My friend is getting back into the confession cycle, and he asked me a point-blank question that kind of threw me off:

“While in the confessional, do you refer to your sins by giving a colloquial description of your sins (e.g., I masturbate about 5 times daily, last week I got into a fight with my father broke his nose, I stole half of my father-in-law’s wardrobe, et al.–none of which are my sins, btw) or is there some central list of offenses against God (perhaps by referencing the Catechism?) by which you can draw more neutral language?”

I’m just so used to referring to my sins in plain speech, that the idea that I could refer to these transgressions by words like ‘offense against chastity’ or something similar threw me off.

Which is more appropriate?


Put me squarely in the colloquial description camp. People agonize unnecessarily over how to name their sins. It’s the priest who is the professional moral theologian (although we lay Catholics should all have a working knowledge of what’s sinful and what’s not), just as it’s the medical doctor with the medical degree. Just as it’s up to the medical doctor to determine the final diagnosis from the symptoms we describe, it’s up to the priest to make the final judgement about what our sins are.

We are not required to tell the doctor, “I have strep,” or “I have pancreatic cancer.” In fact, that is greatly frowned upon. Instead, we say, “I have a sore throat and a fever,” or “It hurts here and here and I throw up whenever I eat.”

Using technical language can obscure our sins. Sometimes this is intentional. How much easier it is to say, “I committed an offense against chastity,” than to say “I masturbate five times a day.” Sometimes it is unintentional, but it still stands in the way of good communication. If we have some kind of misconception about what a certain sin is, we might confess the wrong thing. Jesus, in whose place the priest sits, still understands of course, and forgives whatever sin we actually committed, but the priest is unable to provide any good advice if he gets bad information.

As a last note, just think of it in very human terms. If I offend you by beating you up in the back alley, isn’t it much more normal and natural for me to come to you saying, “I’m so sorry I beat you up in the alley, and I hope you’ll be able to forgive me,” than to say, “I deeply regret my act of physical assault against you and ask your forgiveness for the same.” This encounter with Jesus in the confessional is human - let’s let it be so. Using our own natural language lets our heart speak out clearly.

Sometimes I think I’ll put it in my signature - Just tell the priest what you did!

For mortal sins one needs to confess in number and kind (and circumstance that change the sin…like it was your brother you murdered). (and if you forget…one must confess it the next confession …when one remembers)

One can not say “offense against chastity” such would NOT be specific enough. One needs to say something like “adultery 2x”

Venial sins can be more general.

Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers gives a good run down on “species” (kind)

But you could be more colloqual (respectfully) so long as it gets to what you actually did…“I beat up my mother seriously 2x”

I would not waste the priest time and your time with a lot of details. However, I firmly believe that an accurate description of the sin is usually a sign of true contrition up to the point of accepting embarrassment. Sharing some of the details with the priest can also help in dealing with habitual sin. In medio stat virtus!

Great answer, that makes perfect sense!

Good way of remembering, thanks.

Umm - the Catechism DOES use so-called ‘colloquial’ expressions for sin.

It calls theft, lying, adultery and masturbation by exactly those names, for example.

By the way, none of the terms you’ve used are colloquial at all, merely specific and accurate. Colloquialism means slang. So, for example, if you confessed to ‘getting busy with’ someone you weren’t married to, THAT would be colloquialism.

If you instead said you ‘had pre-marital sex’ or even confessed ‘fornication’ (which precisely means pre-marital sex) then you’d be accurate, not colloquial nor euphemistic.

How ‘colloquial’ a word is depends on the cultural and social usages. ‘I rubbed one out’ or ‘I masturbated’ are both far more colloquial than saying ‘I committed an offense against chastity’ (a potential phrasing which I mentioned).
Used above, I intended its etymologically correct usage: words that I would use in speaking to another guy, to tell him what I did.

I only mentioned the Catechism as one possible source of a ‘master list’ of sins, phrased in formal descriptions. I’m humble enough to admit that I haven’t read the JPII Catechism in its entirety, although I have read others.

‘I committed an offense against chastity’ as noted would not be specific enough.

Yes, I received that, thank you.

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