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!