Not a valid confession?


I converted 20 years ago, and although I love the sacrament of reconciliation, I tend to avoid it due to discomfort and fear. I finally received the sacrament again prior to Easter (after avoiding it for several years!!) and was challenged by the priest to receive this sacrament monthly for the next 4 months (this wasn’t my penance). I accepted the challenge and after a thorough examination of conscience, darkened the doors of the confessional one month later. The priest that heard this confession is a friend and is the priest that visits the RCIA class that I teach. I gave what I thought was a good confession, and during the process was surprised to hear something confessed that hadn’t even been in my mind when I entered the confessional! This led to a personal epiphany and an immediate change of lifestyle! My penance was to pray 3 “hail Mary’s”. Several weeks later, this priest visited my RCIA class, where we were discussing the sacrament of reconciliation. He said that receiving this sacrament was only necessary when one is aware of a mortal sin. He then went on to add that occasionally he gets someone in the confessional who is afraid and shaky- but doesn’t really confess anything too bad- and he gives them the penance of 3 Hail Mary’s! He said that they then feel like they’ve been to confession- but they really haven’t!!! He then said that one needed to be aware of serious sin before confessing or that they were wasting their time and the priest’s time- and weren’t even receiving the sacrament anyway! Is this true?


Hum. Difficult to know what he meant there. Something may have been misheard or mis-said too.

As to confession in general if your question is: do we have to confess all mortal sins (in number and kind)? -yes.

If the question is - going to confession for venial sins a waste of time? The answer is No. Such is very recommended by the Church.


1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly."54

1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful:60


Thanks, Bookcat! I was afraid to return to confession again this month, as I didn’t want to waste the priest’s time. I’m still confused by our RCIA discussion because as an example of when to attend confession, the priest used visits to the doctor. If one has a minor cold, one doesn’t go see the doctor. If one has a high fever and is feeling very sick, they will call for an appointment. He likened confession to this, saying that one needed the sacrament when they were sickened by their sins, not when they were only aware of venial sins. Could be that he is trying to shorten the lines :shrug: but I didn’t want to mislead my RCIA class or waste the priest’s time.


Key term there:* “needed”*.

Confession is needed if one has committed a mortal sin.

Frequent confession without there being mortal sins present - is very recommended and good -but not “needed”.

For venial sins can be forgiven in many ways (prayer, Holy Mass, Holy Communion, acts of contrition, acts of love, reading Sacred Scripture, Holy water prayfully used etc etc -they are forgiven in such way for one is in a state of “life” of “grace” and thus confession is not “needed” but good -see Catechism).



1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

  • reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
  • reconciliation with the Church;
  • remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
  • remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
  • peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
  • an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.


Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

I highly recommend you use it along with the Catechism in personal reading and any teaching)

304. Which sins must be confessed?


All grave sins not yet confessed, which a careful examination of conscience brings to mind, must be brought to the sacrament of Penance. The confession of serious sins is the only ordinary way to obtain forgiveness.

305. When is a person obliged to confess mortal sins?


Each of the faithful who has reached the age of discretion is bound to confess his or her mortal sins at least once a year and always before receiving Holy Communion.

306. Why can venial sins also be the object of sacramental confession?


The confession of venial sins is strongly recommended by the Church, even if this is not strictly necessary, because it helps us to form a correct conscience and to fight against evil tendencies. It allows us to be healed by Christ and to progress in the life of the Spirit.

Buy it:

(PS grave sins means -mortal sins)


First, you should understand that the priest was not addressing you personally.

Second, it seems he have given confusing advice, because sacramental confession can vanquish non-serious sins.

Third, one should be careful to avoid confusing moral (serious) and venial (non-serious) sins. Confession of the mortal sins is necessary for salvation.

Confession of venial sins, however, is done strictly as a devotional. While devotional confession imparts sacramental grace, one already has sufficient grace to enter heaven. One needs to trust in God’s love; if you did not deliberately commit a mortal sin, then you are in God’s good grace!

Excessive confession, without trusting in God’s love, could be harmful. It is a spiritual condition known as scrupulosity. It would be best to seek guidance from the priest you confess to find a good balance.


I hope you misunderstood, because you most certainly HAVE been to confession when confessing venial sins. If he truly considers that a waste of his time, I’d find another confessor. But it would be appropriate to speak to him privately first, and be sure that’s what he meant.


One need not seek guidance on such - when one is not engaging in such --the person there is not going daily or something! (and daily for the non-scrupulous is not excessive per se–though not the norm. Weekly or monthly or bi-weekly is great for devotional confession). Though I imagine those were general notes -not directed at the person from re-reading the post there.


Thank you, Runningdude and Bookcat! This definitely clarifies everything for me. I was so taken aback when he mentioned the 3 Hail Mary’s that I feared he was referring to me!! :eek: With that mind-set, I failed to realize exactly what was being said as far as NEEDING to go to confession vs. attending in a more devotional sense with venial sins. Although I’m not really an “all about me” person, I internalized the conversation and over time have used it to question whether to return for the last two month confessions of the original priest’s challenge. There were many questions from the class about this sacrament- and the priest was very helpful in addressing their concerns! He is a wonderful teacher, and no doubt was unaware that I was sitting there wondering if he was talking about me. :rotfl:


Yes, I was addressing the “shaking” in the confessional, while confessing a non-serious sin, to give context to the priest’s lecture and illustrate how devotional confession can devolve into obsessive confession. For anyone that this strikes a chord with, seeking guidance in the confessional is the first step.


I always get extremely nervous, start sweating and having heart palpitations before I go into the confessional. It isn’t from scrupulousity, either…it’s just me getting nervous before I go in there. God already knows my sins, and the confessor isn’t there to judge me (and I am normally confessing venial sins only)…but I would imagine this is fairly normal.

And going to frequent confession helps me a LOT.


People also go to the Dr. when they are healthy for their checkups. It’s called preventative medicine and is highly recommended by physicians. Confession of one’s venial sins is also preventative medicine for the soul, keeping it in good condition and helping to avoid mortal sin. Highly recommended by the Church. :slight_smile:


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