By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Expressing sorrow for sin is not an imposition or an invention of the Catholic Church. As we saw in a previous article, feelings of remorse, sorrow and repentance are part of the universal human experience. In another article, we explored how Jesus touched this part of wounded human nature and revealed that He has the power to forgive sins. The Church understood that the authority to forgive sins is one of the gifts Jesus had given to her (see Jn 20:22-23). Thus, Jesus continues to draw near to His repentant brothers and sisters in order to reconcile them to His Father through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Sacrament of Reconciliation An Act of Contrition
In both the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ (inspired by the Gospels)
Creed, we profess our belief in the “forgiveness Father of mercy, like the prodigal
of sins”. In the Nicene Creed it is formulized as son I return to you and say:
“we believe in one baptism for the forgiveness "I have sinned against you and
of sins”. The early Church, however, recognized am no longer worthy to be
that many baptized Christians continued to sin. called your child."
At first, only grave sins (apostasy, adultery, and Christ Jesus, Savior of the world,
murder) were publicly confessed and penances I pray with the repentant thief
had to be performed before the person was to whom you promised Paradise:
readmitted to the Eucharistic Celebration. With "Lord, remember me in your kingdom."
the passage of time, the Sacrament of Recon- Holy Spirit, fountain of love,
ciliation was promoted within monastic I call on you with trust:
communities as an ordinary spiritual practice. "Purify my heart, and help me
It then became the forum in which every serious to walk as a child of light."
Christian acknowledges his or her failures in living
the Baptismal promises. Confessing one’s sins at
least once a year is now one of the five precepts
of the Church.
Confession, contrition, satisfaction
The Sacrament of Reconciliation allows us to enter into a special moment with the Lord, through the ministry of a priest. There are three essential “acts” required of the penitent: an act of contrition, the act of confessing one’s sin, and the act of making satisfaction which is commonly called the “penance”.
God forgives us
God extends His loving touch of forgiveness to us in the Penitential Rite during Mass, through the ministry of a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and through our own expressions of sorrow either through formal or personal Acts of Contrition. When the Act of Contrition is prayed with a sincere heart, God comes to us with his merciful love and forgives our venial sins. Should we be in need of forgiveness of mortal sin, and cannot for some reason go to confession, a perfect Act of Contrition is needed along with the intention of going to confession as soon as possible. The difference between perfect and imperfect contrition is that we are sorry solely from love of God whom we have offended (perfect contrition), rather than fearing the consequences of our sin (imperfect contrition).
Many prayers express contrition
What many Catholics do not know is that there is no one formula for the Act of Contrition. In fact, there are many Act of Contrition prayers that can be used either for personal prayer or within the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are free to choose from these prayers, or create one of our own, depending on how we want to express our sorrow.