The Sacred Tribunal

DEVOTION should never be divorced from reason and commonsense. In matters of faith we must use our brains. Some Catholics dispense themselves from this obligation by saying that they prefer to "take things on faith," i.e., without thought or a serious attempt to understand, which is like continually swallowing food without attempting to chew or masticate it. No wonder such Catholics remain "woolly" about the Faith all the days of their lives. This is credulity, not faith, and credulity is defenceless against superstition and counterfeit devotion. Reason-shy devotion brings true piety into contempt and gives non-Catholics the impression (and how much harm this does!) that we are not allowed to think.

Would that all Catholics heeded St. Teresa's advice and added to their litany: "From silly devotions and sour-faced Saints, good Lord, deliver us!" Yes, from silly devotions and from silly devotion. It is regrettable, but true, that pious people are sometimes ridiculous. Unreasoning devotion is a compound of sentimentality and sensuality, "near neighbours and ill-bred." Give the sensually pious a sermon that titillates their feelings and excites sensible devotion, and they are thrilled: make them think --- or be foolish enough to try --- and they are positively resentful. Ill fares the priest who disturbs their lazy complacency; he cannot be a prayerful or devout priest.

Silly devotion is nowhere more evidenced nor more irritating than in the confessional. "Pi-pi" penitents are often shocked by the business-like, matter-of-fact behaviour of the confessor. Would that they had the humility to suspect that perhaps he is right! Penitents should keep their wits about them. There is absolutely no need for fussiness, frenzy, anxiety or strain. Quiet workmanlike, practical commonsense is what is wanted.
We shall he helped considerably to acquire a sane attitude towards Confession if we learn to discriminate between essentials and non-essentials. The Church has surrounded the essential formalities of Confession with other devotional accretions, which are not strictly necessary. We should have no doubt as to which formalities are strictly necessary and which are devotional additions. We must be careful not to seem to disparage the devotional non-essential accretions to Confession --- it is eminently fitting that the Church should add splendour and ceremony and safeguards to this wonderful Sacrament, for we always protect and pad and embellish a precious thing --- but, at the same time, we must keep our sense of proportion and avoid confusion of thought. We must not confuse essentials and non-essentials, nor magnify the sancrosanctity of accidentals until they seem as important and necessary as essentials; nor should we cling to non-essentials to the detriment of charity, reasonableness or commonsense.
It will help us to get a sense of proportion if we consider to what the formalities of Confession may be reduced in cases of necessity.

For the valid administration of the Sacrament of Penance, it is necessary and sufficient for the penitent:

1. To be sorry.
2. To confess as far as is possible in the circumstances.
3. To be absolved.
4. To accept the penance.

Sometimes, in actual life, the administration of the Sacrament of Penance is reduced to the absolute essentials:

1. On the battlefield, for example, before an action, general absolution is sometimes given. The soldiers confess their sins in a general way, make an act of contrition, receive a penance and are given absolution en masse. All the non-essential formalities are omitted.

2. In hospitals, where two beds are often almost contiguous, so that it is impossible for a penitent to make a full confession without being overheard by his neighbour, it is enough for him to make a generic confession ("I have sinned"), after which he receives absolution and a penance.

3. Those who are travelling abroad and have difficulty with the language, may receive absolution after they have confessed and displayed sorrow by signs and gestures.
It is hardly necessary to remark that, in all these cases, penitents who had been guilty of mortal sins would have the obligation of confessing them at the next confession made in ordinary circumstances.
With the distinction between essentials and non-essentials clear in mind, we are now in a position to survey the formalities of Confession.


Penitents are instructed to begin by asking for the priest's blessing. "Please (pray), father, give me your blessing, for I have sinned." The reason for this petition is two-fold:

1. It requests a sacramental of considerable value. Many of the Saints had a great devotion to a priest's blessing.
2. It "apprizes the priest of the fact that there is someone behind the grille. (He may be reading or --- asleep!)" [1]

If the priest gave you the blessing as you were coming into the confessional (no! he was not just muttering to himself nor talking in his sleep!), do not ask for it or you may get more than you asked for, though hardly more than you deserve. Keep your wits about you and do not troll out the request like a gramophone record incapable of adapting itself to circumstances. Imagine the feelings of the confessor when he is asked, for the nth time, for a blessing which he has already given.


