How to Name Sins

Code of Canon Law 988 states:

Can. 988 §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which the person has knowledge after diligent examination of conscience.

My question concerns the phrase “kind and number”. Some render this “name and number” which furthers my confusion as I shall demonstrate, and hope for someone to correct.

Now, let us take an example scenario to illustrate my confusion (please do not apply this to me, this is merely an example to get my point across):

1.) A penitent has engaged in impure thoughts of both single and married persons. When confessing their sins, how are they to name their sins?

One way to name the sin is “consented to impure thoughts”. Another would be “consenting to impure thoughts of both single and married persons.”

Which is correct?

Ok, now let us look at a similar example.

A penitent has engaged in impure thoughts of another person of the same gender (again, please do not read into this, it is merely an example :slight_smile: )

One way to name the sin is “consented to impure thoughts”, but I would argue that the sin is not impure thoughts, but rather “homosexual impure thoughts”, as the nature of the sin is different. At least, some would “name” it as a different “kind” of sin.

Do you see where this is going? What is the proper level of “naming” the “kind” of sin? I am really bothered that I have received different answers (or confused looks) from people on this, as they say “what does it matter?”. It matters a lot. As a penitent, I believe I have a right to a clear, authoritative exegesis of the Canon law to which I am held.

2.) The second issue concerns “combined sins”. For example:

A penitent commits the sins of theft, and drunkenness over a period of many years (again, please do not apply this to me, it is merely an example people. :slight_smile: ). Let us assume that all are mortal.

They confess their sins by saying “Father, over a period of years I stole things many times and was drunk many times”.

Now, there were occasions where the penitent stole while they were drunk. This, I would argue is a different “kind” of sin, and should be confessed as “over a period of years, I stole things while i was drunk”. (please do not digress into “if you were drunk it may not have been mortal”… substitute another sin instead if you like for the sake of the discussion).

So my issue concerns “combined” sins. Are those not different than regular instances? I argue yes. I would “name” this as a different sin. Your sin here is drunken thievery, not simply thievery.

Thank for any clarification you can provide. I don’t know why this is so hard to clear up!

I would also ask that you please not attempt to excuse my questions as “being scrupulous”. The faithful have a right to understand the Church’s teaching.

This is one of my pet peeves. People make things so much more difficult than they need to. Just tell the priest what you did. Period. There’s no need to struggle with classification and no need to write a novel. Include details that change the gravity of the sin. Like, “I slept with a guy I’m not married to,” should include the detail that the “guy” is a priest if he is, because that’s sacrilege. But you don’t have to use the word, “sacrilege.” Just say what you did. You’re not filling out government forms here. You’re talking to God through the priest. God already knows what you did, and the priest can figure it out without a lot of jargon. Just say what you did.

I think you are having difficulty because seem to be trying to be as general as possible in describing your sins. There is no point in being general. When you confess, simply lay it all out on the table.

If you have impure thoughts, say I had impure thoughts different men I know, some who are single and some who are married. If they thoughts were homosexual in nature, say I had homosexual impure thoughts.

If you were drunk many times, say so. If you stole many times, say that. If you stole while drunk, say that also.

Just state the facts. Let the priest worry about the classifications. If he has a question about something, he will ask.

Interestingly, Canon 988 asks that the sins be confessed “in kind and number”. I’m not sure how one can confess in “kind” without classifying. Though it makes sense to me if you confessed “i stole”, that you don’t have to go back and say it as “theft”, but that’s not how Canon 988 is written. Very confusing.

“In kind and number” does not mean that we must classify our sins. It means we must speak of them clearly in such a way that it is easily understood what we mean. We can’t just say, “I broke the sixth commandment once.” That could be anything from having an impure thought to having sexual relations with a consecrated person in a church during Mass for the purpose of committing sacrilege.

