The Act of Perfect Contrition
The Act of Contrition as it is found in the 'Small Catechism of the Catholic Religion', by Bishop John Neumann
of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Fourth Bishop of Philadelphia, Imprimatur by the Most Rev. James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, given
24 July 1884:
O my God, I am Heartily Sorry for having Offended Thee,
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 Thee, my God, Who art All-Good and Deserving of
all my Love. I firmly Resolve, with the Help of Thy Grace, to Confess my Sins, to do
Penance and to Amend my Life.
Since this Form of the Act of Contrition Incorporates all the
Elements of the Act of Perfect Contrition, I urge all of you, one and all, to Memorize and Use this
Act of Contrition.
There are Five (5) Qualities or Elements that must be in the Act of Perfect
Contrition. Whether they are in the Form of the Contrition
or not, they must be Present. Hence, you see why I insist on the above Wording, for it is Flawless, and it
Incorporates all the Five (5) Qualities of the Act of Perfect
Contrition. By the way, name the Contrition properly. It is "an Act
of Perfect Contrition", not "a Perfect Act of Contrition".
The Five (5) Qualities of the Act of Perfect Contrition are:
We shall Study each of these Five (5) Qualities:
What do we mean when we say that the Act of Perfect Contrition must be
Interior? We mean that it is an Interior Act of the
Mind and Will. When a Priest says his Divine
Office correctly, but with Distractions (hopefully not intended), he fulfills
his Obligation that the Law Imposes on him. If, while you Confer the
Sacrament of Baptism, you say the Words Carefully, with the Intention to Baptize as the
Church Baptizes, you Confer the Sacrament even though you
had Distractions during the Rite. The
Act of Contrition does not Work as the above Cases. It is something even 'Independent' of Spoken Words. The
Mind and Heart must determine everything that is said,
in the above Form of Contrition. The mere
Perfect Recitation of the Form, as one says his Prayers,
is not Sufficient.
(Resides in the Essence of the Soul)
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
Sanctifying Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Actual Grace, which is Transient, resides in the Supernatural Order of the
Soul, only as long as it exists.
There are many Elements or Divisions in this Quality. The Act of Contrition must be
Supernatural, as to the "Power" with which it is performed. It must be made under the
Influence of Actual Grace. Actual Grace is the
Supernatural Assistance that Enlightens the
Mind to know the Will of God, and
Strengthens the Will to do the Will of God. Hence,
before starting the Act of Contrition, it is Good
(and I encourage you to do so), to ask for this Special Grace. Without it, the
Act of Contrition is Useless.
Secondly, the Act must be Supernatural as to
"Motive". Here, we have Two (2)
Motives. The Inferior Motive (Imperfect Contrition),
has to do with the Dread of the Loss of
Heaven and the Pains of Hell. The
Superior Motive (Perfect Contrition), has to do with the fact that
we have Offended God, Who
is all Good. Together with the Sacraments of
Baptism and Penance, the Inferior Motive
(Fearing the Loss of
Heaven and the Pains of Hell) is Sufficient
for Forgiveness of all Sins. However,
Outside of those Sacraments, only the
Superior Motive (being Sorry for having Offended
God, Who is all-Good),
will Suffice for the Forgiveness of all Sins.
We must Answer this Question. Just why are you Sorry for your
Sins? Is it because Drinking made you Sick?
That is a Natural Motive, and it has no Relation to Forgiveness. While the Natural Motives are
Good in themselves, they will never Work for Forgiveness.
The Act of Contrition must include all of the Mortal Sins.
One may never keep even One (1) Pet Sin. Thus, if a
Person Living in Adultery is Very Sorry for his
Sins of Eating Meat on Fridays, but will not give up his Sinful Life of
Adultery, he cannot get rid of even One (1) Sin.
One either leaves All of his Sins behind, or he keeps All of them for
God's Just Judgment at the Moment of Death. Unlike Teeth, which when left alone,
will pass-away, Sins, however, when left alone, will never pass-away.
When we say that the Act of Contrition must be Supreme,
we are saying that we must determine that we would rather Die, than
Commit a Mortal Sin. We must Hate Mortal Sin
(Venial Sin too, if possible) even more than Death itself.
Just think how Careful we are about our Lives. We avoid Death at Great
Sacrifices. A Man will throw his Possessions over-board to Save his Life. He will Avoid
the Company of those who have a Contagious Sickness in order to
Save his Life. In like manner, we must Hate Sin,
in the Act of Contrition, as the Greatest Evil on Earth.
In the above Form of Contrition, we express this Determination
with the Word "Detest". I might say that I do not Like to eat Spinach.
However, I say that I "Detest" eating Rotten Crow. In like manner,
we do not say that we just do not Like Sin, but we
Detest it, as we Detest eating Rotten
Purpose of Amendment
There is a Final Element that is not mentioned in the Qualities of the Act
of Contrition, and that is the Purpose of Amendment. In Practical Speech, we make a Division in regard
to Contrition, and the Purpose of Amendment. However, there is no Real
Distinction between the Two (2), except the Element of Past and Future. If one is
Sorry for his Sins, he determines Automatically not to
Sin again. Any time that a Person, Living-in Adultery, is really
Sorry for his Sins, he Automatically leaves his Sinful
Way of Life. A Person who is in Bad Company, is not merely Sorry
for his Sinful Life-Style, but he determines to give up One and All of his
Intention to Confess
Once one knows the Divine Law of Confession, he must also determine to
Confess all the Mortal Sins he has Committed after
Baptism. To say that One is Sorry, without that Intention-to
Confess the Sins, when One has a chance to do so, is a
False Act of Contrition. One must determine to Obey
all God's Commandments, and One (1) of those
Commandments is that One must Confess all
Mortal Sins, Committed after Baptism, to a Duly Authorized Priest. If there is no
Priest to be had, then God accepts the Will for the Deed.
He will not accept the Will for the Deed, if there
is a Duly Authorized Priest available. Remember the Act of Perfect Contrition, always takes away all
Fulfill the Obligations
For the Act of Contrition to be Complete, One must fulfill all the Obligations that follow from Ones
Sins. A Thief must return that which
he has Stolen. Likewise, a Person who has taken-away the
Good Name of another, must do what he can to give that Good Name back again.
The Merciful Hands of God
When One has done all that he can in regard to the Act of Perfect Contrition, he still does not have
an Infallible Assurance that he has Sanctifying Grace. However, he Can and Should have Moral Certitude that he
is in the State of Sanctifying Grace. He should Rest his Case in the Merciful Hands of
An Act of the Will
Very briefly, we will say it this way. When we make the Act of Perfect Contrition, we should pay very close
attention to every word in the Form, and we are to make the Acts that are required-by the
Form. Never say, I Pray the Act of Contrition.
Do say, I Make the Act of Contrition. When Persons get Married, they do not
merely say a Formula, but they Make an Act of the Will to
Join themselves in Matrimony. When a Person
Makes Vows in Religion, he does not merely Recite a Formula, but he Makes an Act of the
Will (expressed in words) to Embrace the Religious Life. In like
manner, the Act of Contrition is an Act by which One is Sorry
for Past Sins, and that Sorrow extends-into the Future, so that
it also requires the Purpose of Amendment never to Commit those Sins,
or any Sins for that matter, in the Future.