Practical Question re Confession

Suppose you’re baptized Catholic as an infant, then lapse for fifty years and return to Catholicism as a fifty year-old adult. My understanding is that to be absolved of all your intervening mortal sins, you have to collect and confess every one of them. If you forgot one along the way, you’re just plain out of luck? Straight to hell, no matter how observant and committed you are throughout the remainder of your life? I would imagine that this would be a matter of some concern to those joining (or re-joining) the Catholic Church after a long period following baptism. It seems that the problem would be aggravated still further by the vagueness of what constitutes a mortal sin in the first place. I understand that there are certain knowledge and intent requirements for a sin to be mortal, but am I right that there is no surefire way for a Catholic to tell whether a sin is serious enough to qualify as mortal if it meets those conditions?

This would seem even to be an urgent issue even for a regular Catholic who goes to confession regularly. It seems like it would be a matter of enormous concern to make sure that one confesses every even arguably mortal sin given the enormous consequences of failing to do so. Is, for example, a passing lustful thought entertained knowingly in violation of doctrinal requirements a mortal sin? If I were a Catholic, it seems that I would be very concerned about accidentally forgetting about a sin that could potentially be mortal.

What’s the answer to this? If, hypothetically, I were to become Catholic several years after my baptism, I’m far from sure I could recall and confess every last mortal sin.

Any answers would be appreciated.


I believe that your best course of action in this case, besides doing a very thorough examination of conscience (taking notes if necessary), is to discuss this concern with the confessor at the time of confession.

Someone in your hypothetical, fifty year situation, would need to make a thorough examination of conscience (plenty of good guides available in print and online) and then make an appointment with a priest for a “general confession.” If the penitent explains the situation to the priest, he will understand the need to set aside a decent amount of time for the confession and be prepared to guide the penitent along the way, asking questions as needed to assist in making a good confession.

Anyone, whether a once-in-a-lifetime or once-a-week confessee, is obliged to state whatever mortal sins that they can remember. In a case of genuine forgetfulness, there is no culpability-- a mortal sin left unconfessed accidentally is still forgiven. Deliberately leaving out certain mortal sins, on the other hand, is sacreligious, and is itself another mortal sin.

If, after making an honest confession, one remembers a mortal sin that was not brought up in the confessional, it is still encouraged to bring it up the next time. NB: this caveat does not apply to people who struggle with scrupulosity! You know who you are! The scrupulous should follow the instructions of their priest and try not to fret! :slight_smile:

I hope this helps somewhat??


That’s a load of bunk and a serious misunderstanding of the sacrament, which isn’t designed to be a memory test. Firstly mortal sin requires full awareness of the fact that your action IS a mortal sin when you do it. In many cases the sins of those outside the church aren’t mortal, failing even this first requirement.

As for remembering mortal sins - certainly you would have to do your best to remember and confess every mortal sin of those fifty years, and people often spend time, even weeks, preparing and making notes for a confession of this kind.

But if you honestly forget something you’re not going to be punished for the very human trait of having a faulty memory. Unremembered sins are forgiven anyway. The only problem occurs when you DO remember a sin but deliberately don’t mention it out of fear or embarrassment.

Extremely helpful. Thanks. I wasn’t aware that there was an exception for sincere forgetfulness.


First, if you are only baptized as a Catholic, you have not been confirmed, have never received First Penance or First Communion. In all cases (first penance, first communion and confirmation), preparation, discernment and catechesis is required. If this is the situation, I suggest that one consult a Priest on the best steps with regard to all (First Penance, First Communion and Confirmation).

Second, if the actual situation is they have had 1st Penance and Communion but not confirmed, I believe they are advised to begin the RCIA/Confirmation process and during that process go to Confession. Until they go to Confession, they are to abstain from the Eucharist.

You won’t be punished for honestly forgotten mortal sins in confession. There have been times I have even forgotten to mention something in the box (for example the preist is asking questions or giving me counsel and I get side tracked). It’s not that I’m hiding anything and I try to make a good, honest confession to the best of my ability. Not to mention confessions make some people (like me) nervous.

In the example you give, the person in question should spend a siginificant amount of time in preparing for the confession. Take notes if possible to keep thoughts straight, but you do not need graphic details of every single time you sinned (I.e. “this one time at band camp …”). As long as the priest knows the type of sin, you’re right as rain.

I had an experience like this recently. I explained to the priest, and he absolved me of “all your past sins”. As they are remembered, you can always bring them specifically if you wish. You can find many good guides for the examination of conscience online now days, and you can read in the library here at CAF about what constitutes a mortal sin. When it doubt, confess!

One makes an act of confession, and brings it up next time.

I thinkit is humanely impossible. One must ask the HS for help, and understand that enlightment is a process.

:thumbsup: Thank you, Lily.
I hope your answer help CThomas understand more about the Sacrament. :slight_smile:

I am bumping this because the thread is focusing the process of Confession, examination of conscience, and the challenge of remembering a life time of sins. A person in this situation needs to see a Priest as there many significant issues implied in such a situation as detailed in the Original Post. Making a good confession is only one step.

For me I actually tremble before Confession. For some reason I am just scared to death. I reckon it’s the other guy who is trying to get me to stay away from Confession.

So I always bring notes and a little flash light so that I can read my own notes. I also bring the words of the Confession because I am so nervous.

Venial sins I believe are forgiven during the Mass when the priest says ‘Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, happy are we who are called to His supper’ and you say ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.’

Somebody correct me if I am wrong.

Anyway after Confession I feel just great. And the priests are usually so so gentle. They usually make it so easy.

I had to confess all of my sins before I joined the church. It took quite awhile, and several weeks of effort to examine the conscience. If one honestly forgets some, we were assured that we were forgiven. If you intentionally hold some back, you’ve just committed another.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing and conversion from sin to holiness. This is an ongoing effort, and the sacrament benefits us whether we sin venially or mortally.

From Father Hardon (
The forgiveness of venial sins is a very important part of our Catholic faith. First of all, there are two things that can be forgiven for the commission of venial sins. The guilt can be forgiven, which means the grace lost through venial sins can be restored. Secondly the punishment due to venial sins can be remitted, either entirely or partially.
Given the above premises, venial sins can be forgiven in all the ways that we can obtain grace from God. Thus every reception of Holy Communion, every participation at Mass, every adoration of the Holy Eucharist, every reception of the sacrament of penance, every indulgence gained, every prayer said, every act of piety performed in the state of grace — are all means by which venial sins are forgiven as described above.
One more proviso should be added. We obtain remission of our venial sins in the degree that we are united with God by His grace and perform a good work with an awareness and a willingness to do God’s will. The more generous we are in doing God’s will in our lives, the more our guilt and penalty for venial sins are remitted.

Section 1458 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Without benig 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 to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the lfie of theSpirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful (Luke 6:36).

*Whoever confesses his sins … is already working with *
*God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you *
*are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, *
*two realities: when you hear “man” – this is what God *
*has made; when you hear “sinner” – this is what man *
*himself has made. Destroywhat you have made, so that *
*God may save what he has made … When you begin to *
*abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works *
*are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil *
*works. The beginning of good works is the confession of *
*evil works. You do the truth and come to the light. (St. *

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