“Ask a Priest: Do I Need to Confess a Laundry List of Venial Sins?”

Q: I have a question about making a good confession without always going and rolling out my usual “laundry list” of venial sins. Is it expected in confession to list these common sins, i.e., gossiping, pride, anger, not trusting God, etc., especially since they are forgiven at Mass? Or can you confess the one or two that keep popping up in life and/or just go to reconciliation to receive the sacrament for the purpose of receiving God’s healing and guidance in your life? Do you have suggestions for making a good confession? – R.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you want to take advantage of the great sacrament of reconciliation. It is one of the most underused treasures in the Church.

The key sins that have to be confessed are any mortal sins we might commit since our last confession, and any mortal sins we forgot to confess in the past.

As for venial sins, the Catechism in No. 1458 says:

“Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. 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.”

So in one sense there is no need to bring a laundry list of all the venial sins we commit, though it is helpful to mention them. And you will note that the use of the sacrament helps us “progress in the life of the Spirit.” This is vital since we are called to holiness.

Now, your suggestion of focusing on one or two recurring venial sins is OK. Perhaps a way to go deeper in your confession is to try to articulate what might be motivating you to commit these sins again and again.

For example, instead of just saying, “I was angry with my sister three times,” it might be good to add, “I give in to anger with my sister because I think I harbor a bit of jealousy toward her, or because I fail to see Jesus in her,” or “I am angry a lot because I think I have been neglecting my prayers lately.”

That kind of introspection might help us go to the roots of problems and dig them out.

Helpful, too, might be Benedict Baur’s classic “Frequent Confession: Its Place in the Spiritual Life.”

Be sure to ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit before confession, too.

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