Monday, April 11, 2016

General Confession – When is it Necessary and When is it Advisable?

Disciple – Father, what is a general confession?

Master – A general confession is the accusation of all the sins we have committed during our lifetime, or during a significant part of it (for example, since the last bad Confession, including all subsequent Confessions until present date).

D – Is general confession necessary?

M – It may be necessary for many people, for others it may be only useful, and it may be detrimental for several others.

D – When is it necessary to make a general confession?

M – It is necessary when all previous confessions were sacrilegious or null.

D – When is a confession sacrilegious and when is it null?

M - A confession is sacrilegious (and therefore also null) when the penitent conceals grave sins on purpose, knowing that he has the obligation to confess them, or when there is not enough sorrow or purpose of amendment; a confession is (only) null when the penitent is not aware of his lack of sorrow or purpose of amendment at the time of Confession.

D – Then, who needs to make a general Confession?

M – All those who either by malice or shame concealed or denied a mortal sin in previous confessions or a circumstance that changed the kind of sin, or did not specify accurately the number of mortal sins they were aware of, or confessed their sins in such a way that it was not possible for the confessor to understand them, or lied when answering to the questions asked by the confessor, absolutely need to make a general confession.

D – Would you be so kind as to explain to me with a few examples all the above-mentioned situations?

M – Let us assume that a poor sinner concealed, since his first confession, some sins due to shame; even if he had properly accused himself of all the others sins he committed, because of that first bad confession, none of the subsequent confessions would be valid or good, and therefore it would be indispensable for him to make a general confession in which he also would have to tell all the sacrileges he committed.

Let us assume that another sinner, who committed certain sins of deed in the past, always accused himself (only) of having bad thoughts; then, this person also made a bad confession and therefore needs to make a general confession.

Another example: someone had the misfortune of sinning, but with another person; and at the time of confession he concealed this specific circumstance, therefore he made a bad confession and needs to make a general one because he should have told to the confessor the specifics of the sins he committed, like the person he committed them with, and he knowingly concealed it.

Finally, let us assume that yet another person who had the habit of committing four or five mortal sins every week or every month, accused himself of only two or three sins, knowing with all certainty that he was lying, then all the confessions of this penitent were badly made, and just as the others I mentioned before, he must make a general confession.

D – Oh, dear God!

M – Secondly, a general confession is absolutely necessary for those who have always confessed their sins without sorrow and purpose of amendment, as we have mentioned before. Or for those who have not fulfilled the obligations imposed by the confessor, for example, abandoning all willful occasions of sin, destroying a forbidden book or hand it to someone with license to read it or retain it, breaking away from certain relationships, and similar cases. Having failed at the essential qualities of confession, these persons must put their conscience at peace through a good general confession.

D – Father, is the number of people who are in similar circumstances big or small?

M – Let us pray to God that those who find in these circumstances are few! But daily experience shows that the number is much bigger than we believe, even among seemingly good people.

We read in the life of Saint Agnes of Montepulciano about a rich man who was a great devotee of Saint Agnes and her monastery, and was deemed as a good Christian by everybody. He helped her by giving her many and generous alms; and in turn, the saint prayed much for her benefactor.

One day, when Saint Agnes was praying, she fell into an ecstasy, during which she saw in the middle of Hell a palace made completely out of fire, and heard a voice that said to her: “Agnes, this palace is for your benefactor, and he will be here very soon.” Saint Agnes was very impressed by what she saw and sent for her benefactor. When he arrived, the saint told him the horrible vision she had. The man trembled, turned pale and almost fainted, and he sincerely told her that he had been making bad confessions for almost thirty years, on account of having always remained in willful occasion of sin. The saint encouraged him to make a good general confession. He followed her advice, and then she had another vision in which she saw a palace in Heaven, and heard the same voice saying: “Very soon your benefactor will come to live in this palace.”

Now, all those who, due to their bad confessions, fear having their palace prepared in Hell, know what to do to be freed: make a good Confession.

D – Father, when we did not accuse ourselves of some sins due to forgetfulness or ignorance, and later on we learn that they were sins or we remember them, are we obligated to repeat all past confessions or to make a General Confession?

M – No, when sins were not accused because of ignorance or forgetfulness, then there is only obligation to redress partial omissions. General Confession is only necessary when we have knowingly received the sacrament of Penance badly and with all the intention of wanting to commit a sacrilege.

D – And what should we do when we are in doubt as to whether having to make a general confession or not?

M – If this were the case, then you should express all your doubts to the confessor, and follow his advice.


D – Thanks, Father; and now could you tell me: when is general confession useful?

M – 1. It is useful for those who have doubts about the value of their previous confessions, and need to put their conscience at peace.

2. It is useful for everyone who has never made a general confession, because it usually tends to produce a greater contrition of sins and to consolidate the strength and effectiveness of the purpose of amendment.

3. It is also very useful for those who are at a decisive point in their lives, or that are about to choose a state of life on which it will depend their spiritual future. These persons will be able to receive from the confessor, who acts as God, a better advice and greater light, and choose with more certainty.

D – For example, a couple, before their wedding day?

M – That is right. General confession is very useful for those who are about to get married, whether for achieving a better disposition to receive the sacrament that will join them together until the death of one of the spouses, or for providing the light and advice necessaries to govern themselves properly in such state. Marriage is an extremely important sacrament. Wo be unto him that receives it unworthily! God will never bless a marriage in which there is sin involved.

D – When is sin involved in courtship?

M – 1. When courtship is extended for a long time (when it is prolonged unnecessarily, the couple expose themselves to grave faults).

