Perfect and Imperfect Contrition


The Fathers of the Church described Confession metaphorically as the “second plank after the shipwreck of sin.” To be forgiven in Confession a person must have contrition for his sins. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1451). Contrition may be of two kinds: perfect and imperfect. Perfect contrition “arises from a love by which God is loved above all else” (CCC 1452). Imperfect contrition “is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner” (CCC 1453). In both cases a Christian experiences sorrow for sins committed, but the motive for sorrow differs.

If a person cannot receive Confession, a private act of “perfect contrition” is sufficient for the forgiveness of mortal sins with the intention of going to Confession as soon as possible. An act of perfect contrition is a pretty tall order. Much more is required than merely reciting a prayer. Our attachment to sin hampers our ability to love God fully or we fear hell more than we love God. Outside of the confessional, imperfect contrition does not forgive mortal sins. God, knowing our weakness, gives us the Sacrament of Confession for the forgiveness of mortal sins. Hence, the availability and reception of the Sacrament of Confession is of utmost importance. While we may be without public Mass, let us not forget about the second plank after the shipwreck of sin.