Does a penitent have to mention number of times sin was committed?

It has been my experience in the confessional that the priests usually let me confess uninterrupted without asking too many follow up questions and barely do they ask how many times I’ve committed a particular sin.

So do I have to mention that I committed so and so sin 4 times or just say I committed it and leave it at that?


I thought we were supposed to try to give the priest an idea of times if it’s a mortal sin, if it’s one time or a thousand times, for example.

Depends - number and kind must be mentioned. But I think this generally refers to mortal sins.

If you haven’t been to Mass for three years then you’ve missed Mass on all the Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for three years - that would be 52 weeks plus the number of Holy Days not on a Monday or Friday times three years - a formidable number. Or suppose you robbed three banks - then say three banks. If you’ve had twelve abortions say 12. If you’ve only missed Mass once since your last Confession then say I missed Mass once sins my last Confession.

I think this is a little different when it comes to venial stuff like talking back to mom or dad or the number of times you stuck your tongue out at your little brother since your last confession. If you were a drunk and battling the booze in earnest and were utilizing the Sacrament to help you fight this monster of a disease, then yes, it would be helpful to Father if you did tell him how many times you got drunk in the last month.

I know it is practically impossible for those who’ve gone a few years between Confession to remember all the things they’ve done so use common sense. I also think that the Holy Spirit brings folks back to the Church when they’ve been away for a while and the contrition that settles in their hearts breaks them wide open in the Confessional so that they DO mention all that is necessary for them to receive the Grace of the Sacrament.

The more seriously you take your Confessions the better you’ll get at them. Say for instance if you were working on taming your temper and going to Confession on a regular basis, then you’d probably be able to recall all the instances of loss of temper between your Confessions while doing your examination prior to Confession. Then you could tell the Priest how many times you lost your temper. See how simple that is?

Confession is a beautiful thing and takes work and practice. When I was waiting to come into the Church at the Easter Vigil, one of the things I was greatly looking forward to was the ability to make a good Confession. I had read the Diary of St. Faustina before which had so many wonderful things said about the Sacrament of Mercy that I wanted this for myself and knew that if I was to live up to the Baptismal promises I was about to make I would need the whole Ocean of Mercy she spoke about. Sometimes I really do not understand some Catholic’s distaste for this Sacrament. They love the Eucharist but they don’t love another Sacrament, Confession?


You should confess in number and kind. That said, most of us struggle with one sin or another, and for most of us, those annoying sins happen so regularly we lose count. This is not to defend or excuse anything; it’s simply a fact.

If I remember the number of times I did something, I do say so when I confess. If I don’t, I indicate whether it was often, only a few times, and whether I managed to win any battles against it at all. The main point is to give the priest an idea as to how much of a struggle you’re having with that specific sin.

As others have said, with practice one wants to give the numbers anyway, because this has great benefit in cleansing the conscience and improving one’s life. :)… Still, it’s not always easy…

With regard to previous confessions, accept the absolution and direction you have received without revisiting the priest’s judgement. So long as you did not deliberately conceal a mortal sin then the absolution was valid, and, moreover if he has not asked for more information then you should not bring those sins to confession again, unless you recall some information which would have seriously changed that confession. eg. if one had confessed “adultery”, but failed to mention that they had moved in with their lover and been committing adultery frequently and over a long time, then (probably) one should mention that next time.

Priests are very experienced at hearing confessions and know how, and when, to ask questions if necessary. Moreover, in passing absolution they have ruled that your confession is complete with regard to the Church’s requirements.

For the future though, yes, you should mention the number of times a mortal sin was committed, or give a useful approximation, such as “daily”, or “once a month”.

From Canon Law:

Canon 988 – §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, for which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.

One is not obliged to confess venial sins, and hence one is not obliged to confess the number of times. For myself, I confess the venial sins which are most troubling me at the time, sometimes with numbers, and sometimes without. eg. “gossiping about members of my own family”, or “spending too much time on the internet, most days of the week”.

My feelings exactly. Obviously going to confession more often would make it easier but even then it can be difficult. Personally, I’ve never been asked to clarify how many times something was committed.

In order for the priest to forgive sins, he must know each and every sin if it is mortal.
So that means each time it was committed.

The reason the time of the last confession is declared is that the priest then may know how many times a confessed sin has been committed. For instance, I got very angry about twice a week.
Now if the last confession was one month ago, then that would be 8 times for that sin. If the time of the last confession was not mentioned, then Father would have no way of knowing how many sins of anger were done.

Drunkenness is considered a mortal sin. If a person thinks that they may be the exception then this should be brought up to the priest for his assessment. There are many who drink excessively and do it deliberately while there may be some who do have a specialized problem out of their control. A priest should be consulted on this.

Any mortal sin not deliberately hidden in confession is forgiven, even ones not mentioned which may have been inadvertantly overlooked or forgotten.

Any mortal sin deliberately not confessed means that none of the sins are forgiven and another mortal sin was added by lying in confession.

