May 12, 2010

Acts of Contrition

A long time ago I wrote a post about how my punctuation of the Act of Contrition had changed over the years:

I used to say the end of the prayer like this:

I firmly resolve: with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and to my amend my life.

But I realized that I now do it like this:

I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace: to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life.

When I was younger I thought I needed grace to do things. Now I realize that I need the grace to even make a resolution.

The other day I was thinking about this particular prayer again, and how my understanding of what it means to pray it has continued to change. It's fascinating to me how one can pray in the same words over time, but be making a different sort of prayer through them.

When I was younger in the faith the Act of Contrition was like a substitute for the fresh start of going to confession. If I had a desire for Holy Communion, for example, but feared that I might be in a state of mortal sin and had no opportunity for confession, there was the Act of Contrition. To pray it was a fresh start, a new resolution, a renewed commitment. When I said I was sorry, and that my sorrow was true contrition and not just attrition at best, and that I was resolving to sin no more and amend my life, I believed what I prayed to myself. I thought I was telling the truth, and the "act" of the Act of Contrition was simply an external expression of an internal state.

Now, almost eighteen years baptized, I know myself too well for that. I know the infirmity of my resolutions and the fragility of my purposes of amendment. Now when I say the Act of Contrition I'm practicing, I'm telling God what I desire to be. I make an act of contrition, because I know that perfect contrition is what my heart really wants, and I'm trying to teach this to myself.


Anonymous said...

Father I've seen this issue in your posts a few times so I thought I'd comment on it. From what you write it sounds like if somebody has a mortal sin, but do not have time to go to Confession, then he could say an Act and still recieve the Eucharist. Are you saying this for normal circumstances, or just for emergency circumstances i.e. when in danger of death?

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the comment, anonymous. I'll try to clarify a few things.

First, we can never be sure if we are in a state of mortal sin. We may know that we have committed a grave or serious sin, but these are only mortal when combined with full knowledge and consent of the will, both of which are often mitigated.

Second, if we are conscience of grave sin, we should ordinarily abstain from Holy Communion until we have received sacramental absolution. On the other hand, not everyone lives in a situation in which getting to confession is easy, and sometimes it can cause wonderment or embarrassment not to receive. (E.g. at a family funeral or wedding; this is why I hear confessions at wakes and wedding rehearsals) Sometimes the failure to get to confession is just bad planning, but sometimes it's just circumstance.

So, and this is me talking, I say that if we have committed a serious sin but through no fault of our own have not been able to confess, but are contrite and desire to receive Holy Communion, the Act of Contrition with a firm and practical plan to get to confession ASAP is o.k.

precious cup said...

Thank you, Brother Charles, I have a different issue. When I was young I was a very poor learner. I put this together with the fact that I grew up in the 60's when it seemed things were not exactly taught the way I might have liked. Any way I have to confess that for many MANY years I did not receive the sacrament of reconciliation, and when I did I read the card with the prayer. It was only in the last five years that I learned the act of contrition by heart. This was because I read that it should be said at every mass before receiving the Most Holy Eucharist. So, I cut the prayer out of something that belonged to one of my children and memorized it. It seems to be different than what other people pray. Does that make it invalid, and is my prayer correct in what it asks? I feel it does, but often wonder about this as I pray it. This is my prayer; Oh my God I am heartly sorry for having offended thee, and choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. With your help I promise to do penance, to avoid the near occasion of sin and to amend my life. In the name of your son Jesus who died on the cross for my sins, have mercy on me Lord, Have mercy, Please, as I typed this I already realized that I never used the word "grace” This already makes me sad. I think back, and remember that I never even really understood what "grace" meant. I do now, and it was that gift of grace that I feel changed my life. So, should I go back and learn the prayer the way you say it? Maybe so, I have been trying, but since I pray tmy prayer every day at morning mass,it is hard ti change. It probably is important to make the change. I need your help, do I change the prayer, or change the word in the prayer. All readers of this blog, have mercy on me amd my different prayer.

Brother Charles said...

PC: The version you mention is another common one. As a confessor I hear all kinds of Acts of Contrition. Most are either the one I use or the one you mention, but some make up their own, or have developed hybrid versions with pieces of other prayers in them.

So be at peace. If praying what you pray makes for an act of contrition, then it counts as an Act of Contrition.