The Celebration of the Christian Mystery
a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under
the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacra-
mental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot
obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain
forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.
The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an
examination of conscience
made in the light of the Word of God. The
passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the
moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the
Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings.
The confession of sins
The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply
human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with
others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins
he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens
himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order
to make a new future possible.
Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament
of Penance: “All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent
self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in
confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed
against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins
sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more danger
ous than those which are committed openly.”
When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they
can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before
the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and
knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine
goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest,
“for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to
the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not
According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the
age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully
to confess serious sins at least once a year.”
Anyone who is aware of
having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even
if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental
52 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1678; 1705.
54 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf.
55 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. St. Jerome,
10, 11: PL
56 Cf. CIC, can. 989; Council of Trent (1551): DS 1683; DS 1708.