“Ask a Priest: How often can I go to confession?”

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Q: Can a person go to confession every week even if they have no mortal sins? Can a person still go and confess venial sins? Or do you need to include one mortal sin from the past? Is it an abuse of the sacrament if you go to confession more than once a week or every week? Is it good to confess temptations, especially the ones you are struggling with? -P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation (also called the sacrament of confession, or the sacrament of penance) is admirable. Unfortunately, many people neglect this great means of receiving God’s grace.

Let’s take your questions one by one. First, it isn’t necessary to have a mortal sin in order to go to confession. One of the fruits of frequent reception of the sacrament, in fact, is to help us avoid sin and especially mortal sin. It is enough to confess venial sins, if that is all a person is aware of having committed.

But let’s qualify that last sentence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 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.” Still, a confession is valid even if someone doesn’t mention all his venial sins.

Nor is it necessary to mention a mortal sin from the past, so long as the sin was previously confessed and absolved. A penitent does, however, have to mention mortal sins that he forgot to confess previously. (If a penitent deliberately withholds mention of a mortal sin, then the sacrament is invalid and the sin of sacrilege is added to the guilt.)

Mentioning a mortal sin already forgiven can lead a penitent to a deeper appreciation for God’s mercy. But here we should be cautious. If mentioning past sins brings undue anxiety, or if it springs from scrupulosity, that is not good. It is better to leave such sins in the past. Jesus doesn’t want us to beat up on ourselves needlessly. He completely forgets our past sins that we have sincerely confessed, and he wants us to do the same.

Let’s turn to your question about frequent confession. Weekly reception of the sacrament is praiseworthy, especially for a lay person. (It is the recommended norm in many religious congregations.) In principle, a person could approach the sacrament even more frequently. But here it is important that a person isn’t doing this because of scrupulosity. Some basically good people might fear that the sins from the last confession weren’t forgiven. Or they might think that they are constantly falling into mortal sin and need to go to confession every few days. A person who commits a mortal sin should, of course, try to go to confession as soon as possible. In most cases, though, weekly confession suffices very well for a lay person with a healthy spiritual life.

Someone who feels the need to go to confession every few days might want to consider doing so with the same (solid) priest. That would give the confessor a chance to know the penitent and to look for signs of scrupulosity or other problems that might require special attention.

A penitent is free to mention temptations, although this is optional. Temptations — those that weren’t brought on by some fault of ours — are not the same as sins. Mentioning temptations can help for several reasons. First, it might bring comfort to the penitent, who comes away from the sacrament with an even deeper sense of having opened his soul to Jesus. Second, mentioning a temptation can help weaken its power, since talking openly about a problem can be half its solution. Also, it gives the confessor a chance to recommend additional aids to the penitent.

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  1. Talking openly about a problem or difficulty in the confessional? Father, I so wish to talk of something on my mind that brought me to the confessional… what I got in one case and one priest is “HURRY UP, THERE ARE PEOPLE WAITING.” As a quiet (sometimes shy) person… this only serves to make me nervous and then not speak ‘the sin’ (venial) that came as a result of what I wanted to start with speaking. JUST STATE THE SIN there are people waiting. (I came to the conclusion that going face to face, which is an invite to talk, brings priest to JUDGE MY FACE (It is rather plain without makeup)