2. When the couple allow certain “liberties” in their conversations and dealings.
3. When, being in a state of mortal sin, the couple do not go to Confession, or, what is even worse, make a bad Confession to be able to get married.

D – Is it then necessary to say in such confession that one is about to get married, and to ask for the confessor’s advice?

M – Definitely. If not, how could the confessor advise them with regard to the new state they seek to embrace?

D – Father, when is it best to make a General Confession?

M – If one wishes to make a General Confession only due its usefulness or out of devotion, then the best time to make it would be during the Spiritual Exercises; but if the person wants to recover sanctifying grace, then it should be made as soon as possible.

D – Do we have to write down our sins to remember them better?

M – Not generally, but if there is need to write them down, then this should be done with due caution, destroying the writing as soon as the person leaves the confessional, so that no one is able to read it, not even the penitent (sins can also be written in a code that only the penitent understands).

Amongst the many humorous events that we read in Saint John Bosco’s life, we find the next one: A good boy, eager to make a general confession with the greatest possible accuracy, wrote all his sins in a booklet. But without knowing how, he misplaced the little booklet. He searched his pockets time and again, and looked for it everywhere. The writing did not appear. So, the poor boy, terribly despaired, began to cry. Fortunately, it was Don Bosco who found the booklet. When the boy’s friends took him crying to the saint, Don Bosco asked him:

- What is the matter, James? Did something upset you? Did someone hit you?

The boy, wiping away his tears and perking up a little, answered: I have lost my sins! When the other boys heard this erupted in laughter, and Don Bosco, who had immediately understood everything, told him:

- If you have lost your sins you should be happy, and even happier if you never find them again, because without sins, you will go straight to Heaven.

But James, thinking that Don Bosco had not understood him, explained himself by saying:

- I have lost the booklet where I wrote them!

Then, Don Bosco, took out from his pocket the big secret, and told him:

- Do not worry, my dear, your sins have fallen into good hands; here they are!

Upon seeing his booklet, the poor boy calmed down and said:

- If I had known it was you who found them, instead of crying I would have laughed. Tonight at my Confession I would have told you: Father, I accuse myself of all the sins that you have found and which are in your pocket.

D – Finally, Father, for whom could a general confession be harmful?

M – It could be harmful for scrupulous persons, or for those who are filled with anxieties and idle fears: for those who having made a general confession hundreds of times, are never at peace, and would like to say at every opportunity what they have already said. A general confession would only generate in these persons more anxieties and scruples. They must pay heed to their confessor when he assures them that they can be at peace… that he will answer before God for the state of their souls. The confessor sees and judges better than them. Therefore, they should be completely sure that in obeying their confessor, they are obeying God Himself.

D – Then, when a confessor does not allow a General Confession, should he be obeyed?

M – Definitely. When the confessor does not allow a general confession to be made, is using his full rights, and the penitent must obey him. It is only in this manner that the penitent will gradually be able to enjoy peace of mind and calmness. Wanting to attain peace by any other means would be to ask the impossible.

Now, do you see how important general confession is? After this, we should not be surprised that so many saints recommended it, for example, Saint Ignatius, Saint Charles Borromeo, Saint Francis of Sales, Saint Bonaventure, or Saint Thomas Aquinas, all of whom are renowned by their spiritual practices and their doctrine.

Therefore, do not be fooled by the devil; and if you need to, prepare yourself for a good general confession. Let us be encouraged by the thought that, through a good general confession, we can, in a sense, regain baptismal innocence.

We read in the lives of the holy monks of the desert that one day a young man, who was a great sinner, arrived at the monastery in order to become a religious. The Superior ordered him to make a general confession in the church of the monastery the following Sunday. To this end, the young man wrote down all his sins so he would not forget anything. While he was making his confession, one of the oldest and virtuous monks saw that an angel was crossing the sins out from the list the young man had in his hands, at the same time he was confessing them, until the list was completely white; this represented the immaculate whiteness that the soul of the young man had regained.

Saint Caesarius of Arles relates a similar event. There was a young student from Paris, who having been a great sinner, wanted to change his life, and decided to make a general confession with a good confessor from the Cistercian Order. But being unable to declare his sins due to his tears and sighs, the confessor encouraged him to write them down, and so the young man did. After he had finished, the confessor started to read the list, but found such grave and complicated cases that did not dare to solve them by himself, so he requested and obtained from the penitent the necessary license to consult them with his Superior. But when the abbot took the list to read it, said: “What am I supposed to read if there is nothing here?” – Indeed, God had miraculously erased from the paper all the sins of that young man, in the same way that He had erased them from his soul.

But, why keep giving examples provided by saints when Jesus Christ Himself tells us that general confession truly gives us back baptismal innocence. Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque confirms the above-mentioned.

One day, when Saint Marguerite was making the Holy Spiritual Exercises, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to her and said: “Marguerite, I want you to make again a general confession of the sins you have committed during your whole life, and I will give you a dress.”

To satisfy her Spouse, Saint Marguerite started to work, and after a careful examination of conscience, she made a general confession. Immediately after she had made it, Jesus Christ appeared to her again, bearing in His hands a white dress, and told her: “Marguerite, this is the dress I had promised I would give you.” That dress represented baptismal innocence.

Blessed be a thousand times general confession, that produces in our souls so wonderful effects, that purifies it more and more and leaves it again as beautiful as if it had just left the baptismal font!

D – Thank you, Father, I have understood everything perfectly, and I appreciate your teachings and doctrine; I will engrave it in my heart.


Fr. Luis José Chiavarino


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