Burning of Confession Papers


I am concerned by what I heard from my sister-in-law. She said her priest told her that tonight people who are in a state of mortal sin can write their Confessions (no names) on a paper and these papers are burned tomorrow to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday and by doing that they are forgiven, absolved, restored to grace and may receive Communion.
I find that very hard to believe because my understanding is that Confession is only valid by personally confessing to a priest.
Has anyone else heard of this?


Doesn’t sound correct to me.
We cannot gain forgiveness and absolution in that manner.
And also, aren’t ashes made from burning the left over blessed palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday?

Possibly the person who shared this with you didn’t get accurate facts?


I’ve heard of this being done at some Charismatic retreats (not sure about chapter and verse, though.) However, it is not the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and has nothing to do with Ash Wednesday. This is the sacramental equivalent of a Clown Mass. :stuck_out_tongue:


Could there be some misunderstanding somewhere? People may write down their sins and burn the paper to symbolize and visualize the forgiveness of their sins. But they still have to go through the Sacrament of Reconciliation one on one with the priest. They must confess their sins to the priest and receive absolution from the Persona Christi. There is no question about that.


You can absolutely be forgiven in this way, so long as a priest with faculties says “Ego te absolvo” while you are burning it.


You sister-in-law may have misunderstood OR the priest was seriously misleading her. The ashes for Ash Wednesday are to be made from burning the palms from the previous Palm Sunday.

You are correct in your understanding that Confession to a priest, one on one, is the only way mortal sin can be forgiven and absolved and the penitent must avail him or her self of the valid Sacrament of Reconciliation if in a state of mortal sin if they wish to be restored to grace and receive Communion.

Yes, I have heard of what your sister-in-law has described and it is a despicable, twisted distortion of the wisdom of the Catholic Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession, or Penance (whatever you prefer to call it) is a beautiful and powerful source of grace and healing. To equate it with such a meaningless, made-up ritual makes a mockery of what Jesus Himself established. Promoters of such things should be ashamed.


Thanks everyone. Next time I’m at Church I’ll see if I can have a word with the priest to find out what he actually said.
It was not a Mass but a service which I see as simply a symbolic ritual and my sister-in-law may have misunderstood.


I’ve participated in this kind of thing on retreats (not for Ash Wednesday though), but it was always preceded by the sacrament of reconciliation where we actually confessed the sins we had written on paper. Then the papers were burned in a large metal can as a visual sign of our sins being forgiven and forgotten. It was very freeing, seeing your sins go up in smoke and knowing you were no longer bound by them.


You are correct. I think you may have misinterpreted what she said. No mortal sin is forgiven unless it is confessed vocally to a priest during the Sacrament of Confession. There are special circumstances governing the confessions of those who cannot speak or other cases of extreme emergency when mortal sins may be forgiven ( going into battle ) without vocal confession. But even in these cases, the penitent must confess these sins in the confessional at the first opportunity.

And it is a bad idea for anyone to write down their sins and it is not necessary. What if these papers were discovered by an innocent person or by a loved one? No, never do that. God will forgive all your sins, even the ones you forget. But if you forget a serious sin, you must confess that sin as soon as you remember it - at the first reasonable opportunity. You may still go to communion because the sin has been forgiven. But it must still be confessed as soon as it is reasonable to do so.



Sounds like New Age mumbo jumbo that should be avoided. I would run from this kind of teaching, definitely not Catholic.


Well, now, isn’t that a bit over the top!

I made a retreat, and we did that; it was not considered the equivalent of confession. We had confession following the ceremony. No one - none of us - thought that it forgave out sins. We all thought that confession did, and we all went to confession after the ceremony and during the retreat.

You may not like it, and I don’t ask you to do so. But your condemnation is over the top. I have no doubt that you have ceremonies which have an emotional content to you; it is not for me to criticize them. Find out what you are actually talking about before you pass judgement; and then, count to 10.


I may have gotten to this thread a little late but…

First, it does not seem appropriate to be using paper for the ashes for Ash Wednedsay. I am not sure if palms are the only thing that can be burned and used(e.g. in some regions of the world fig and willow branches are distributed on Palm/Passion Sunday instead of palm branches) but I would assume the local ordinary and custom would govern this.

Second regarding the confession and absolution, sins may be written down on a piece of paper and handed to the priest in confession, they do not have to be said outloud(see here-forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=290622). However, this writing down of sins still must happen inside the rite of confession and the priest actually has to read the sins and then give absolution, he cannot just burn them outside of the rite of confession and without reading them and giving absolution. As others have said papers with a listing of sins committed whether handed to the priest like described above or just used to remember sins inside the confessional can be burned afterwards for both symbolic and practical reasons.


I don’t apologize for what I wrote. To substitute a valid sacrament with a weak ritual is an abomination and if, I stress that “IF,” that was what was happening, as I have seen it happen before, than those who promote such things should be reported to their bishops.


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