Why is imperfect contrition sufficient for Confession, but not outside of Confession?


The blank is sacramental grace that results from the act of confessing your sins to a validly ordained priest

1 Like


The grace that the sacrament provides, the sacramental grace mentioned by mrsdizzyd, makes up for the imperfect contrition in confession. Jesus, who is the principle priest in confession, himself makes up for our imperfect contrition in confession and forgives us our sins. Jesus doesn’t demand that we have perfect love for him in order to forgive us our sins in confession or none of us would probably ever be forgiven. For a catholic, an act of perfect contrition which reinstates one to sanctifying grace before confession includes the intention that one will confess their sins in confession soon. Without this intention of confessing in confession, perfect contrition doesn’t happen for catholics at least.

The sacraments of the Church are actions of Christ and they cause the grace they signify instrumentally from Christ, the author of grace. By Jesus’ life, passion, and sacrifice on the cross, he superabundantly atoned for our sins and merited all the graces we need for our sanctification and to reach heaven. Jesus instituted the sacraments as the principle means of applying what he merited for us by his sacrifice on the cross, namely, his grace and eternal life as St John says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth…And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1: 14,16). The sacraments are simply in themselves, ex opere operato, causes and sources of grace from the action of Christ. There effect in us depends in a certain sense on our dispositions and cooperation with the sacramental grace and according to the measure of the grace given by Jesus and the Holy Spirit.



Imperfect contrition is NOT motivated by love of God. It is motivated by fear of Hell.

It’s like a person who obeys civil laws not out of respect for them but out of fear of the punishments for breaking them.



Yes, sacraments make things easier, not harder. So if a person goes to Confession with imperfect contrition, they can still receive absolution. Otherwise - like I said in my first post - it’s constantly a toss up if the sacrament was even efficacious or not.

If for some reason they don’t have access to Confession, God can still (and will) give them the grace of perfect contrition.



Lets look at it this way, supposing someone dies suddenly before they are able to get to confession, perhaps they drive and end up in a car crash on a country road. The person dies suddenly and they do not have time to make an effort to have perfect contrition. I hope and pray that God would enable that person to make their confession of sins to himself before and this is key he separates the soul from their body thus fixing the soul in their state of sin for eternity. Just because someone looks dead does not mean they are dead.

1 Like


It’s NOT about God NOT being allowed to forgive,

God established this sacrament for His reason and purpose for us. God is saying therefore , this sacrament for forgiveness of mortal sin in particular and all sins in general, is essential for us. He doesn’t create needless sacraments. Therefore out of obedience to Jesus, we are to avail ourselves of this sacrament He instituted for the forgiveness of sins and in extension the grace it provides as well…

Therefore, Jesus set up this condition for the forgiveness of serious sin. AND out of obedience to Jesus, we avail ourselves of this sacrament, because we have this privilege , as Catholics, to do HIS WILL in this matter…



I completely understand what you are saying Steve, we as Catholics are required to go to Confession, we cannot receive the Eucharist without it! what is being argued here is basically the sudden death scenario where someone who goes to Confession dies without having the chance to go, that person i feel should still be able to receive Gods mercy and make an act of confession before God separates the soul from the body, a person can appear to be dead but their soul can i believe still be attached to whatever part of the body remains. It is my hope that God will give a final appeal to sinners before he separates the soul from their body.

1 Like


But I guess the question would be: Why doesn’t Jesus provide this kind of grace to all people who sincerely repent with imperfect contrition, outside of sacramental confession?

As others have been saying above, sacraments are supposed to make things easier not harder: God is merciful so he establishes the sacraments for our sake.

But if God can forgive with just imperfect contrition, then why not every time someone asks God for forgiveness?



Who is to say God doesn’t by some extraordinary means?

The Church can only teach what has been revealed to us. What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary means for forgiveness with attrition is the sacrament of confession.



Who is to say God doesn’t by some extraordinary means?

Well, it’s the Church that says this extraordinary means is perfect contrition outside of Confession, right?

1 Like


I’m going back to the “square circle” thing.

Catholic theology suggests that outside of Confession, God cannot forgive mortal sin without perfect contrition.

“Cannot” being used here in the same way that God cannot forgive someone in Confession unless they are sorry. Or that God cannot make a square circle. Etc.



The church would never attempt to limit the mercy of God.

The scriptures show us that perfect contrition is a means of forgiveness and they show us that the sacrament of confession is a means of forgiveness. God is not bound by either of these revelations.

1 Like


The church would never attempt to limit the mercy of God.

  • 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

Greater context:

  • When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.

  • The contrition called “imperfect” (or “attrition”) is also 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 1452-1453



I don’t think the church intends for that statement to be limiting in the way you are reading it.

CCC1453 is in the context of explaining the sacrament not in the context of explaining how God’s mercy works.

This is not analogous to squaring a circle.

1 Like


If I understand aright, the correct interpretation is that we are only sure that perfect contrition is adequate outside confession. We are not sure that imperfect contrition is not adequate outside confession.

That seem right to y’all? Seems that the issue is partially an epistemic one.

1 Like


The OP has mentioned Aquinas several times. From the Summa Sup. Article 1:

Although the entire punishment may be remitted by contrition, yet confession and satisfaction are still necessary, both because man cannot be sure that his contrition was sufficient to take away all, and because confession and satisfaction are a matter of precept: wherefore he becomes a transgressor, who confesses not and makes not satisfaction.

This does not deny the possibility for God to work an extraordinary way, but acknowledges the the ordinary means for forgiveness is the sacrament of Confession.

1 Like


It doesn’t make sense to me.

We talk about God acting in extraordinary ways in context of the Sacraments. He established the sacraments as ordinary visible means of our salvation.

But I’m talking about Perfect Contrition, which is outside the Sacraments, in the first place.

If God is merciful, why wouldn’t imperfect contrition always be sufficient enough to take away mortal sin? If this was always optional for God, then perfect contrition as the norm seems like an unnecessary burden.



Then why bother having the sacrament in the first place? Some how I get the idea that you think Perfect Contrition is “normal”. It’s not.

Perfect Contrition is sufficient in extraordinary circumstances where Confession is not possible. It possibly takes a special kind of grace to even be possible to have Perfect Contrition. I don’t know that the Church teaches that anyone (except maybe Saints?) has ever had Perfect Contrition.

1 Like


Then why bother having the sacrament in the first place? Some how I get the idea that you think Perfect Contrition is “normal”. It’s not.

Imperfect Contrition is “more normal” than Perfect Contrition. And it’s sufficient for Confession.

So I’m just wondering why it’s not sufficient outside of Confession.

I don’t see why the question of Confession itself as a sacrament is brought up. The Church doesn’t teach that Confession is absolutely necessary, in the sense there are no exceptions. At the very least, Confession is a concrete, visible sign via the priest’s words of absolution. That’s enough to get me to go to Confession!



God expects us to be reconciled to himself and the Church via confession regardless of what kind of contrition, perfect or imperfect, that we might have. So what if God relaxes that requirement for some of the people who can’t confess? That’s a bonus, not a withholding of something.

And that still doesn’t stop God from showing even more generosity in ways of which we remain unaware, (possibly so we don’t get presumptuous.)


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.