I want to go to confession, but I can’t due to the coronavirus. What is this I hear about making a perfect contrition?
It’s an eerie quiet that has settled over our state and country as many continue to shelter in place in order to avoid spreading the coronavirus. It’s a situation that has meant the incredible sacrifice of our reception of holy Communion for a time, but it has impeded all of the sacraments of the church: baptisms and weddings can only be with immediate family; the sick and suffering are anointed under a cloud of uncertainty over whether diseases might be passed along.
Sacramental confession has also become more constricted. Here at the Cathedral, we still offer it for an hour each day, but it is strange to be worried about physical illnesses in a sacrament that is meant to be entirely focused on spiritual healing. In other places, confession is offered at least by appointment, but the possibility of even sacramental confession becoming constrained is becoming more and more real as we see the virus spreading rapidly in new places. But God brings good out of everything, if we trust him. And so, he means to bring good out of even the situation where a person cannot get to confession!
In Matthew 18:18, Jesus entrusts to his Apostles, his first priests, with the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins in God’s name. Forgiveness, freedom, a Father — God wants to give us nothing less, and he has chosen to ordinarily do so by means of his priests, but God is not limited to those means.
So, what if something like persecution, privation, or in this case, a pandemic, keeps us from confession? Just as the grace of profound interior union with Christ can be received by an act of spiritual communion, depending only on our desire and disposition, so the grace of forgiveness can be received by an act of perfect contrition. That is, lacking the possibility of sacramental confession, as long as our contrition for our sins is motivated because of God’s personal goodness (not fear, or self-interest), our prayerful act of contrition (for at minimum our mortal sins) avails us of God’s grace of forgiveness!
Also, “perfect contrition” does not mean we have to have a strong emotion of sorrow, nor even a strong hatred of sin (obviously, those are good things too!) but, it does mean that we take those sins to sacramental confession as soon as possible, for to do so is to continue that act of trust in our Good God, by availing ourselves of his ordinary means of gracing us. Just as spiritual communion anticipates and prepares for sacramental communion, so perfect contrition does for sacramental confession.
So, if we cannot get to confession right now because of the coronavirus, let us not see it as a burden, but an invitation from our Good Lord to an even deeper sorrow for our sins entirely out of love for him, and trustingly beg of him the grace of perfect contrition.
Father Dominic Rankin is parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and has a license in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute in Rome.
How do I make a perfect contrition?How do I make a perfect contrition?
The first thing one must do is pray an Act of Contrition, but as Father Dominic Rankin says, our contrition for our sins must be “motivated because of God’s personal goodness.” Our contrition should be out of love for God. There are variations of the Act of Contrition prayer. Here is one of them you can pray:The first thing one must do is pray an Act of Contrition, but as Father Dominic Rankin says, our contrition for our sins must be “motivated because of God’s personal goodness.” Our contrition should be out of love for God. There are variations of the Act of Contrition prayer. Here is one of them you can pray:
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”
The second thing one must do is then make an authentic commitment to get to confession as soon as that becomes possible. In the end, making a perfect contrition is not a substitute for going to confession. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics during this time who cannot leave their home or if confession is unavailable due to health precautions to ask God for forgiveness and then to go to confession when they are able.