People knew long before Vatican II that someone in a state of mortal sin who was unable to receive the sacrament of Penance would be saved if he was repentant. The Penny Catechism asked (question 294) “What special value has perfect contrition?” and the answer was:
“Perfect contrition has this special value: that by it our sins are forgiven immediately, even before we confess them; but nevertheless, if they are serious, we are strictly bound to confess them afterwards.”If the reason for a person’s being unable to celebrate the sacrament of Penance properly is that the priest did not feel obliged to use the essential form given by the Church, it is he who will answer to God for it, not the penitent.
We do not have to be immaculate to make an act of perfect contrition; the word “perfect” refers to the motive not to the sanctity of the person praying. “Perfect contrition” simply means that in our repentance we are motivated by the love of God rather than fear or disgust for sin. In modern terms it means that we are sorry because we have let God down, not simply because we have let ourselves down.
If we use one of the popular acts of contrition and say the words sincerely, or if we use our own words to express our love for God and sorrow for having offended Him, then we may be sure that He forgives our sins. With serious sins, we must resolve to make a sacramental confession so that we are reconciled with God and the Church, and can return to Holy Communion with a clear conscience. The celebration of the sacrament also brings us many graces and assists us in our daily conversion of life; its frequent use is a powerful means of growing in the love of God.
Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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