The confiteor is a devotional general confession, for which the Church has always shown a special fondness in her liturgy. The ritual directs that it should be said as a preface to confession, at least in the abridged form of "I confess to Almighty God and to you, Father. ..." [2] It need hardly be said that this devotional exercise has nothing to do with the validity of the Sacrament. The obligation to say it is a light one arising from our duty to obey the Church's liturgical rules with childlike simplicity.

Nowadays, most priests prefer that the Confiteor should not be said in the confessional, because as a rule it could not be said without detriment to charity and commonsense. The question of the Confiteor should not be divorced from considerations of time, commonsense and charity. It is mainly a question of time. If sixty people are waiting for Confession and each penitent says the Confiteor, taking roughly half a minute per penitent (and some who spell and drawl it out take even more!), then the unfortunate one who chanced to come last is kept waiting half an hour "whilst the devout indulge in a pious luxury which they could have enjoyed just as well outside."

Granted there will seldom be sixty people waiting at once, but do not forget the confessor, cooped up inside, who does have to wait an extra half-hour whether the penitents are there at once or not. Often it is difficult for a priest to find time and energy to hear all the penitents who come to him, and every minute saved is a consideration. It is not very pleasant, either, for the confessor, who is pressed for time, to have to listen at one session to fifty or a hundred or more unnecessary repetitions of the Confiteor.

Lest it should be thought that we are pandering to modern impetuosity and restlessness, it may be well to remind readers that the concourse of people to the confessional is a recent development occasioned by the reintroduction of frequent Communion. In olden days, it was unusual to have crowds thronging the confessionals except at the time of missions.
It would be a pity, however, if the present practice led to the Confiteor not being said at all, and it would be a bad sign if we thought ourselves too spiritually developed to need such simple exercises of piety. The danger of omitting the Confiteor could be removed for school-children by their saying it aloud together before they begin to go into the confessional. With grown-ups the risk could be minimized by an occasional reminder from the pulpit and a few words on the beauty and aptitude of the prayer. The prayer can have little value if it is said merely because the priest insists on it.
Perhaps the best solution of the problem would be to adopt the ritual's own suggested abridgement and say simply: "I confess to Almighty God and to you, Father," or the plan could be adopted of saying the Confiteor inside the confessional whenever you are the only penitent or one of a few; outside, whenever there are a number of penitents waiting. In using our commonsense about the ritual, we must be careful not to lose our sensitive regard for it and become careless.

Stating how long it is since your last confession is a useful non-essential introduced to help and not to embarrass you, and if you omitted it altogether your confession would not be invalidated. If you are anxious about it and spend a considerable amount of mental and nervous energy striving to fix the exact time since your last confession, you defeat your own purpose. An approximate estimate is enough, e.g., "about a month" would cover three to five weeks. No need to worry if you discover after confession that your estimate was a good deal out.

Why should you introduce the time-factor at all? (I wish Catholics were more reverently "querious" about faith.) There are several reasons:

1. The estimate of time enables the confessor to diagnose better your spiritual condition. The priest is there in the capacity of spiritual doctor and the more accurately he diagnoses your spiritual ailments, the more effectively will he be able to help you.

It obviously makes a difference whether you got into a rage five times in five days or five times in five months. In the first case, anger would be indicated as your predominant fault; in the second, as one of your faults.

Sometimes penitents confess one sin against purity in a month. This gives the confessor a clue that they are probably referring to nocturnal pollution, which is no sin at all. It is not usual for people to commit one such sin in a fairly long period.
2. The time-statement also saves many questions; so be careful about it, but please don't "worrit". Keep a sense of proportion.

Incidentally, it is not necessary to add: "I received absolution, said my penance, and went to Holy Communion." That you received absolution and said your penance is taken for granted: that you went to Holy Communion is matter for the recording Angel, not for the confessor.

