Contrition: An Essential Part of a Good Confession

Simply, contrition is being sorry for our sins. But as Fr. Matthew and Fr. Stephen Spencer explain, it’s more than just a feeling and it’s an essential part of Confession.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.’”

Contrition requires action. “It’s not only, ‘Oh, I feel really bad that that happened … and therefore I’m going to move on with my life and feel bad.’ It’s also a commitment to say, ‘Wait a second, I feel bad about this and I’m going to do my best, I’m going to strive to not do this again,’” said Fr. Matthew Spencer, host of St. Joseph’s Workshop on Relevant Radio®.

Contrition is essential for a good Confession. “I can’t forgive your sins, dare I say not even God can forgive your sins if you’re not sorry. … He could heal us of our sins without our permission, without our willing it, but he chooses to only forgive us if we’re sorry for our sins,” says Fr. Stephen Spencer, brother of Fr. Matthew Spencer.

Did you know there are two types of contrition: perfect contrition and imperfect contrition? Perfect contrition is being sorry for our sins out of love for God—because we love God and we don’t want to offend him. Imperfect contrition arises from a fear of hell, or as the Catechism says, “the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner.”

“It’s a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit, to recognize that if I don’t change my ways, if I don’t turn from the path of sin that I’ve fallen into in one way or another, that I’m going to suffer the consequences of that. And so even though it’s not perfect, even though my reasons aren’t the best for wanting to turn away from sin … it’s a form of contrition,” explains Fr. Stephen.

Even with imperfect contrition, God can use it to help us rise to a greater level of holiness. “What’s interesting to me is that God works with that still. It’s imperfect because God wants us to hate sin for more than just the consequences that it has on us. But still … God can take the sorrow for our sin because of our oftentimes very selfish reasons—I’m really sorry I committed this sin because now I feel bad—and God can say, I can work with that. Let’s start there and I’m going to lead you to realize more what I want you to be sorry for.”

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Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.