The cornerstone of the Catholic faith is the belief that God forgives us for our sins if we are truly sorry. To gain his forgiveness, Catholics must perform the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whereby they confess their sins to a priest. Before the confession begins, the individual recites the Act of Contrition. The Act of Contrition is a prayer asking God for forgiveness of sin. The prayer is not just for the confessional; it can be recited whenever needed.
Types of Contrition
In Catholicism, there are two types of contrition; perfect and imperfect. Perfect contrition arises from a love of God. Perfect contrition means that the sinner is sorry for her transgressions because of the adoration and respect she has for God. Imperfect contrition is the fear of God's retribution for sin. In imperfect contrition, the sinner is sorry because he is fearful of the punishment awaiting him. The Act of Contrition addresses both types of contrition.
The Act of Contrition
There are several versions of the Act of Contrition. They can be found in Catholic Prayer books or even online. This is one of the most common ones found on the Catholic Online site:
"O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life."
What is a Sin?
Catholic teaching defines sin as "an offence against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods". The Catholic church separates sin into two types; venial and mortal. Venial sins hurt the relationship that a Catholic has with God. Mortal sins can sever the relationship with God and are usually grave in nature. Mortal sins are usually those that break man's law as well, such as murder and theft.
Why Do Catholics Confess to a Priest?
Many Catholics believe that the priest is acting "in persona Christi," which loosely translates to "in the person on Christ," when he is hearing their confession. Their faith calls for a confession of sins to return back to a godly life. By reciting the Act of Contrition, a Catholic humbles herself before God and makes a sincere effort to not repeat former sins. The priest also gives advice and feedback that is not always noticeable through prayer alone. The laws of the church prohibit the priest from revealing any information obtained during a confession.