Why Confess Sins Again?
Alfred Wilson, CP

Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1946



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 very fervour.
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.