Every week we offer 10 hours of Confession time at the Cathedral. Many people took advantage of the opportunity this spring and summer to “Fulfill their Easter Duty”. Those of you under the age of about 55 are likely asking yourself what exactly is meant by the term Easter Duty. One of the ongoing duties of Catholics is to participate in the life of the Church. In order to assist in this, the Church requires (as a bare minimum!) that Catholics will receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter Season. Now, in order to do that sincerely and well, it will be necessary, or at least helpful, to first approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation to prepare for reception of Holy Communion. Anyone aware of having consented knowingly to grave sin must first reconcile through the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession as we familiarly call it. I’m going to publish an article here in a few installments to encourage you to seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The benefits to you far outweigh any fear or discomfort you may feel about the prospect of Confession. Advent is fast approaching and there is no time like the present to get back to the wonderful gift of Reconciliation and make a good Confession.
1. When do I need to go to confession?
There are several instances when confession is necessary. First, every Catholic is required to go once a year if he or she has committed a mortal sin. However, this is the bare minimum and will not be enough for most of us to fully live the Christian life. Second, every Catholic should go to confession when he commits a mortal sin since that means he has separated himself from God. Third, every Catholic must go to confession before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in communion if they are aware of having committed a mortal sin. Fourth, even for people who are unaware of a mortal sin, going to confession once a month is a great spiritual practice, if only to confess venial sins and receive the grace to stay free from mortal sin in the future.
2. Ok then; what is a mortal sin?
St. John speaks of sins that lead to death and sins that don’t lead to death (1 John 5: 16-18). Thus, the Catholic Church speaks of mortal (leading to death) and venial sins (not leading to death). Mortal sins cut us off from God and lead to hell (which is a cutting off from God), while venial sins merely weaken charity. In order for a sin to be mortal, it will have three components: grave matter (in other words be classified as a serious sin because it is a direct violation of a commandment in a serious matter), full knowledge (we must know what we’re doing is wrong, i.e. it is cutting us off from God), and complete consent (we must freely choose to commit the sin). In other words, mortal sins are serious sins that are done willfully and with some deliberation, that separate us from God. Without these three elements, the sin isn’t mortal. If we commit a mortal sin, we should say an act of contrition and get to confession as soon as possible. As an example, using profane language , done quickly in the heat of the moment might not be mortal. Why? While the act may have grave matter, because it comes out so quickly almost as a reflex, it likely is done without deliberation, therefore it would not meet the criteria as mortal. But if you chose to use it in an email after thinking it through it could be gravely sinful. However, even if it is venial, it is still a sin!
3. Ok, then can a person be forgiven without confession?
The Catholic Church teaches that PERFECT contrition can forgive mortal sins, if it includes the firm resolution to receive the Sacrament of reconciliation as soon as possible. However, one must still go to confession before receiving Holy Communion except in very grave situations (like life or death situations). Perfect contrition means that we are sorry because we have offended an infinitely good and loving God. There is also imperfect contrition, also called attrition, which is being sorry for our sins because of the fear of hell, or because the sin is so hateful in itself. Imperfect contrition cannot forgive grave sins, but makes a person ready to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. We should always strive for perfect contrition but never think of it as a replacement for The Sacrament of Confession. -Fr. Keller