True Contrition and Confession


#1

I perceive that many view Confession as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Moral duty is indicative of genuine repentance and remorse for one's sins. For example, Matthew 7:21 states that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven." Isn't there an implied condition for God's forgiveness that mandates that we actively try to rectify the damage done by our sins? Is it enough that we simply just ask for the Lord's forgiveness?


#2

[quote="ProdigalSon1211, post:1, topic:309698"]
I perceive that many view Confession as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Moral duty is indicative of genuine repentance and remorse for one's sins. For example, Matthew 7:21 states that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven." Isn't there an implied condition for God's forgiveness that mandates that we actively try to rectify the damage done by our sins? Is it enough that we simply just ask for the Lord's forgiveness?

[/quote]

God wants us to repent.


#3

[quote="ProdigalSon1211, post:1, topic:309698"]
I perceive that many view Confession as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Moral duty is indicative of genuine repentance and remorse for one's sins. For example, Matthew 7:21 states that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven." Isn't there an implied condition for God's forgiveness that mandates that we actively try to rectify the damage done by our sins? Is it enough that we simply just ask for the Lord's forgiveness?

[/quote]

My priest speaks to the "firm purpose of amendment" to rectify our sins and damage done by them.
Mary.


#4

[quote="ProdigalSon1211, post:1, topic:309698"]
I perceive that many view Confession as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Moral duty is indicative of genuine repentance and remorse for one's sins. For example, Matthew 7:21 states that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven." Isn't there an implied condition for God's forgiveness that mandates that we actively try to rectify the damage done by our sins? Is it enough that we simply just ask for the Lord's forgiveness?

[/quote]

There is an obligation to rectify the damage as Confession does not always remit the whole temporal punishment due to sin like it does remit the eternal punishment. The temporal punishment has to be repaid either in this life or in Purgatory. Additionally the more soul grows in charity the more it cleaves to the source of charity which is God.


#5

There are two types of contrition or repentance. Both are sufficient for a confession to be valid and for the sacrament of penance to forgive all sin.

The higher repentance, called "perfect contrition", is defined as follows: "a gift of God... contrition which arises from a love of God above all else...; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible." (CCC 1452) It is one who is sorrowful for sin because he loves God so greatly, not out of any possible punishment for the sin, or any negative effects of it: merely because one loves God so much, that an offense to him is unthinkable. Note that perfect contrition itself receives remission of mortal sins and restoreth the soul on its own, without requiring the sacrament of penance to be completed before it is efficacious.

The lower, but still adequate and perfectly valid repentance, is called "imperfect contrition" or "contrition of fear", which is much more common: it is defined as: "a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance." (CCC 1453). It can do nothing on its own - it does not lead to forgiveness of sins from its own occurrence as perfect contrition does - but leads to to forgiveness of sins through the process that the imperfectly contrite man will seek out sacramental confession, which will forgive all of his sins: the fear of Hell itself does not innately remit sins outside of the normal channels of grace, as the perfect love of God does.

A man who experiences neither of the above forms of contrition, the sacrament of penance does not exist for him: if a non-contrite man receives the sacrament, it has no effect, it is a mere simulation of the sacrament: he is left with all of the sin that he started with.

Imperfect contrition or contrition of fear is far, far more prevalent than perfect contrition or contrition of charity. I have experienced perfect contrition, I believe, once in my entire life, upon my initial conversion out of the demonic religion I was then following (what some Protestants would call "regeneration"). Every subsequent confession has been done under the auspices of contrition of fear. Both obtain for a valid sacramental confession and absolution.


#6

A very good answer, Khalid. But one question, if I may - does the effectiveness of a priest's absolution depend upon our subjective state? Forgive me if I misinterpret your answer to suggest so.


#7

I ran screaming away from confession many years ago. Long story. Anyways, by the grace of God, I returned to it this month. Even though over the years, I had said extra fervent general confession prayers all that time. The sacrament of reconciliation was powerful. It has actually surprised me how little I have been tempted by things that used to be daily or more (and eventually I'd give into it). Just the same as I thought I loved my financé before we were married. But after the sacrament of marriage, wow, did I ever fall so deeply in love with him. Sacraments change things. They change us.


