as soon as possible.

What is a venial sin and what are its consequences? “One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave manner, but without full knowledge or without complete consent. Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not set us in direct opposition to the will and friendship of God; it does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable” (CCC 1862-1863).

What did Jesus say and do about sin? Jesus is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). His first public words were “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt 4:17). He healed the sins of the paralyzed man and of the woman caught in adultery (Mk 2:5; Jn 8:11). He preached on God’s desire to reconcile us with the beautiful images of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son (Lk 15). He taught us how to be brutal toward sin, instructing us in the Sermon on the Mount us that it would be better to rip out our eyes or cut off our hands if they were leading us to sin than to do nothing and lose our bodies and souls forever in Hell (Mt 5:29-30). He taught us to pray to the Father to forgive us our sins and to bring us to forgive the relatively smaller debts of those who sin against us (Mt 6:12; 18:21-35). On the Cross, as he prepared to die to take away our sins, Jesus’ salvific words were, first for sinners in general, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” and then for one sinner, the Good Thief, in particular (Lk 23:34,43). After his resurrection, not only did Jesus give the apostles the ability to forgive sins in his name but commanded them to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all nations (Jn 20:21-23; Lk 24:47). That’s what the Church continues through preaching the need for repentance and making Jesus’ mercy available through the Sacrament of Penance.

I know mortal sins must be confessed, but should I also confess the venial sins I’m aware of? The Church strongly recommends that we confess our every day faults (venial sins) because it can help us “to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies (patterns of weakness that can lead us to sin), ... be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. (CCC 1458; CIC 988). Confession of our venial sins shows our hatred of all sin because even venial sins are against the love of God and neighbor.

Should I go to confession if I’m only aware of having committed venial sins? Yes. We should not stay away from confession if we’ve committed only venial sins, since the sacrament not only forgives our sins but gives us God’s grace to fight against temptation. The great saints, who were filled with love of God and seem for the most part to have avoided mortal sins, have confessed very frequently, because the sacrament helps us to grow in God’s grace. It reveals to us our need for God’s help in the “little things” of the day and leads us to ask for that help.