21 December 2011

The Act of Contrition

"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 sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin."

The Act of Contrition is one of those prayers that we learn fairly early in our lives. Certainly we've learned this prayer or one similar to it before we made our first confession, and we say it every time we visit the Sacrament of Penance. Did you know, though, that it's pretty useful outside of the context of the confessional?? In fact, this prayer is one of the most powerful prayers you could ever say. I'll explain why I think it is so powerful a prayer in a minute, but first some background.

Mortal Sin

Ooohh.. gross. That's not a fun topic, now is it? Maybe that's why it's not talked about a lot.. though I think it's pretty important that we quickly address it. So, when we sin... it can fall into one of two categories: venial or mortal. Venial sins are the small stuff.. dangerous, they hurt our relationship with God, but they're not huge. Mortal sins deal with 'grave matter'- that is, they're pretty serious. It doesn't have to be so serious as killing someone, but sins of impurity, for example, are all serious enough to be mortal. For a sin to be a mortal sin, it has to be of 'grave matter', you have to know what you're doing and that what you're doing is bad, and you have to consent to doing it. Get all three conditions, and it's a mortal sin.

So what does mortal sin do? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that a mortal sin causes you to lose "the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell." (CCC #1861) In other words, if we die without having that sin taken care of, we condemn ourselves to Hell. NOT GOOD. Also, without that grace of the Holy Ghost living inside of us, we're in a bad place to do the work of God, we'll more easily fall into more sin, and we can't receive Holy Communion!

So... the obvious answer is Confession. If you've committed a mortal sin, or seriously, if it's been a month... get to the confessional. But let's say that you can't get to Confession for a whole week, or this sin is really weighing you down, or you're living in Saudi Arabia where there are no priests.. there must be another way!

Perfect Contrition

Perfect contrition. Perfect contrition is being sorry for your sins because they offend God. It's different from imperfect contrition, which is being sorry for your sins because they're bad and you don't want to lose Heaven. To have perfect contrition, pray the act of contrition and:
  • Mean what you pray. It's not an automatic deal.
  • Be motivated by God's grace. You're doing this because you don't want to offend God, and it's by God's help that you're getting out of this mess.
  • Be sorry for ALL your mortal sins. Be sorry for your smaller sins, too, but especially the big ones. Now you don't have to be crying, or even 'feel' sorry. You just have to know that you've offended God and that that's not a good thing.
  • HATE your sin. Hate it above all things. God is so good, and even the smallest sin hurts Him. We should rather die than commit a mortal sin against our Father.
Now, if you can do all of that.. (Hint: Ask God for the grace.. He'll give it to you) if you can do all of that, and if you intend to go to Confession soon.. your sins are forgiven that very moment! You still have to go to Confession, and you can't receive Communion until you do.. but your soul is cleansed! What a great gift God has given us in perfect contrition. Like I said before, this prayer is one of the most powerful prayers... because by truly praying it, we can go from being on the highway to Hell... and in an instant be back in God's grace.

So I encourage you, pray the Act of Contrition every day! Don't wait for Confession. And speaking of waiting, don't wait for Confession! A priest told me that the rule of thumb is every two weeks... once a month if you can't make it that often. And if you can't make it because of school or family obligations, just find the priest after Mass. If he doesn't have time then, he'll work something out with you! Don't put it off... grace is the most awesome gift, but we need to accept it and keep it. Regular confession and the Act of Contrition will help us to do just that.


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