Tuesday, October 06, 2009


"Theology2b" posted the following:

"Fr. I have a question for you, I have gotten answers 2 ways to this so I am asking for a 3rd opinion. A person goes to confession and forgets a particular mortal sin are they obliged to bring it up the next time they go to confession? I have been told yes they have to because it is a mortal sin. But I have also been told no they don't because they forgot not held back... help?"

Thanks for the question! First of all, let's be clear on one thing: if someone forgets to confess a sin, then that sin is still absolved in Confession. Like any sin that has been confessed, it has been forgiven and forgotten by Almighty God through his priest. That goes for any sin - venial or mortal. This is different from the sin that a person intentionally does not confess, or as you say, "hold back". If a person purposefully does not confess a sin in Confession, not only is that sin not absolved, none of their confessed sins is forgiven. A point from one of the paragraphs below from the Catechism (#1456) helps to clarify this: "when Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember..." (emphasis added).

So, with the understanding that a forgotten sin is forgiven in Confession, what would the obligation be to which you refer? It's not a moral obligation because they have already made satisfaction (abolution + penance, given that they did the penance the priest gave them) for their sins through the Grace of God. The obligation, if any, would be a personal obligation. By this I mean that it would be best for them personally to confess the mortal sin that they had forgotten for their own healing.

There is just something so helpful and healing about confessing our sins to another...to actually vocalize what we've specifically done wrong to the person to whom we've done it. This is true in Confession and in general. When we sin against someone we love, it pains us and them and puts a real strain on the relationship. The sin creates a wedge between us; if we are the cause of the wedge, then we need to remove it. We need to remove the wedge and be healed of the pain it caused. Confession does that, in the Sacrament and in general. We say what we did wrong and ask for forgiveness. We have shown our true sorrow by courageously naming the offense even if it's very hard to do so. Then, when we hear from the other that we are forgiven, reconcilation occurs, the wedge is removed and the healing begins. For the person's own healing, then, they are strongly encouraged to confess a mortal sin that they had previously forgotten to confess.

Here are some passages (# 1455-1458) from the Catechism about confession to a priest:

The confession of sins

1455 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.

1456 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 dangerous than those which are committed openly."54

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 know."55

1457 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."56 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 absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession.57 Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.58

1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.59 Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful:60

Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. . . . When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.61

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