An Act of Perfect Contrition - explained

During this time of crisis (COVID-19), when the sacrament of confession is not possible because of the danger of virus infection and also to help Government effort to flatten the curve and eventually defeat the spread of Corona Virus. This is our humble contribution to the experts' effort in finding the solution to this problem. This is faith in action by trusting the civil authorities' decision to control the spread of the virus. Civil authorities are called by God to lead HIS people and protect the life of each individual and the Church respect that calling. Because of this, the Church is suspending public gatherings, suspending scheduled Confession but instead suggested to do an Act of Perfect Contrition. In this blog I would like to explain to you about the efficacy of perfect contrition.

What is a Perfect Contrition?

According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1452 says, “When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” when this crisis is over.

Likewise, canon law (Church law) foresees the efficacy of perfect contrition in the absence of a priest.

Canon No. 916 says, “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason (in this case COVID crisis) and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible” after the crisis.

Again, notice that the person has to resolve to go to confession as soon as possible. This emphasizes that the sacrament of confession remains the ordinary means for God to grant absolution. A big advantage is that a penitent can be assured of absolution within the sacrament, even with only imperfect contrition.

In any case, the norm remains that people in mortal sin should seek absolution within the sacrament. In the meantime they are encouraged to make an act of perfect contrition, with an eye toward still seeking confession to a priest when this COVID 19 crisis is over and the stay-at-home order will be lifted.

What is a Perfect Contrition?

= Perfect contrition is sorrow and detestation of sin arising out of the love of God. One way of exciting this contrition in our hearts is by considering the passion of Jesus Christ and making acts of love for Him. We can also think of the infinite love which God has for us, and express sorrow in our heart in the presence of this great love which we have offended.

What is an Imperfect Contrition?

= Imperfect contrition is sorrow and detestation for sin arising from a consideration of the ugliness of sin or out of the fear of hell. Disgust at the ugliness of sin is more common today than fear of hell.

If a person commits an act of impurity, for example, perhaps by deliberately looking at an obscene image on the internet, the person may be disgusted afterwards by the ugliness of their sin. Such contrition is not perfect, but it is sufficient sorrow for that person go to confession and receive God’s forgiveness. This is imperfect contrition; it is good, but it can certainly be improved on.

If the person is instead sorry because they think of the love of God whom they have offended, or the passion of Christ to which they have contributed, then they have made an act of perfect contrition.

This is not to say that the person has made a perfect prayer, or that their contrition is absolutely spotless and cannot be any better. The word “perfect” in this context means that the contrition has hit its proper target fair and square, being sorrow for the love of God. It has not fallen short by being directed to our own fear of hell or disgust with ourselves.

So how do we move from imperfect to perfect contrition? It is important to understand that this is an everyday possibility, not an impossible dream. We can at any time make an act of perfect contrition instead of an act of imperfect contrition. I am not saying that it is possible to make a perfect prayer every day, or to have the most perfect saintly sorrow – those are things that we strive towards in our everyday spiritual lives. To try to put it as clearly as possible, we are not talking about a “Perfect Act …” (of contrition); we are talking about (an act of) “Perfect Contrition."

Right here, right now, I can make what the Church refers to as an act of perfect contrition by directing my contrition to the love of God rather than my own feelings of disgust or fear of hell. The best way for most of us to do this regularly is to use one of the acts of contrition that are part of our tradition of Catholic prayer.

Here is the Act of Contrition that we learnt in our first Holy Communion many years ago; it includes the motives of fear of hell, sorrow for the passion of Christ and sorrow for offending God’s goodness.

O my God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins, and detest them above all things, because they deserve Thy dreadful punishments, because they have crucified my loving Savior Jesus Christ, and most of all because they offend Thine infinite goodness; and I firmly resolve, by the help of Thy grace, never to offend Thee again, and carefully to avoid the occasions of sin.

If you make that prayer and mean the words, then you have made an act of perfect contrition.

On another occasion, we will consider the important advantage of an Act of Perfect Contrition if ever we have the misfortune of falling into mortal sin.

God is love and merciful! His grace of forgiveness also depends on our heartfelt participation to His grace. The Church has not abandoned her flock, the Church is accompanying her flock in prayers and silence, a moment to reflect and make the Home of the family a domestic Church where forgiveness and love started and flourished. We don't need to jump into conclusion and judge the shepherd abandoning his flock. The shepherds also suffer and in pain by not giving the sacraments to the people whom we love. We don't need to be selfish about God's forgiveness for God looks at the heart and wanted us to participate for the highest and the common good.

fr. loloy, msp

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