Above all else Penance is the sacrament of peace, because outside of it, ordinarily no greater assurance can be obtained on this earth that God has forgiven sin and has completely restored the sinner to His friendship. Christ our Lord instituted the sacrament of Penance primarily in order to remit all serious sins committed after Baptism. He also wished that the sacrament exercise a secondary effect as well. When received by a person who has no mortal sins to confess, Penance bestows an increase of sanctifying grace and grants extra special helps of actual grace to combat temptations and faults.
One misunderstanding regarding Penance is that it cannot be received unless the penitent has committed mortal sin since the last confession. In reality, such is not the case. It is sufficient either to mention a few venial sins of which you are aware, or to make a general accusation of some sin from your past life (and here, too, a venial sin is sufficient). In this manner you are able to gain the special graces which only Penance can impart.
Of course, all mortal sins committed since the preceding confession must be mentioned, although if any are forgotten in good faith, they are indirectly forgiven by being included in the act of contrition of the penitent and in the absolution of the priest. If later they come to mind, they should be specified in the next confession not in order to be forgiven (for they have already been remitted), but in order that the law of Christ concerning the confession of mortal sins might be fulfilled. This is why mortal sins are called "necessary matter" for confession in distinction to venial sins, which are called merely "sufficient matter."
Although at least one venial sin must be confessed in order to provide this "sufficient matter" (if there is nothing serious to mention), there is no obligation to confess all venial sins inasmuch as they can be forgiven outside of the sacrament by means of an act of contrition, the offering of other prayers, or the performance
of good works. Nonetheless, all venial sins are forgiven in every good confession provided that the penitent includes them at least in a general, implicit fashion in his declaration and acts of contrition, including his purpose of amendment.
By submitting venial sins to the tribunal of Penance, part at least of the temporal punishment is remitted. Venial sins do not incur any eternal punishment because while they are flaws in our friendship with God, they by no means constitute the wanton ingratitude and treason which we call mortal sin. In the present state of human nature our faith tells us that no one can go through life without committing venial sin, unless he or she has been given a very special grace. Our Blessed Lady certainly enjoyed this privilege, and we piously believe, St. Joseph. In our own case, however, we know how easily we fail. Anger, jealousy, manifestations of selfishness, rash judgments, hesitation in repelling temptation--these are some of the faults that mar our perfection but can be gradually eliminated from our conduct.
There is one particular circumstance which calls for explicit mention. Let us suppose that by some misfortune serious sin has been committed and confession at the moment is impossible. Must mortal sin remain on the soul?
God in His goodness has given the weakness of our human nature a first-aid remedy even in this instance. An act of perfect contrition will remit mortal sin provided there is included at least implicitly the desire to receive the sacrament of Penance and thus have the mortal sin forgiven officially. Such serious sins must be mentioned in the next confession. To make such an act of contrition, we must regret having sinned because we have offended God Himself, who in Himself is all-good, all-worthy of our love. In other words the motive for perfect contrition is love of
God. This is more than is required for confession, where only an act of "attrition" is requisite--that is, sorrow for sin arising from a motive of fear of punishment or detestation of the malice of sin in itself. But this sorrow is not to be without wholesome acknowledgment of, and reliance on, God's mercy and love.
Such are the general principles regarding the use of Penance as a remote preparation for a happy and holy death. The frequent reception of the sacrament throughout your life will deepen ever more and more the serenity that characterizes the children of God and the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus. In a sense, Penance is always a "last sacrament" because it provides a fund of supernatural peace to offset any worry or fear that may arise when the unpredictable moment of death approaches. Sins from one's past life are so positively forgiven when subjected to the sacrament of Peace, that years later there can be absolutely no ground for umeasiness concerning them.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Probably not of much interest to non-Catholics, but this section from the end of Family of Families by Father Filias, SJ, was very helpful to me when I read it and I wanted to copy it to my blog to remember it.