It’s been said that “Sin is the shipwreck of the soul. If the sin is serious, it is a fatal shipwreck. Confession is the only plank to which we can safely cling, if we want to be brought back to the harbor of God’s grace.”
The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius are committed to returning everyone and everything to God’s harbor—we call it restoring the sacred. And so, we desire that all receive this grace-filled sacrament through its proper practice—especially during the penitential season of Lent. Here are a few points of guidance:
First, as we prepare to go to Confession, clear awareness of what constitutes a mortal sin and what constitutes a venial sin is very important. A mortal sin is gravely and objectively evil, committed with full knowledge that it is evil, and given full consent to it with the will. Venial sin, on the other hand, is a deviation but not a total turning away from God—akin to a lukewarmness in the soul. Venial sins “bruise” our state of grace with God, but they do not break it like mortal sins do.
Second, awareness of a mortal sin demands Confession as soon as possible. It is necessary to do so before receiving Holy Communion. However, Confession is not required every time before receiving Holy Communion for every venial sin. The Church teaches that a sincere Act of Contrition and reception of Holy Communion remits venial sins.
It sometimes happens that one may fall into mortal sin and return to the confessional only a few days after a recent Confession. The convenience of Confession being regularly available here at St. John Cantius Church may cultivate a mundane mentality that one ought not need to refrain from falling into habitual sins. Overly frequent confession could indicate a presumption of God’s mercy, and perhaps a weakened resolve to not sin again. Thus, going to Confession too frequently may amount to an abuse of the sacrament.
Therefore, the priests here at St. John Cantius Church ask that you not make a confession more often than once per week. A good standard practice is once every two to three weeks. Although, one should go to Confession as soon as possible for mortal sins.
Third, it is not necessary to go to Confession on the very day of, say, First Friday, First Saturday, Divine Mercy Sunday, etcetera, which have indulgences associated with them. The Church says that it is sufficient to go to confession within 20 days and that you have not committed any mortal sins since then.
Fourth, some people have a habit of re-confessing past sins—sometimes repeatedly. You should only confess those sins committed since your last confession (which, by the way, may be the same as past sins since we sometimes have areas of repeated weakness). An exception to this guideline is if you remember a mortal sin from the past which you have not confessed; then do confess this sin right away.
Fifth, the Sacrament of Confession is for the confession and the absolution of your sins. Although the priest may give some advice, it is not the time or place for in-depth spiritual direction. Unduly extending your confession by asking questions or by discussing your spiritual life tends to demonstrate a lack of charity for those behind you who are now unnecessarily waiting longer to confess their sins.
Sixth, confession of your sins should be fairly concise, specific, to the point, and well-prepared. Lengthy, detailed explanations of what you did and how you came about doing it are not necessary. It also may even be a subtle way of justifying or even reliving your sin. So, confess your sins concisely, and if the priest needs more information, he will ask you. On the other hand, the sins you confess should be reasonably specific rather than general observations. For example, confessing “I have not followed God’s commandments” is not specific enough. Rather, please specify the ways in which you have not followed God’s commandments.
Finally, sometimes the priest may tell you something in confession that you may not want to hear. Please consider that the Holy Spirit sometimes works in ways that seem blunt in order to help uproot sin. Try not to feel disheartened, but instead, consider that perhaps the Holy Spirit inspired the priest to tell you something plainly because you may need it.