With respect, canon law is for canon lawyers. It puts ordinary realities into specific, formal language, for the use of those who make and interpret Church law. The rest of us ought to speak of ordinary realities in ordinary language. To do otherwise is akin to going to the doctor with our own opinion about our diagnosis already “figured out.” We might use a term incorrectly, we might draw an incorrect conclusion. At worst, we’ll confuse the doctor; at best, we’ll embarrass ourselves. Doctors will tell you to simply describe your symptoms - “I have a sore throat and a fever” - not to diagnose - “I have strep throat.”

Before anyone starts insisting that Canon 988 says we have to do this, answer this question. When was the last time a person with spiritual authority over you (a confessor, spiritual director or teacher, for example) told you to read and follow Canon 988 when making your confession? I’ll bet on never. I’ll bet it’s more likely that someone came across this Canon and decided for himself what should be done.

Just say what you did.

You’d be hard pressed to find a priest who would correct you if you confessed, “I ate my friend’s lunch without his permission.” It’s still quite clear what you’ve done, and the words “theft,” “stealing,” “stole,” are nowhere to be seen. You use ordinary words to describe ordinary realities. As long as the truth of the matter is communicated, style is irrelevant.

Just tell what you did.

Your question is a legitimate one. I would say that the sin of impure thoughts is not compounded by the object of desire being married, and so you do not need to mention that, unless she is being desired because she is married. The sin of impure thoughts is, however, compounded if the object is the same sex as you.

Similarly, with your example of theft and drunkenness, if the theft only occurs while drunk, then that is pertinent information to give the priest. If, however, you steal no matter your level of intoxication, then they are separate.

Frankly, you are trying to complicate something that is not complicated.
Just tell the priest what sins you have committed and if he wants details he will ask you.

Be thorough but be clear. :slight_smile:
Too many details, and/or dwelling on the context of a sin, may actually obscure the gravity of it – even if you don’t mean to do that. Not only can the priest be thrown off track, you, the penitent, can end up focusing on the intellectual aspects instead of the emotional/contrition aspects.

(1) Start with the sins that are the most serious (obvious transgressions of Commandments, clear violations of commandments of the Church).

(2) Add as many venial sins as you remember, especially those that are the most frequent.

(3) If you have a question about whether something is a sin, absolutely bring it up. (I do this at the end, after confessing what I’m sure are sins, and naturally before absolution.)

(4) From the point of view of spiritual growth, I find it helpful to divulge patterns and/or consistent motivations (cardinal sins, the roots, such as pride, etc.) behind those sins.

All 4 elements provide opportunities not just for grace, but also for practical counseling by the priest. (How to pray about these, what to pray for, where to look in scripture for the opposing virtues, how to see Jesus as a model against that vice, etc.) Invariably the priest provides this, at least my confessors do for me. But he can only do all that if I am clear about my level of awareness about my responsibiilty for sin, and my desire to change, and not too focused on things like definitions and circumstances.

The Catechism states that the single most important thing about this sacrament is the penitent’s contrition.

One is bound to confess all mortal sins in number and kind…means that one does not use generic categories with such but states the kind. And of course number (some times one may need to approximate (say that is what your doing). And circumstances that change the kind of sin…

One calls a spade a spade. (and try to be brief)

Murder 5 x One of them was my brother.
Adultery 2x
Missed Sunday Mass (without excusing reason or dispensation) 3x
Stole $1000 (one has to return it of course…or if this is not possible …ask the priest what to do)

as to venial sins…these are recommended to be confessed but need not be (they can be forgiven in many ways). It can be recommended not seek to confess “all ones venial sins” that you can remember (unless they are only a few) …but rather pick a few …(and perhaps concentrate particularly on a couple of them if one has only venial sins …to work with greater effort to overcome them)…and be sorry for all the rest.

One can be rather general in confessing venial sins…but if your “zeroing in” on some…one “could” give more info…like number to help one work…and seek advice etc.

This can be of help from the senior apologist at Catholic Answers:

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