Neither is it necessary to give a lengthy and very apologetic explanation why you did not go to Holy Communion. If there has been any sin or grave imperfection in these omissions, the proper time to mention them is when you are making your confession.


A rule proposed to after-dinner speakers is: "Be bright, be brief, be gone!" One can hardly expect a penitent to be bright; so perhaps we might amend this rule for penitents and say that they should "be blunt, be brief, be gone."

"Be Blunt" --- This does not mean "be crude." All the same, "there is nothing against true modesty in calling a spade a spade." It is unkind to constrain the priest to ask questions that should be unnecessary. It is irritating to find penitents obstinately fastidious about formalities and negligent about essentials; penitents, for example, who will insist on saying the Confiteor, even when asked to refrain (either because they are too obstinate to heed or too fussy to hear) and then follow with the most inaccurate confession, saying, for example, "I committed sins against purity," without giving even a hint of number or kind.
Here are a few typical examples of inaccurate statement:
1. "I was rude." They mean "impure," not impolite. Why not say what you mean? Rude does not mean impure.

2. "I was impure." Why not mention number and kind? There are various kinds of sins against purity.

3. "I told lies." "White" lies? Lies involving calumny, serious uncharity or injustice? If lies are worth telling they are worth counting. Were they real lies, or legitimate mental reservations? In case of doubt, ask. You have no right to confess lies at all, if you feel that you were justified in what you did and mean to do exactly the same next time the occasion arises. Thrash the matter out. Perhaps you were justified, not, of course, in telling lies, but in using legitimate mental reservation. Do not add this item to your list without reflection or resolve, simply because you got into the habit at school.

4. "I was late for Mass." How late? Did you miss an essential part of the Mass? through your own fault?

5. "I missed Mass." With reason or without reason? Was attendance impossible or very difficult? You are not bound to Mass in face of serious and solid difficulties.

6. "I had bad thoughts." What do you mean? Uncharitable thoughts are bad thoughts. Did you consent? Was your consent fully deliberate? If you dallied or were sluggish in repelling impure thoughts, your sin was venial; if you deliberately entertained them, your sin was mortal.

What is an impure thought? If you are not clear about that, you may be worrying unnecessarily. A temptation is not a sin. A temptation conquered is grace gained. If you confess mere temptations as sins, you mislead the priest.

7. "I missed my grace before and after meals." An imperfection, not a sin. You are not obliged, but recommended, to say the grace before and after meals.
8. "I stole." What? One is reminded of the woman who confessed stealing a rope and forgot to mention that a pig was at the end of it.

A complete list of common inaccuracies would involve a survey of the Commandments and require a book for itself. When a penitent rapidly trolls out a long list of such inaccuracies and refuses to be interrupted, the priest's task is made very difficult. Accusations should enable him to judge whether you are confessing mortal or venial sin or no sin at all.

A confession that conveys nothing is hardly a confession at all, and suggests a suspicion of culpable ignorance, fatuity or insincerity.
So don't be vague. Tell the exact kind and number of sins. If they are mortal, this is necessary; if venial, this is useful. If it is impossible to state the exact number of times, give a round number, "about twenty times," or say how many times per week or per month, for how long.
Don't waste time looking for the nicest way of putting things, i.e., the way least offensive to your pride and self-love. If you have calumniated someone, do not say: "I did not speak as kindly as I ought to have done," or, "I was not as exact in the matter of truthfulness as I ought to be."

In Confession, there is hardly ever need to use the word "perhaps," though some people use it frequently. "Perhaps I was uncharitable ... perhaps I told lies." Did you or didn't you? --- that is the question. You should settle the "perhapses" before you come into the confessional. "Let your speech be, Yea, yea, and nay, nay."

There is seldom need to explain a sin. "Explanations are usually nothing more than thinly disguised excuses."

