Confession, Contrition, and the Catechism

North Texas Catholic
(Jan 30, 2024) Faith-Inspiration

A young woman attends confession at St. Peter Church in Lindsay. (Photo illustration/Juan Guajardo)

As Lent approaches, two thoughts occupy the minds of Catholics: “What am I giving up for Lent?” and “When am I going to confession?” The first question is, undoubtedly, important. However, we will forgo discussion of Lenten sacrifices and concentrate upon the sacrament of penance as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

While Lent is not the only time we should go to confession, it is a prime occasion for repentance and the forgiveness of sins through the sacrament. In the Gospel of St. John, we read where our Blessed Lord instructs his disciples: “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (20:21-23). It is important to note the connection our Lord makes between His mission and that of His apostles, for there is a continuation and extension of redemptive purpose.
In short, what is accomplished on the cross by our Lord is applied to us through the Church in the sacraments. Specifically, what is communicated through the sacraments is grace: the “free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become…partakers of divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC 1996). The first administration of this sacramental grace is the one baptism offered “for the forgiveness of sins” (Nicene Creed). Unfortunately, this new life we receive in baptism “has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence” (CCC 1426). As such, even when we are born again by “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), we struggle with this tendency to sin and fall from the grace received in holy baptism.
This is where confession becomes paramount, for we require a new infusion of God’s grace into our souls to restore us to supernatural life. This is why the Catechism, quoting the Council of Trent, insists on the necessity of the sacrament of penance for salvation: “This sacrament of penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after baptism, just as baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn” (CCC 980).
For this grace of confession to be effective, one must possess contrition. At its core, contrition is an interior repentance, possessing affliction of spirit and a radical reorientation of one’s whole life motivated by the horror of sin and fear of offending God (CCC 1431-1432). This detestation of sin must manifest itself in a firm purpose of amendment (CCC 1451) to “recover the grace of justification” (CCC 1446). Ideally, the motivation for contrition is “perfect” (CCC 1452) rather than “imperfect” (CCC 1453).
The Act of Contrition gives a concrete distinction between “perfect” and “imperfect” contrition as well as a proper indication of resolution: “O my God! I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell,” [imperfect] “but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love” [perfect]. “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life” [firm purpose of amendment]. 
When one approaches a confessor with such a mindset after examining one’s conscience (CCC 1454), presenting to him all sins for which you are conscious (CCC 1456, 1458) while afterward making satisfaction through acts of penance (CCC 1459), one is restored to God’s grace and friendship as a result of one’s “spiritual resurrection” (CCC 1468) and is re-established “in the communion of saints” through reconciliation with the Church (CCC 1469).
May we all approach the confessional with pure hearts this Lent and happily receive the forgiveness offered.
Lent, Catholics, Catechism, confession, what to give up for lent, trending-english