Venial sins need not be mentioned, tho it is good to do so with the one(s) causing the most concern.

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine on you. May God be kind to you and give you peace.

I recall many instances at Confession where I stated I committed acts of lust or missed Mass but wasn’t specific on the number of times committed. And the priest never asked and was granted absolution. So I hope I don’t get a spell of being hung up on worrying whether I was in fact forgiven – I guess being scrupulous is the term.

,I guess if I was a bank robber and confessed I robbed banks for a living, I’m sure the confessor would have a good idea where I’m coming from and would prob not ask how many times I robbed.

Just do your best, if you don’t know the exact number you can estimate, many times, a couple times, more than 4 times but not more than 10. Something along those lines.

This would be a good question to ask on the Apologist forum.

If you can’t remember then that is the way they may be presented. The responsibility is on the penitent to make a good complete (integral) confession and include the number. If you remember the number later, it should be mentioned in a subsequent confession. Also the kind and circumstances of a sin that may be remembered later are significant for integral confession.

In confessing mortal sin one needs to confess: Number and kind (and that which changes the kind --like it was ones Mother that one murdered). Kind means not a general thing like “sin against chastity” but the specific kind “fornication” or “adultery” etc.

If one does not know the number one may approximate according to what one knows…which may mean “around 3x”, “many times”, “about once a month for the last year”…

If one forgets the number or I would think if makes an honest mistake and does not give the number (cause -say one honestly did not have a clue one had to give the number of times) --and later realizes it this after confession -they just are to confess what they remembered in the next confession. Presuming they were contrite etc and intending to make a good confession…doing what they thought they where to do…

(as opposed to knowing one needs to give the number and being afraid to say the number and thus hiding it…that would be a different story)

While a Priest can ask how many times -confession is well ‘Confession’ where we accuse ourselves of our sins…where we “confess”…tis not ‘interrogation’ :wink:

Venial sins while good to confess --do not need to be confessed and do not need to have any number confessed.

Many of the replies here, as usual, are eloquent and insightful.

Still a tad confused though!

If I was granted absolution after having been somewhat vague in the confessional, was that absolution invalidated by my weak confession? I don’t want to go into what I actually confessed but take for example the common sin of masterbation. If I committed that act 10 times since my last confession, but only stated in my confession that I committed the act of lustfullness, (without mentioning kind or number by the way), was my confession invalid?

Unless you covered up something on purpose or tried to “make it prettier” (again, on purpose - I think it’s close to impossible to avoid that completely), your sins are forgiven and there is no need to worry. If you remember a sin that constitutes serious matter after your confession, feel free to mention it to your confessor next time you confess; it is not needed for validity, but it is good practice to do so.

Remember that in (at least several of) the Eastern Rites, confession is often done semi-publicly, without going into details. I have never confessed in that manner, so I could be wrong, but my impression is that you’d simply confess something along the lines of “lustfulness” in that tradition. We need to separate between what is necessary for a valid absolution, and what is simply part of discipline and tradition specific to our Rite.

Lastly, also remember that while the penitent of course has the responsibility to be truthful and not “cover up” things, the priest also has a responsibility to guide the penitent. So if the penitent says something fuzzy, and the priests feels clarification is in order, the priests would ask the penitent to specify. So unless you avoid mentioning things on purpose, you should not worry about validity. Simply do your best, and pray for guidance to make a good confession, and remember that God is merciful. In the end, all we can do is to place our trust and hope in Him.

See if this helps:

If I were to commit mortal sins and went to confession and intentionally hid what I did–where I did not give number and kind -but was just vague --such would be invalid and a further mortal sin. For I am rather clear I am to confess number and kind for mortal sins.

If John went to confession and confessed all the mortal sins he was conscious of from his examine -but did not say give the formal names --but did tell the actual kind -(he just said it in a different way --while still saying it in way that got it across) and number as he knew and was contrite etc -his confession can yes still be valid. One can get to the actual kind using words that are not the technical but which do say what the thing was…

Now if Sam say had very bad formation (not his fault …twas his teachers) and thus did not have a clue that he had to confess mortal sins in number and kind and honestly thought that all he had to do was say in general what his sin was…and was contrite etc and meant to make a good complete confession …that can be a different matter. The absolution may be valid in his case - but if he later realizes this he needs still to confess those sins.

(and I note for readers: Others are rather “scrupulous” and need a regular confessor who knows them to guide them…for they can scruple about confession)

You’re just fine. I just went to confession today, and it’s been long enough that I committed a certain sin pretty much every day, and fairly regularly; so that’s what I told Father. Pretty much every day, on a regular basis."

I did not have to state each and every time that I committed the sin. That would be ludicrous to expect. How would people with memory issues, for example,ever be able to be absolved if they weren’t sure they were missing an instance here or there?

One examines ones conscience…if one knows then it is 12 times one is to say 12.

