Must Catholics go to Confession once a year?
Close, but no cigar. The Church’s precept about Confession is slightly, but importantly, different: Every Catholic conscious of a mortal sin must go to Confession at least once a year.
This precept or rule of the Church — a violation of which is a sin of disobedience to legitimate authority — is binding on all Catholics over the age of reason. You must go to Confession at least once a year if you’re aware of having committed any mortal sin, that is, a grave or serious sin.
If you have not committed such a sin, you are certainly not obliged to go to Confession. But unless you already wear a halo, you no doubt have committed lesser venial sins and should go to Confession to be absolved of them so you can receive the grace of the sacrament to help you avoid occasions of sin.
Nowadays some Catholics, although acknowledging mortal sin exists, think they are nearly incapable of committing it. Perhaps they have swallowed the erroneous notion that the only remaining mortal sin is a complete rejection of God — hard for even the most wicked person to accomplish. Or they imagine mortal sin as something so heinous they would be locked up for years for committing it. But the “they” could be “we.” Mortal sin is much more prevalent than we suspect, and it may well be prevalent in our own lives.
For a sin to be mortal, three requirements must be met. First, it must involve a serious matter. Second, there must be sufficient reflection on its seriousness. And third, there must be full consent in the committing of it. What is a serious matter? Many sins listed in the Ten Commandments or contrary to Scripture or the moral teachings of the Church could qualify: murder, envy, abortion, artificial birth control, thievery, adultery, sodomy, fornication — to list only some of the serious sins popularized by the media.
How much time is needed to achieve sufficient reflection on the proposed act? It depends on the sin, but a few seconds often are plenty. You don’t need to ponder all day to realize that robbing a bank is a grave sin. What about full consent? It means just what it says: Someone forced into an act doesn’t give full consent to it. A drunken person is incapable of giving full consent. A young child is incapable of giving full consent. Ditto for someone asleep, comatose, senile or held at gunpoint.
KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith” (Ignatius Press, 1995).
According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.”Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to Confession. Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1457