Q. What is the difference between perfect and imperfect contrition?
A. Contrition is sorrow for one’s sins. Contrition is absolutely necessary to receive God’s forgiveness.
Our Lord desires us to receive his mercy more than we want it ourselves, but we must be contrite if we wish to receive his mercy. True contrition means that we detest our past sins, we grieve because we have committed them, and we strive not to fall into them again.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “when it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect.’ 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” (CCC 1452).
Perfect contrition is sorrow for one’s sins based out of perfect and pure love of God. Since contrition requires the detestation of past sins, perfect contrition detests sin as greater than any other evil because it offends
Our Lord, who deserves our love and worship. Perfect contrition removes the guilt of eternal punishment due to grave sin, even before receiving sacramental absolution. However, even after making an act of perfect contrition, a person who has committed a mortal sin should seek absolution in the sacrament of penance as soon as possible, and should not receive Communion until after receiving sacramental absolution.
Imperfect contrition, also called “attrition,” is sorrow for one’s sins with the motives that are less than perfect love of God. These lesser motives include contrition out of fear of hell, fear of God’s judgment, the pain of being disobedient to God, or the sense of ingratitude toward God—among other motives. While imperfect contrition is not based on the pure motive of love of God, it is sufficient to receive absolution from one’s sins in the sacrament of confession. In the case of someone who is unable to go to confession, forgiveness through imperfect contrition is all that is required to receive absolution in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
Greater attention to prayer and the interior life assists us in moving from imperfect to perfect contrition. Devotional practices like the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Stations of the Cross, allow us to reflect upon God’s love for us, and opens our hearts to love us in return.
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