#8

[quote="philial, post:6, topic:309698"]
A very good answer, Khalid. But one question, if I may - does the effectiveness of a priest's absolution depend upon our subjective state? Forgive me if I misinterpret your answer to suggest so.

[/quote]

Yes, it does. The priest can issue the formula of absolution, but if the man being absolved is contrite in neither of the ways mentioned above, for example, in a man who intends to sin again (not merely the knowledge that he likely will, but the intent to), or for a man who feels no sorrow for his sin nor fear of its repercussions, the absolution is not efficacious (although, technically, still valid: it just has no power to forgive sins in an unrepentant individual).

The subjective state of the priest has nothing to do with the validity of absolution - the priest can be an unrepentant, non-contrite, habitual mortal sinner who revels in his sin, and as long as he speaks the words, and the penitent is in a state of either imperfect or perfect contrition, the absolution is valid and efficacious. Ex opere operato (out of the act acted, or out of the performance performed) relates to the efficacy and validity of sacraments performed by an unworthy priest (the sacraments are valid), not upon the efficacy of sacraments in general. Reception of grace through sacraments is not automatic: the recipient must be properly disposed, which is to say, at least open to the possibility of receiving grace through the sacrament.

One can analogize, to a point, with Holy Communion (an unrepentant mortal sinner receiving communion commits another mortal sin), but the analogy is flawed and limited, as the Real Presence is still there, no matter the state of the recipient.

A better analogy may be to marriage, and the canons that allow for its annulment (except marriage is a sacrament granted by husband to wife and vice versa, not by the Priest, in Latin theology; Orthodox and Eastern believe that the Priest performs the sacrament of matrimony). If a man presents to be married, but has no intent to remain faithful, or is incapable of consenting, etc. (according to the relevant canons), and goes through all of the relevant rituals, the sacrament never was performed, and the inviolable marriage bond never formed: the form was correct but the matter not.

However, all of these analogies are inadequate and break down if pressed too far.


#9

Yikes, all my Prot. friends think confession is horrifying!


#10

Confession is something so beautiful.


#11

Note that "repentance" literally means (from the Greek) a change of mind. Repentance doesn't mean asking for forgiveness or seeking forgiveness. God freely gives his forgiveness, but our changing of mind is up to us. When we repent, it is that we change our lives into Godly lives.


#12

[quote="ProdigalSon1211, post:1, topic:309698"]
I perceive that many view Confession as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Moral duty is indicative of genuine repentance and remorse for one's sins. For example, Matthew 7:21 states that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven." Isn't there an implied condition for God's forgiveness that mandates that we actively try to rectify the damage done by our sins? Is it enough that we simply just ask for the Lord's forgiveness?

[/quote]

Surely the penitent should want to make up for their sins as much as they can, but we can't change history and actually erase all the damage we've done. Luckily for us, God's grace is free... as long as we don't reject it by doing something contrary to that free grace like refusing to share that free grace of mercy with others who trespass against us.

The penance given by the priest is a first step forward on a new life filled with change. And while the penance isn't designed to 'balance the books', it can be customized to 'fit the crime' (e.g., if you gossip, the penance may be to publicly compliment the one you gossiped about). And if you stole, the priest will require you give back what you stole as restitution (if indeed it's able to be returned) or at least give an equal value of cash to charity so that you're not profiting from the theft.

And since you're human, while you can try to make an perfect act of contrition, that ain't gonna happen. Human beings are limited. The Latin root of 'perfectus' means both perfect in the ideal, but also simply 'complete.' The best we can do is complete the steps of sorrow and seeking forgiveness, but we aren't going to be able to do that perfectly. But again, we rely on the mercy of God for forgiveness, not on how well we're truly sorry. Indeed, the Church allows for imperfect contrition (called attrition) as sufficient for the sacrament. Because while the 'way is narrow', it's not by our own exacting abilities we make it, but by God's grace. Indeed, the parable of the crooked servant shows someone running around trying to soften the blow of the coming Accounting doing even more unscrupulous things, but is commended for at least doing something to avert wrath. Our God is so hungry and desiring for his children to repent, that he takes whatever he can get, even imperfect contrition.


#13

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.