ROMAN CATHOLIC BOOKS
PARDON AND PEACE:
Why Confess Sins Again?
Alfred Wilson, CP
Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat,
Quite a number of good Catholics are puzzled by the doctrine of the
legitimacy of re-confessing past sins.
The question is often asked: "How can sins be forgiven twice?" The
simple answer is that they are not forgiven twice. Then, what is the
point of confessing them?
All the Sacraments, besides conferring or increasing sanctifying grace,
also confer special sacramental grace, according to the purpose for
which the Sacraments were instituted. Confirmation, for example,
confers the grace of fortitude; Matrimony and Orders, the grace to
sanctify the performance of the duties of the respective states of
life. Penance confers a tide or right to actual graces which will
enable us to combat sin more vigorously. Of such graces we can never
have too many, or even enough.
Sometimes the difficulty takes another form. "How," it is asked,
"can sins already forgiven provide sufficient matter for absolution?"
Well, first of all, sins do not provide the matter for absolution. They
provide what the theologians call the remote matter. What is necessary
for absolution (at least as a condition sine qua non) is that there
should be on the part of the penitent, confession, contrition and
acceptance of the penance.
These three acts of the penitent obviously presuppose sin: but not
necessarily the present actual guilt of sin. One can be sorry for and
confess past sin, and the utility of doing so has been explained in the
answer to the first difficulty.
In other words, to be a valid candidate for absolution, it is not
necessary that one should be burdened with the actual guilt of sin. If
this were necessary, the validity of many confessions of devotion
would be extremely doubtful; and, as one is not allowed to risk the
validity of the Sacrament, such doubtful confessions would be illicit.
We have already seen that the guilt of venial sins may be removed
without confession, and it is to be hoped that the majority of fervent
souls generally approach the Sacrament of forgiveness without the
actual guilt of sin on their souls. It would be absurd to suppose that
fervent souls are excluded from the benefits of the sacrament by their
St. Philip Neri and other saints who confessed every day obviously did
not always find certain un forgiven sin to confess.
We must always approach the Sacrament of Penance as sinners, i.e. ---:,
with contrition and in a spirit of penance; it is not necessary that we
should approach in sin. Sin may be in the past tense, contrition must
always be in the present tense.
What the theologians, who insist on the necessity of finding sufficient
matter for confession, are really preoccupied about is the danger of
not having genuine effective contrition. About our hardy habituals
there is always a danger that we may be merely remorseful.
Provided we have no necessary matter to confess, any sort of sin will
do for confession; but any sort of contrition will not do for
absolution. Therefore, it is a wise safeguard to renew our contrition
for some sin or sins of which we are certainly sorry.