If we make a clean breast of things, we shall get the fullest measure of relief of mind. If we often "feel as if we had not been," probably our fastidiousness of speech is responsible. If we only half get our sins off our mind, we cannot expect full relief.
Let us manfully embrace our shame. It is absurd to be squeamish about the statement of sin, when we were so careless about sin itself. Let us remember the shame we caused our Saviour in the Garden of Gethsemane, and not spare ourselves salutary and just humiliation. Let us drain the chalice of our shame to the dregs, in order to make amends
to the Sacred Heart.
"Be Brief" --- The priest wants to hear about your sins and imperfections --- nothing else. Don't make excuses and blame circumstances, or in-laws, or your husband or wife for your sin; like the wife who so exasperated the priest by her insistence on her husband's foibles that she received as penance three Hail Mary's for her own sins and three rosaries for her husband's.

Tell what you have done and not what you have not done. Occasionally a penitent insists on going through the commandments. "Against the first commandment, no, I don't think I have done anything against that, father." "Against the second commandment, no, nothing against that either," and so on through the decalogue until he finds something that he has done.
Other time-wasting penitents say: "I had a temptation to anger, or impurity, but I don't think I consented." You are telling your virtues not your sins. Quite unintentionally you are boasting. If you didn't consent, why mention the matter at all? Perhaps you say: "To make assurance doubly sure." You have no right to do that, for you are misleading the priest.

If you have any doubt about consent to temptation, you should mention the doubt, because in that case, it is not honest to say: "I don't think I consented." The most you can say is: "It is probable, or more probable, that I did not consent."

If you have no genuine doubt about consent, to mention the matter at all is a surrender to scrupulosity. We must crush ruthlessly and bravely all unreasoning fear, and rule ourselves by reason not feeling. This is an exercise of the virtue of hope. If you confess as doubtful what is not really doubtful, you tell a lie in the interests of self-love, prompted by a selfish desire to feel safe, not being content to know that you are safe. Mere self-satisfaction is not a good end to have in view and a lie is not a very good means to obtain it.

In confessing your sins, confine yourself to what is strictly relevant. When circumstances do not alter the nature or the gravity of sins, the confessional is not the place for them. Would that the prolix and the meanderers could take note of this! "'Twere a consummation devoutly to be wished!"

Father Zulueta gives an amusing story of classical irrelevance:

Sara Tick, residing at 4A Paradise Alley, has had a passionate quarrel with a fellow-lodger, and used insulting and profane words, and broken her neighbour's wrist with a poker. She tells the priest:

"I occasionally has words with Mrs. Scrooge. She's the lady in the back-parlour. A good woman, according to her light, your reverence, but, like all on us, has her faults. She has a temper, Father! Well, she called me out of my name. It was this way, to put it short-like. It was last Sunday fortnight come tomorrow --- no, asking your pardon, it was Saturday, I mind me, because our Susan Victoria had just come in from Noggins', at the public, with a pint of porter for my husband. Not that Tick's a drunkard, you know. Bless you there's not a soberer, cleaner-living man in the alley. Well, Mrs. Scrooge, to be short, came in all of a bounce-like into my parlour, and says to me: Mrs. Tick, she says, where's my best teacup gone to --- the one with a handle?

"Well, to think as I would have took it, your reverence! Well, God forgive me! I used words and did things as I oughtn't, and me a respectable married woman, too, with six childer, and me eldest boy in the Post Office. ..and I often has words like that, your reverence."

Now it will be seen that this good woman has told the priest everything he did not need to know, except that there was a wordy quarrel, and omitted just what was wanted. As to what kind of words she used in her wrath, or what kind of unlawful acts she was guilty of, she gives no inkling, nor any indication of the number of occasions. And she mentions names, and tells Mrs. Scrooge's weaknesses as well as her own. [3]
Such types are met in the confessional, though not often, thank God. If they were always as amusing as Mrs. Tick, they would not be unwelcome; but even unconscious humour is rare among them, and sometimes the priest feels that they are a direct answer to prayer, the prayer of the Jesus Psalter: "Jesus, send me here my Purgatory."

On a Saturday night, when scores of penitents are kept waiting, loquacious irrelevance is an offence against charity as well as a fertile occasion of scandal.

Manners --- Before entering the confessional, penitents usually deposit handbags, umbrellas and suchlike outside (or did before the stealing epidemic began!): there is no need to leave one's manners to keep guard. Good manners are as necessary and appropriate in the confessional as anywhere else.

