Some Practical Applications - Confession
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
The confession of sins of impurity involves points of the utmost delicacy. Both confessor and penitent will be helped a great deal if these simple rules are observed.
1. If you have real mortal sins to confess, then you must tell what you did and how often you did it. This is God's law, not man's. A confessor may not give absolution till he knows the kind of sin and the number of times. This does not mean that one must give a detailed description of his thoughts or acts; such details are entirely unbecoming in the confessional. But he must frankly state the kind of sin (self-abuse, immodest embracing, fornication, adultery, and so on) and the number of times each sin was committed. A wholesome frankness relieves the confessor of the burden of asking many questions that are distasteful to him and embarrassing to the penitent. When a confession is made frankly, then a confessor need ask only such questions as he judges necessary for helping the penitent.
2. If you are confessing sins of impurity, and you mean only venial sins (for example: negligence in regard to thoughts, lack of sufficient reason in external acts) or mere temptations (for example, imaginations or feelings that were not wilful), then indicate this to the confessor. Otherwise, he may think you mean mortal sins.
3. If you wish to confess doubtful sins (for example, you doubt about consent, or whether you confessed the matter before), then mention your doubt. Strictly speaking, doubtful sins do not have to be confessed, though it is better to do so unless your confessor judges otherwise. Nor does one have to abstain from Holy Communion when be merely doubts whether he has sinned. Before Communion, however, One should make an act of perfect contrition. Scrupulous people should do what their confessor tells them to do. They are unable to judge their own cases.
A parenthetical word about the "lax conscience." A person is said to have a lax conscience if he easily and habitually excuses himself from sin when he has no valid excuse; he makes venial sins out of mortal sins, and he is inclined to see no sin at all in things that normally careful people recognize as venial sins. Some authorities hesitate to allow lax people the benefit of any doubt. Perhaps the most correct way of stating the rule for lax persons is as follows: if they really and sincerely doubt, they are allowed the same "benefit of the doubt" that normal people enjoy. It is therefore a matter of sincerity. The lax should remember that they are strongly inclined to "doubt" about their guilt when it ought to be rather clear to them that they are guilty. If they want to get over their habit of laxity (as they are obliged to do) it is usually necessary for them to lean to the side of strictness.
4. Finally, all who have difficulties in regard to chastity should have a regular confessor. This holds true for those who have formed a habit of sin; also for those who do not sin, but have trying temptations; also for those who are inclined to be scrupulous. As a general rule, it is a good thing for all people to have a regular confessor, but it is especially necessary for those we just mentioned to get a sympathetic confessor and go to him regularly.
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.