Are You Required (These Days) To Confess How Many Times You Committed a Mortal Sin?

Good morning, my good people,

A few years ago I heard a priest (whom I suppose we’ll call “Priest W”, for no reason) give a little presentation about Confession, and thank the Good Lord, almost a whole room of people ended up making use of this Sacrament that evening. Unfortunately, Priest W made a common mistake, which I’m sure you’ve heard: he said that although people used to confess the number of times they committed their given sins, it’s not done like that these days.

And considering that’s what I had heard for years and no one ever mentioned doing it the “old way” to me, I was rather surprised to learn that the old method still holds: according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism” which have not already been confessed (Can. 988 §1).

Pope St. John Paul II also wrote the same thing in his 2002 Motu Proprio, “Misericordia Dei”:

3. Since ‘the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession’ (Can. 988 §1), any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.

So what does this mean? It means that if you (unfortunately) have a mortal sin to confess, try your best to remember how many times you ended up doing it. If you can’t remember precisely, then make an approximation. If you can’t do that, you should tell the priest you really can’t count how many times it was but you are sincerely sorry anyway.

Now, that’s all well and good, but what if you haven’t confessed your mortal sins in number before? You don’t need to confess them again, do you? Thankfully not. You confessed them previously with invincible ignorance of the actual protocol. They’re gone. You’re good to go. But do bear it in mind for the future. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in number (since they’re not required to be confessed at all). Still, for the sake of getting into the habit of confessing mortal sins properly (if, God forbid, you have any in the future), it wouldn’t be a bad thing to confess even venial sins in number.

As Fr. Z so bluntly put it over here at his blog, “Pay no attention to the liberals who belittle the necessity of confessing in kind and number by stupid phrases like ‘laundry list’.” It’s not about legalism or scrupulosity or OCD. It’s about giving an admission of all your sins so that all your sins can be forgiven and, furthermore, it’s so that you can know they’ve been accounted for.

Who knows? It might even deter you from mortally sinning in the future so you won’t have to go through the added mental process of counting how often the sin was committed!

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Pars Tertia: JP2, Mother Teresa, and apostle-ness

Alas, here it is, my friends, the third post of this little treatise of mine. Two people come to my mind, both of them relatively popular and both of them certainly holy. The first is our former Holy Father, John Paul II, and the second is Mother Teresa. You’ll notice that these two people are particularly loved by the feel-good crowd of Catholics due to their unswerving love of, well, everyone. The same people who love Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa are the ones who tend to be advocates of reception of Communion in the hand (don’t get me wrong, I love these two people, but I love them cause of their service to the Faith and not predominantly because they were nice to people). I wonder if the liberal-minded folks who want Communion in the hand are aware of how the former pope and Mother Teresa felt about it? They’re probably not.

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You may have heard the saying that Mother Teresa found Communion in the hand to be one of the greatest problems in the Church. While I admit that I haven’t found a definitive source to back that claim, I would not be at all surprised if she did, in fact, say that. She was a woman who loved Our Lord very much, as evidenced by the fact that she was beatified so shortly after her death. And if she was beatified that soon, that means she went through Purgatory (maybe even bypassed it completely, who knows?) pretty quickly. People who go to Heaven that fast tend to always have that which is most pleasing to God at the forefront of their minds. In the end, regardless of whether she actually made that statement about Communion in the hand, it would not be at all surprising if she held that view anyway. Also, from what I’ve read, it certainly seems that she herself was known to receive on the tongue only.

As for John Paul II, he’s said more than this, but the following quote sums up his view: “There is an apostolic letter on the existence of a special valid permission for this [Communion in the hand]. But I tell you that I am not in favor of this practice, nor do I recommend it” (he said this to a reporter in Fulda, Germany, November 1980).

I know some liberal-minded Catholics who often say how great this pope was, how he was “the best pope EVER”…and these people are the same ones who like happy-clappy Masses which almost undoubtedly include Communion in the hand. Do they really admire John Paul II that much, or is it a surface appeal and nothing else?

Another claim that comes from advocates of Communion in the hand is this: “But that’s how the Church at the times of the apostles did it!”

Before I even begin to respond to this claim, I think we should take note of something: the early Church was primitive. She didn’t teach error, but certainly she could have, over time, found more ideal ways of doing things, and the mode of reception when it came to the Eucharist could very well have been one of those.

Even if Our Lord was received in the hand by the Church during the apostolic age, in no way was He “just received in the hand”, and indeed, if this argument is going to be used, then those who mention it should be fair and tell us how the early Church did it.

It was not like today where the communicant simply takes the Host and that’s it.  First of all, the fingers of the one receiving never touched Our Lord’s body. He (notice the use of the masculine pronoun) was placed on the communicant’s right palm, and the communicant would then carefully raise his palm toward his mouth and then consume the body of the Lord. He wasn’t permitted to touch the consecrated Elements with his fingers. Is that the case today? Nope.

A second problem found in the “early-Church-did-it” argument was briefly looked at in my post Pars Secunda: Why Avoid It? and will be given emphasis here as well. It’s been hard to find a definitive source for this, but it’s incredibly likely that those who received the Holy Eucharist at the time of the Church’s infancy needed to thoroughly cleanse their hands before receiving Him. Is that done today? No, or not by the majority of people, it would seem.

So if the argument of the early Church is supposed to be to Communion in the hand’s favor, two things need to be assured: 1) make sure your hands are squeaky clean to touch the King of kings and 2) don’t touch Him with your fingers or lift Him into your mouth by picking Him up; transfer your hand to your mouth. Think that sounds awkward? Well, perhaps you should try receiving on the tongue, then! :D

And again, there is yet another problem with this argument, which is that Communion in the hand was only done in certain cases and was by no means the universal practice. St. Basil, who lived from about 330 to 379 anno Domini, said that Communion in the hand was allowed if: 1) the Church was under persecution and no priests were available; or 2) there wass a hermit in the wilderness who did not have access to a priest.

A recap:

  • John Paul II and Mother Teresa, loved by many who call for Communion in the hand, were against it.
  •  The Church grows in her understanding of what is ideal.
  •  The early Church was far more reverent about in-hand reception than people tend to be today and if the early Church’s way of doing it is to hold water as an argument, then Communion in the hand should be received as the early Church practiced.
  •  If that’s too hard or awkward, perhaps you ought to rethink the practice entirely.
  • Communion in the hand even in the early Church was not the universal practice, but a practice in certain circumstances only

May the Lord bless you and may His mom pray for you especially during this month, and please follow this blog if you like it,

Michael