If one does not know then the actual number one may approximate according to what one knows…“about every day for the last 2 months”, around 5x, or even if need be “many times”…

Bravo Book Cat! You’re giving some pretty solid answers.

Rosslyn, if you have *a lustful thought but don’t act on it, that is a temptation. If you are having lustful thoughts *several times a week, it may indicate a problem. If you are having lustful thoughts every time you’re around a certain person, that could be even worse. If you’re having lustful thoughts and you’re married or engaged or a religious, this too can be worse. If you’ve committed the sin of masturbation you generally know how many times you’ve done so unless it has become so regular that you’ve lost count, then you have an even bigger problem. To dismiss the act of masturbation as simply being lustful is hiding what that lust lead to or not giving important details like you’re married and your mind was wondering about someone else’s husband or your own and allowing lust into the marital bed, etc. If you ask me there is no being a little bit lustful.

The more the priest knows about you the more he can help you. Do not be afraid to tell it all. God is waiting in that little Holy place, the Confessional to give you all He died for.

If you are having trouble recalling all you need to tell His minister, the priest, because you get flustered in the box, just practice repeating it like you would a speech in speech class before going. If however, you don’t want to tell him the details, remember this quip: “The devil is in the details.”

The more you know about sins the better you’ll get at your confessions.

Good luck and God bless you.


Little clarification - lustful thoughts can be mortal sins --as thoughts. The question would be – was there the needed knowledge and complete consent for such?

Or was it simply a temptation that happened.

Once again, we disagree on this issue (ie. of re-confessing past sins by kind and number).

My advice (posted above) remains:

With regard to previous confessions, accept the absolution and direction you have received without revisiting the priest’s judgement. So long as you did not deliberately conceal a mortal sin then the absolution was valid, and, moreover if he has not asked for more information then you should not bring those sins to confession again, unless you recall some information which would have seriously changed that confession. eg. if one had confessed “adultery”, but failed to mention that they had moved in with their lover and been committing adultery frequently and over a long time, then (probably) one should mention that next time.

Priests are very experienced at hearing confessions and know how, and when, to ask questions if necessary. Moreover, in passing absolution they have ruled that your confession is complete with regard to the Church’s requirements.

Still, I usually recommend that people with doubts about previous confessions mention them next time they are in the confessional - not because they have to, but for peace of mind. Priests are always happy to answer questions about previous confessions, and it is part of their job in the confessional.

The following excerpts are from Pardon and Peace, by Alfred Wilson, OP, Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1946, extracted from

  • Some people worry because they are afraid that the confessor does not understand them, which is, as one author justly remarks, “paying an unmerited compliment to themselves and making very little of the confessor.” [5]

To such a one the confessor might reasonably say: “My dear penitent, you are not nearly such a unique specimen as you imagine!”

“No, it’s not that, Father. I don’t explain myself properly.”

  1. Of course not. Do we ever explain ourselves properly? How often do you ever say exactly what you want to say? God instituted Confession not for geniuses with an unusual gift of expression, but for ordinary folk like you.
  1. In any case, it is not necessary to express yourself very accurately. When you go to the doctor with measles, you may and probably do explain your symptoms badly, but unless the doctor is very fifth-rate, he soon realizes what you mean, because he has heard all that so often before. Therefore, it is not unfair to say that if you imagine you are so difficult to understand, you either make too much of yourself or too little of your confessor.

If the priest does not understand, it is up to him to ask more questions, and if he neglects to do that when he should, it is his responsibility, his funeral, not yours: though of that you are most certainly not the judge. It is presumption and uncharity for you to decide that the priest is failing in his duty. Even if he is, provided you have done your duty, his omissions need not trouble you.

Jesus absolves, not Father So-and so. It would be a poor compliment to our Divine Master to presume that He would allow Himself to be baulked by human carelessness**. What the worrying type need is more faith in the realities of Confession and a prolonged meditation on the words: “Whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.”**

If the priest is satisfied with you, then you ought to be satisfied, for remember that he is the judge, not you. Don’t usurp the confessor’s position and imply that Confession is worth next to nothing! Confession would be valueless if a quasi-infallible confessor were essential for its successful administration.

“But the priest may be mistaken!” Of course, he may. But remember this:

  1. If the priest is fallible, he is certainly no more fallible than you.** This desire to revise his judgments amounts to an unconscious usurping of his position. It is judging God’s appointed judge, and that is pride and want of faith and has no kinship whatever with zeal or tenderness of conscience. It is the self-opinionated attitude of private judgment. **
  1. Fallible or not, the priest is reductively infallible, because his judgment will be respected in heaven. “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them. Whatsover you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in Heaven.” Your judgment isn’t guaranteed anything, so you will be wise to relinquish it and leave judgment to the priest.

Remember St. Philip Neri’s wise saying: “No penitent was ever lost by obedience, nor saved by disobedience.” God instituted Confession for human beings, who are incapable of mathematical accuracy in moral matters, and therefore He neither expects nor demands mathematical accuracy.

(emphasis added)

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