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Do You Need To Say the Act of Contrition During the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

A listener named Ray has a question for Father Dave about a recent experience he had during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He asks, “Lately when I go to Confession, the priest does not ask me to say the act of contrition. Is this new?” 

Father Dave begins his answer by discussing the four different “qualitative elements” for properly celebrating the sacrament: confession, contrition, penance, and absolution. The first two connect to Ray’s question, starting with the act of confessing sins. “That may sound obvious, but it means particularly articulating and confessing particular sins,” Father Dave says. “Not merely showing up in front of a priest and saying, ‘I’m a sinner, please give me absolution.’ Confession of something at least is necessary.”

RELATED: Sacraments 101: Penance (Why We Confess)

The second element of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is contrition. This is a demonstration that the one confessing, also called the penitent, is truly sorry for their sins. It can sometimes be spoken in an “act of contrition” like Ray is asking about, but Father Dave says that’s not always the case. “It is not required that you speak the particular words. in fact, there are many different acts of contrition and we are not required to say any particular formula,” He says. “[The priest] may determine that, in his mind, you don’t need to say the prayer of the act of contrition, because he has already gauged that you are sorry for your sins.”

Since we are not required to have a certain spoken act of contrition, you are welcome to use your own words to express your sorrow. Father Dave says, “I find that is more moving to them and to me, than the memorized or formulaic ones. It’s somebody who really has meaning in it.”

LISTEN: Is Confession Useful If I’m Not Sorry for All of My Sins?

He also notes the practical nature that the priest may not ask for one to recite the act of contrition due to time constraints or the number of people receiving the Sacrament of Penance that day. Guest co-host Kathryn Whitaker notes that she had this experience at a Steubenville Youth Conference where there were thousands in attendance. She also shares her favorite prayer of contrition which invokes the prodigal son.

Father Dave offers to Ray that, if he wishes, he can always ask the priest, “Would you like me to say the act of contrition?” Then the priest may say yes, or explain why he does not require one in that instance.