I’ve commited MANY sins in the past; in fact, probably so many that it’s impossible for me to remember them all. What about sins you forgot about? Can these be forvigen if you just ask the Lord, “Please forgive me for the sins I’ve forgot about.” Also, since I probably can’t memorize all the sins I could recall, is it acceptable for me to bring a list (written or typed) into confession to make sure I’ve said all of them? Also, how specific should you be when confessing a sin? Do you have to give a specific time, place and purpose, or just very briefly say what you did without any explanation or setting?
While I cannot say for certain, from your post it sounds as though you might be suffering from scrupulosity, a condition in which a person has a hypersensitive conscience that causes him to see sin where there is no sin and to be haunted by his past sins and the fear that he will forget something he must confess.
I strongly recommend asking your pastor for a recommendation for a confessor in your area who is experienced in dealing with scruples. You might also wish to look into the work of Scrupulous Anonymous, an apostolate of Liguori Publications that is directed by Fr. Thomas Santa, C.Ss.R., author of Understanding Scrupulosity.
In answer to your specific questions:
[quote=PMV]I’ve commited MANY sins in the past; in fact, probably so many that it’s impossible for me to remember them all. What about sins you forgot about? Can these be forvigen if you just ask the Lord, “Please forgive me for the sins I’ve forgot about”?
Yes, forgotten sins are forgiven. If you remember them later, venial sins do not have to be confessed, mortal sins do. Please keep in mind the conditions of mortal sin: grave matter, full knowledge, full and free consent of the will. For scrupulous people, it is usually advised that if you are not sure whether a sin is mortal to consider it venial and set it aside. Because their consciences are so hypersensitive, scrupulous people are much less likely to knowingly and freely commit a morally grave action than those with normal or lax consciences.
[quote=PMV]Also, since I probably can’t memorize all the sins I could recall, is it acceptable for me to bring a list (written or typed) into confession to make sure I’ve said all of them?
You certainly can bring a list if you wish, but it is not necessary and may only aggravate your scruples. If you have honestly forgotten a sin, rest assured that it is forgiven. If you do bring a list, be sure to destroy it afterward to keep your confession private. As a side note, you could also simply hand the list to your confessor to read rather than reciting the entire list. If he has questions about the sins listed, he’ll ask.
(Continued from above…)
[quote=PMV]Also, how specific should you be when confessing a sin? Do you have to give a specific time, place and purpose, or just very briefly say what you did without any explanation or setting?
State what you did. If there is additional information the priest needs to know to understand the seriousness of what you did, mention it. For example, if your confessor does not know your state in life (priest, religious, married, single), it may be important to mention it so that the seriousness of the sin can be determined. Beyond that, do not worry. The priest will ask for clarification if he needs it.
Finally, take heart. Some of the greatest saints of the Church suffered from hypersensitivity and from scrupulosity. Among them are St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and
St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius, who created his Spiritual Exercises after dealing with his own bout of scrupulosity, advised:
Up to a certain point scruples are not harmful to the one suffering from them, when that person becomes, because of his scruples, more vigilant and careful about not offending God, and does not form a judgment that this or that is sinful, even though he has some doubt or fear that it is, and places his confidence in another person whom he should trust, setting aside his own judgment and accepting that of his adviser. … And believe me, if you have true humility and submissiveness, your scruples will not cause you so much trouble. Pride is the fuel they feed on, and it is pride that places more reliance on one’s own judgment and less on the judgment of others whom we trust (source).