How often should I go to confession?
By William J. Byron, S.J.
I've been confessing for 80 years,and now a new priest at our parish says I'm doing it wrong. I thought that I could go up to Pentecost to make my Easter confession, but he says that's not how he learned it. This priest also says I should go to confession often. Is it a mortal sin not to go to confession during the Easter season, if one does not have mortal sins to confess? And, how does one go to confession if no sins come to mind to confess?
I'm so sorry that your recent experience with the sacrament of Reconciliation has been so upsetting for you. You are doing just fine with the way you've been going about it all your life, and I see no need to change a thing.
You asked the question in the context of what was, when you were growing up, called the "Easter duty." That referred to the reception of Communion during the Easter season. Your duty is to love God and your neighbor. It's a privilege, not a duty, to receive your Lord in the Eucharist. That sacrament is, of course, a direct, personal encounter with the risen Christ. And so is Reconciliation, by which you should experience pardon and peace, not agitation and anxiety.
You obviously are thinking of "confession before Communion," and you are thinking (correctly) of the Easter season as extending through Pentecost. It is not a mortal sin not to go to confession during the Easter season. Not to go to confession hardly could be sinful at any time. The purpose of confession is to unburden yourself of moral guilt and free yourself from sin. If you are not thus burdened, be grateful, not anxious.
If you have no serious sins to confess, you have no obligation to go to confession. But it is helpful to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation with reasonable frequency, and this may be what your priest was trying to point out. These are sometimes called "devotional confessions." Even though you may have no serious sin to confess, you always can benefit from the grace of the sacrament (by which you directly encounter the merciful, forgiving Christ). And you can receive that grace by expressing sorrow for past sins as well as your present sinfulness. By present sinfulness, I mean the inclination toward sin that all of us have — the tendency to be judgmental or unforgiving of others, the ease with which we yield to impatience, the pride that seems always to be with us, our failure at times to help those in need, our lack of faith in God's love for us, and especially our lack of faith in God's loving forgiveness.
You are a very good person, and the Lord loves you beyond your ability even to imagine. Try now to think of confession as a sacrament of pardon and peace. It is quite literally a sacrament of reconciliation. And it always presents you with an opportunity to express your thanks to God — something, by the way, that you can never do too often. Although I know you only through the words of your question, I'd say that you have a great deal to be thankful for, particularly for the gift of faith. So hear Jesus say to you, as He said to the woman in Matthew 9:22, "Courage, daughter, your faith has saved you;" or, as He said to another woman in Luke 7:50, "Your faith has saved you, go in peace." CD