Some penitents will not let the confessor get a word in edge-ways. No sooner has he managed to interject a few syllables than off they go again. Others are so very anxious to convince the confessor how much they need advice that they won't even pause for breath lest he should have the opportunity of giving it. After having talked and talked and talked, they go out unadvised and apparently without noticing it, so full are they of themselves.

Bad Manners --- It is bad manners not to listen to the priest. It is exasperating for the confessor, when he is rapidly working up to the climax of his masterly fervorino, to hear the penitent query: "What did you say my penance was, Father?"

Sometimes, when the confessor finishes giving advice, the penitent takes up her story just where she left off --- fairly conclusive evidence that she has not been listening at all, but merely waiting for him to finish. Occasionally, when advice is being given, the penitent leaves the confessional in the middle of it; sometimes an irrelevant remark reveals that the penitent has been wool-gathering, not listening; on other occasions, the mention of the word "sickness" calls forth a homily on the penitent's lumbago or indigestion.

Granted these cases are not frequent, but is there any need for them at all? Nerves, anxiety, loquacity, egoism, may explain them, but they do not justify them.

A Hint --- When you are confessing your sins, it is a good plan to put the big things first. If you have difficulty in telling a certain sin, get it off your mind at once; if you don't, you will run the risk of omitting it altogether, because the devil will have time and opportunity to play on your imagination and magnify the sin out of all proportion. Besides, to put first things first is the commonsense thing to do. If you went to a dentist for a tooth extraction, you would not start the proceedings by calling his attention to a slightly discoloured tooth. Some preface their confessions with a long list of peccadillos and things they haven't done, and the implication of their remarks seems to be: "I'm not so bad, in spite of what is coming ..."

As regards the confession of venial sins, the following are a few suggestions made by Father Scharsch: [4]

1. "Accuse yourself preferably of those faults which you need most to amend."
2. "Accuse yourself of that sin for which you are particularly sorry."
3. "Ceteris paribus, accuse yourself of your more important faults rather than of those that are less important." To do otherwise would create a suspicion of insincerity or imperfect compunction or "playing-up." Be honest with the confessor, don't try to make a good impression on him.
4. "The penitential spirit should urge us to confess preferably the faults which humiliate us most deeply."

A Worry --- Some people worry because they are afraid that the confessor does not understand them, which is, as one author justly remarks, "paying an unmerited compliment to themselves and making very little of the confessor." [5]

To such a one the confessor might reasonably say: "My dear penitent, you are not nearly such a unique specimen as you imagine!"

"No, it's not that, Father. I don't explain myself properly."

1. Of course not. Do we ever explain ourselves properly? How often do you ever say exactly what you want to say? God instituted Confession not for geniuses with an unusual gift of expression, but for ordinary folk like you.

2. In any case, it is not necessary to express yourself very accurately. When you go to the doctor with measles, you may and probably do explain your symptoms badly, but unless the doctor is very fifth-rate, he soon realizes what you mean, because he has heard all that so often before. Therefore, it is not unfair to say that if you imagine you are so difficult to understand, you either make too much of yourself or too little of your confessor.

H the priest does not understand, it is up to him to ask more questions, and if he neglects to do that when he should, it is his responsibility, his funeral, not yours: though of that you are most certainly not the judge. It is presumption and uncharity for you to decide that the priest is failing in his duty. Even if he is, provided you have done your duty, his omissions need not trouble you.

Jesus absolves, not Father So-and so. It would be a poor compliment to our Divine Master to presume that He would allow Himself to be baulked by human carelessness. What the worrying type need is more faith in the realities of Confession and a prolonged meditation on the words: "Whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed."

If the priest is satisfied with you, then you ought to be satisfied, for remember that he is the judge, not you. Don't usurp the confessor's position and imply that Confession is worth next to nothing! Confession would be valueless if a quasi-infallible confessor were essential for its successful administration.
"But the priest may be mistaken!" Of course, he may. But remember this:

1. If the priest is fallible, he is certainly no more fallible than you. This desire to revise his judgments amounts to an unconscious usurping of his position. It is judging God's appointed judge, and that is pride and want of faith and has no kinship whatever with zeal or tenderness of conscience. It is the self-opinionated attitude of private judgment.

