The Sacrament of Reconciliation, often referred to as Confession, is a sacrament of Healing. In scripture, Jesus sought out the broken and suffering, healing their physical ailments, but also their spiritual ones. In many cases, he began by saying, “Your sins are forgiven.”  When we come to confession, we encounter that same Jesus, and are washed clean of our sins. There is no sin so great that God will not forgive.


1. When is it nece​ssary for me to go Confession?

Generally speaking, besides the obligation of annual Confession (Code of Canon Law, c. 989), the Church encourages its faithful to make use of the sacrament frequently and regularly.

Specifically one should confess all his/her sins, and especially mortal sins which destroy the sanctifying grace in the soul. While Confession of venial sins is not always necessary, one must confess mortal sins.

Mortal sin is (1) a grave matter that turned one away from God in (2) full knowledge of the evil of the act, and with (3) full consent of the will. All three conditions must be met for a sin to be mortal. (CCC: 1855, 1857)

Venial sins do not destroy the sanctifying grace in the soul, but it diminishes and wounds it (CCC: 1855). Venial sin injuries one's relationship with God or with the neighbour or with oneself, in lesser matters of the moral law, or in grave matters acting without full knowledge or complete consent (CCC: 1862).

2. What if after receiving the Holy Eucharist I became aware of some sins that I failed to confess?

You must go to Confession at your earliest opportunity.

3. Can a priest reveal what has heard to others?

No. "It is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason." This is called "confessional seal". (Code of Canon Law: c. 983 § 1.)

4. What if I feel nervous about going to Confession? Or what if I haven't gone to Confession for many years?

True contrition turns one to God and the Church in the sacrament (CCC: 1453-1454). Simply go to the confessional prayerfully in the faith when you are ready, by telling a priest what sins you are sorry for with all your heart. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4.18). Recall, for example, the reassuring story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke (15:11-32) and the embrace of the loving father. If necessary, speak to your pastor, and he will be able to guide you in your preparation.

5. I have difficulty in memorizing the Act of Contrition by heart in the confessional …

Bring a copy of it with you to the confessional. Sometimes pastors have a copy ready. It is important that you understand the prayer. It is not meant to be a memory test. Express it in your own words when your memory of it fails. You can always ask a priest to help you.

6. Can someone be forgiven of the sin of abortion?

Yes. Pope John Paul II once addressed people in this situation:

"The Church is aware of the many factors that may have influenced your decision, and She does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong, but do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation." (Evangelium Vitae, 99.)

If you find yourself in this situation, please include it in your next sacramental Confession.

7. May I receive the sacrament if I'm divorced?

It is possible that you may receive the sacrament, but you may wish to consult your pastor first who would be able to speak to your particular situation. Generally speaking, one may receive the sacrament if they are civilly divorced but have not remarried or were validly married in the Church after receiving a declaration of nullity for their first marriage.

8. Can my sins be forgiven outside of the sacrament?

In the sacrament God in his unbound mercy reconciles a contrite person not only to Himself, but also to the Church, through the ministry of priests. In Baptism God washed away all your sins. For post-baptismal sins, the members of the Catholic Church are bound by the sacrament as "the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession" (CCC: 1484).



© Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto - used with permission.