Question from on 07-31-2007:
Mr. Donovan. In a recent answer, probably at your other forum, you quoted Canon 916, below. This Canon says for a person to "... be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition..." Please describe HOW a person makes an act of perfect contrition. Thank you.
Canon 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible.
Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 08-01-2007:
The will we should have is expressed in the words of the act of contrition which states,
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 confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen. (alternate ending, especially in confession: I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.)
If we can say that prayer, with its emphasis on sorrow because of having offended such a good God, and mean it, then we have perfect contrition. We should do so as soon as we repent, in any case, going to confession as soon after as we are able. Perfect Contrition restores us to grace, then all we must do is comply with Christ's ordinance given through the apostles, who must forgive or retain the sins of those who confess.
This prayer, therefore, contains a reference to the Sacrament of Confession. The impossibility of going to Confession, but the willingness to do so at the first opportunity, along with a grave reason for celebrating or receiving the Eucharist, are the conditions of the canon and also of the moral use of this privaledge. A Catholic, priest or lay, must not be seeking to evade individual confession, in other words. To do so would itself be mortally sinful. Hence sorrow could NOT be perfect, merely convenient.
As I alluded in my previous answer, the laity would almost never be able to take advantage of this, as our opportunities for confession are extensive and the obligation to receive Communion generally not present. Of course, it is a blessing to know that if we face death without the physical possibility of confessing, that our perfect sorrow is sufficient.
Another example often cited for the laity falls under moral impossibility. A mother would not be obliged to confess mortal sin to her son-priest if no other was available and not going to Holy Communion would be tantamount to a public confession of being in the state of mortal sin. You might argue it would be humble for her to do so, even heroic, but the Church being a Mother understands the horror some women might experience at this possibility. Such a shame would be different from the ordinary shame we all feel confessing our sins, and which does NOT justify using this privaledge.