2. Fallible or not, the priest is reductively infallible, because his judgment will be respected in heaven. "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them. Whatsover you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in Heaven." Your judgment isn't guaranteed anything, so you will be wise to relinquish it and leave judgment to the priest.
Remember St. Philip Neri's wise saying: "No penitent was ever lost by obedience, nor saved by disobedience." God instituted Confession for human beings, who are incapable of mathematical accuracy in moral matters, and therefore He neither expects nor demands mathematical accuracy. One sometimes meets a strange perversity in penitents. They make the priest infallible when he isn't and fallible when he is reductively infallible. They should remember that:

1. If the penitent has done his best, absolution is infallible.
2. If the priest gives advice, his advice is not infallible. Its value depends on his learning and on his natural and supernatural prudence.

Yet the worrying type, if they have been disturbed by harsh, scrupulous or imprudent advice, insist on repeating: "But Father So-and-so said so-and-so." They will not say what Father So-and-so did, i.e., that he gave absolution. Absolution needs no revision, whereas advice may need it; but it is the absolution they insist on revising, not the advice.

The catechism suggests: "When you have told all your sins, say: 'For these, and all my other sins which I cannot recollect, I most humbly ask pardon of God, and penance and absolution of you, my ghostly father.' " Better, "of you, father." To the modern mind "ghostly" suggests "ghosts" and nothing else. Also "humbly" seems preferable to "most humbly." Be most humble but don't broadcast the fact.

It is a good plan to memorize these concluding words; otherwise, like many preachers, you many not be able to finish, or there may be a pause before the priest realizes that you have finished, or your concluding words may be very inappropriate. Without being stiff or artificial or stilted, we should study decorum in God's tribunal.

The following boy's confession, while probably very earnest and sincere, is hardly commendable for form: "Stole. Swore. Finish." "That's all," "Nothing else," "I have finished" are not commendable either.

To secure the validity of the Sacrament, it is suggested that when you have only venial sins to confess you should mention a sin of your past life for which you are certainly sorry, e.g., "for these, and all the sins of my past life, especially for sins of impurity ... of Mass-missing ... of serious injustice ... of child-murder ... I am heartily sorry and humbly ask pardon of God, et cetera." It is advisable to mention the most humiliating sins in order to frustrate any danger of vanity because of present achievement.

This suggestion is made because in ordinary devotional Confessions we may have insufficient matter or defective contrition and so expose the Sacrament to invalidity. This danger is obviated by confessing a sin which is certainly sufficient and for which we are certainly sorry. A detailed confession is not necessary, and it is sufficient to say:

 "In my past life I have broken the fourth, fifth or sixth commandment."


Perhaps a few words about the regulation of the traffic outside the confessional would not be inopportune. There should be no need of a traffic-policeman. The order of precedence should be punctiliously observed. Even in public houses, unless the company is getting maudlin, the rule is: "First come, first served." This much elementary charity and mutual consideration, we should be able to take for granted among those who are preparing to receive a great Sacrament. A preparation for Confession which consists mainly in eyeing the door, spying for an opportunity of slipping in out of one's turn, can hardly be called edifying, and must cause irritation and scandal. An act of selfishness and uncharity is a bad preparation for Confession. It is absurd to be committing sin as we cross the threshold of the confessional, presumably for the purpose of ridding our souls of sin. At the same time, those who are foiled of their turn, should exercise patience, though they are not forbidden to make a calm and dignified protest. It is not edifying to hear people haranguing each other in heated language immediately outside the Sacred Tribunal.
Those who are waiting for Confession should keep their wits about them. It is annoying to the priest when there are unnecessary intervals between confessions because penitents are too much in excelsis to watch the exits from the confessional. An ecstasy would excuse this, but ordinary devotion does not.