    Then there was another priest I went to and I again wanted to first speak of my NOT wanting to meet a relative for lunch (and wanted to speak reason why briefly) Sure, as a CHRISTIAN . . . maybe I was not being charitable, and would have confessed this uncharitable way of me… but I really thought I deserved to speak ‘talk of’ why the uncharitable way and maybe AFTER my confession, as you say Father … the priest could suggest how to better approach a nasty relative. What I got was SCREAMED AT and I do mean SCREAMED AT… told I was JUDGING RELATIVE (I didn’t even get to speak of the actions so how was it I was accused of
    judging) I was brought to TEARS… stood up and stared at the crucifix. TEARS were running down my face at this overworked priest. If it were not for FAITH IN GOD . . . I would never go to Mass again… in this case I prayed STARING AT CRUCIFIX asking the Lord to GIVE THIS PRIEST MERCY… believe it or not he then absolved me . . . BUT . . . THIS REALLY HURT. It’s one thing to be SCREAMED AT by ‘the world’
    but A PRIEST? Representative of Christ? I will continue to avail myself of the confessional AS THE SPIRIT
    SO PROMPTS but it will be IN ANONYMITY behind a screen AS WAS ALWAYS THE BEST WAY… speaking TO CHRIST and THE PRIEST only hearing words NOT SEEING A FACE … that he can judge by his interpretation as being STUPID, JUDGING, NO GOOD, etc.

    Yes, of course, OUR PRIESTHOOD is also teetering on LOSS OF FAITH and succumbing to THE WAYS OF AN IMPATIENT WORLD. (The confessional time is limited to 2 priests or sometimes one and only for 45 minutes RIGHT BEFORE Mass on Saturday) What is wrong with GIVING A WHOLE HOUR (add only 15 min more time) and at 11 to 12 on Saturday and maybe 3 pm to 4 pm FRIDAYS (penitent Friday) 2 hours EVERY WEEK,
    and giving penitent adequate time to speak what is on mind… before confessing. (15 min. to each penitent, some would take less time some the full 15 minutes) IF the penitent is rambling… then speak a gracious,
    let’s talk at length with an appointment, just call the rectory, I want to assist.

  2. After the SCREAMING PRIEST… I sure did pray with fervor for him at Mass the next day.

    Don’t get me wrong, MOST PRIESTS are GOOD and striving to HOLINESS… but like every human, they are human and prone to outbursts of fury. (our laity does not pray for them as they should)

    Say a prayer for a priest AND OUR POPE… and GOD WILL BLESS US WITH MORE VOCATIONS to priestly ministry. (Why should God increase vocations if those HE has given are not prayed for with gratitude) Why would a parent give a child an unexpected gift if the gifts he or she was given was not met with gratitude?

    LET’S MAKE IT A MISSION to PRAY FOR A PRIEST at every Mass… with GRATITUDE and GOD may increase calls to enter into such vocation.

  3. Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your experience. You are truly blessed with the grace of forgiveness which most of us lack in some cases. I agree that we should pray for our Pope, Priests and religious as they need our prayers to remain strong in their vocations. We should also pray for the young men and women to hear and follow God’s calling in their lives.

  4. I am sorry to read of Elizabeth’s experiences in the Confessional; I have had pretty much the same thing happen to me ~ more than once, I’m afraid. Not the screaming part ~ that would send me out! …but the “hurry up, others are waiting” and the “Mass is starting soon, are you almost finished??”
    Those kinds of comments can make one wish he/she never came to Confession in the first place!
    I once had a priest tell me, “I only need to know your sins, not carry on a conversation” ~ or words to that effect…when HE was the one who started the conversation in the first place! ouch! And time was NOT limited either; it was one of those “Big Confession” days when the church is full of priests, all scattered about in make-shift confessionals, and it was held for 3-4 hours, twice the same day! (before a major feast: Christmas, Easter) So I had a hard time wondering why he felt it necessary to “shush” me like he did?
    Oh well…at least Elizabeth can know here that she is NOT alone in her predicament; others get the same comments all the time.
    On the other hand, I am sometimes surprised when it’s the priest himself who asks me a question about a particular sin I’ve confessed, and then we talk for a minute about it…all the while I’m waiting for him to say “hurry up, I’m busy here…”
    I guess one day, if I’m blessed enough to come to our dear Lord in Heaven, I will ask Him face to Face: “Why was it, dearest Lord, that I only went to Confession for Your sake…and never felt comfortable until I was finally on my way back out the door??”

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