Q. What is an act of “perfect contrition?”
A. The famous theologian Father John Hardon says that perfect contrition is “sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human love. Its motive is founded on God’s own goodness and not merely his goodness to the sinner or to humanity. This motive, and not the intensity of the act, less still the feelings experienced, is what essentially constitutes perfect sorrow.”
Perfect sorrow— or perfect contrition— is the will to reject our sinfulness, and to love God in his goodness, simply because he is good. An act of perfect contrition means that we confess our sinfulness because we love God. Of course, we may still be attached to our sins, we may still be afraid of hell, but in an act of perfect contrition, we honestly repent of our sins because we know the God is good, and that sin is evil.
Catholics are obliged to confess grave sins as soon as possible. The regular habit of confession is an important part of the spiritual life—and the best assurance that we have received God’s forgiveness for our sins. If a Catholic commits a grave sin, he should resolve to go to confession as soon as possible, in order to know and experience God’s mercy. In almost all circumstances, no one should receive the Eucharist if they have not confessed grave sins. But a Catholic who commits a grave sin should express sorrow to God as soon as possible—and resolve to love His with the fullness of will and intellect, in an honest act of contrition, even before arriving at the confessional.
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