Sometimes penitents ring the confessional bell or send for the priest before they have made their preparation, with the result that the priest is kept waiting, possibly ten minutes, whilst they indulge their devotion and complete their preparation. The idea seems to be: "If anybody is kept waiting, it must not be me." This is hardly charity.
"Where there are several priests hearing confessions, it is a distinct advantage if the penitents can be distributed fairly equally. The preference for going to the 'box' nearest the door should not be indulged in unduly." Well said!

If you find a certain priest really helpful, no one objects to you adding yourself to a numerous queue outside his confessional. What is objectionable is that many flock like sheep to the confessional where a crowd is kneeling and not because of deliberate choice, but simply as a result of herd-instinct and because they are too sheepish to look around and see if any other priest is "hearing."

Do not choose a confessor merely because he gets you out of the confessional in the minimum possible time. Such conduct on your part suggests a want of earnestness which must be reprobated. If penitents do not want advice, it is to be feared that they have little or no sincere desire to reform and that Confession has become a routine formality, to be got through as quickly as possible. One is inclined to wonder why such people bother to go to Confession at all, if they think so little of it.

Confession over, "the priest," says the catechism, "will give you a penance, which you must take care to perform in due time and in a penitential spirit. He will then pronounce over you the words of absolution, during which you will say the Act of Contrition."
The words that the priest uses are very thought-provoking and deserve careful attention.

Here they are:

P. Misereatur tui omnipotens Deus et dimissis peccalis luis, perducat te ad vitam aeternam.

R. Amen.

P. Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum tuorum, tribuat tibi omnipotens et misericors Dominus.
R. Amen.
Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Passio Domini N ostri Jesu Christi, merita beatae Mariae Virgin is et omnium Sanctorum quidquid boni feceris et mali sustinueris, sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae, et praemium vitae aeternae. Amen.

P. May Almighty God be merciful unto you, and, forgiving you your sins, bring you to life everlasting.

R. Amen.

P. May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, absolution, and remission of your sins.

R. Amen. May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you, and I by His authority absolve you from every bond of excommunication and of interdict in as far as I can and you require it. I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the Saints, whatever good you may have done, whatever evil you may have suffered, be to you unto the remission of your sins, the increase of grace, and the prize of life everlasting. Amen.

A memorized set form is not necessary for the act of contrition, though it is obviously useful and commendable. The act of contrition adopted should be short and simple. The confessional is not the place for private devotions and privately composed acts of contrition, however beautiful they may be, are not recommended. Prolix devotional effusions are to be reprobated, as also are dramatic striking of the breast and melodramatic emphasis of certain words. A set act of contrition is not absolutely necessary. All that is strictly necessary is that the penitent is truly sorry in his will and shows his sorrow in some way by words or actions. There is no need to worry, therefore, if:

1. You get tongue-tied and mixed-up and only say half the act of contrition; or
2. If, in your confusion, you say the Confiteor by mistake --- a mistake by no means uncommon; or
3. You are entirely distracted and do not think of what you are saying whilst you repeat the act of contrition.

Provided you were truly sorry before you entered the confessional and that your sorrow endures in the will, all is well. Your sorrow must endure, unless you deliberately retracted it, which you could not possibly have done whilst distracted and therefore thinking of something quite different. Do not fuss and worry about the act of contrition, as though everything depended on saying it with verbal exactitude. God reads the heart and He knows when the heart is in the right place. Confession is neither a test of composure of spirit nor of memory, nor is it an examination in grammar and grace of diction.


The catechism says: "You will say the act of contrition and afterwards leave the confessional," i.e. be gone! Do not delay the proceedings, especially if others are waiting.

The formalities of Confession were introduced to enable us to make our confessions with ease, composure, reverence and devotion. We shall defeat their purpose if we allow ourselves to become slaves of a form. The Pharisees made the letter of the law more important than the spirit and purpose of it and were soundly berated by our Divine Master. Be careful to approach the Sacrament of Penance like a true disciple of Christ and not like a Pharisee of the Pharisees.

1. Fr. H. Day. S. J.
2. See article "The Confiteor," Catholic Encyclopedia.
3. op. cit., II, 294-5.
4.  op. cit., pp. 165, ff.  
5.  Walshe, op. cit., p. 9.