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Pope reflects on Act of Contrition prayer

Pope Francis presides over the opening of the upcoming 24 hours for the Lord

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 03/09/24

Pope Francis told future priests that “God” and “mercy” are like synonyms, and this is decisive!

Pope Francis addressed participants in a course on the sacrament of confession and issues of conscience, by suggesting a reflection on the Act of Contrition, the prayer a penitent says in the sacrament.

The conference was attended by future priests, and the Pope encouraged them to “live every confession as a unique and unrepeatable moment of grace, and to give the forgiveness of the Lord generously, with affability, fatherliness and, I dare say, even with maternal tenderness.”

The Pope said that this year’s Year of Prayer in preparation for the 2025 Jubilee makes it a particularly good time to reflect on the “simple and rich prayer” of the Act of Contrition.

Despite the somewhat old-fashioned language, which may even be misunderstood in some of its expressions, this prayer preserves all its relevance, both pastoral and theological. Besides, its author is the great St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, master of moral theology, a pastor close to the people and a man of great equilibrium, distant from both rigorism and laxism.

The Pope thus seems to offer his reflection on a version of the prayer that is included in the Rite of Penance (English translation below):

My God,
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong
and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy.

3 Aspects

The Pope centered his reflection on “repentance before God, trust in Him and the resolve not to relapse.”

About repentance, the Pope said that it is not the fruit of “self-analysis, nor of a psychic sense of guilt.”

Instead it “arises entirely from an awareness of our wretchedness in the face of God’s infinite love, His boundless mercy.”

This twofold experience moves the soul to ask for forgiveness with confidence.

“The sense of sin,” the Pope said, “is proportional precisely to the perception of God’s infinite love: The more we feel His tenderness, the more we desire to be in full communion with Him and the more the ugliness of evil in our life becomes apparent to us.”

And it is precisely this awareness, described as “repentance” or “contrition,” that prompts us to reflect on ourselves and our deeds, and to convert. Let us remember that God never tires of forgiving us, and on our part, let us never tire of asking for forgiveness!

Trust

Versions of the prayer describe God as “all good and deserving of all my love.”

“It is beautiful to hear, on the lips of a penitent, the acknowledgment of both God’s infinite goodness and His primacy, in one’s own life, of love for Him,” the Holy Father said.

This primacy “inspires every other love,” the Pope added, “because he who loves God, loves his brother (cf. I Jn 4: 19-21), and seeks his wellbeing, always, in justice and in peace.”

Resolve to sin no more

The Pope’s third reflection was about resolve. He cited the Catechism, which says:

1451 Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.”50

1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51

1453 The contrition called “imperfect” (or “attrition”) is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.

The Pope clarified that the words we say of our resolve “express an intention, not a promise.”

Indeed, none of us can promise to God to sin no more, and what is required to receive forgiveness is not a guarantee of impeccability, but a current resolve, made with a righteous intention at the moment of confession. Moreover, it is a commitment we always make with humility, as the words “with the help of Thy grace” emphasize.

The Holy Father referred to a saying of the patron of priests, St. John Vianney, who “used to repeat that ‘God forgives us even though He knows we will sin again.’ And besides, without His grace, no conversion would be possible, against any temptation of Pelagianism, old or new.”

Pelagianism is a heresy that considers that salvation and sanctity are achieved through man’s efforts and not God’s grace.

Mercy: a Synonym

“Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the prayer’s beautiful conclusion: ‘My God, have mercy,'” the Pope said.

“God” and “mercy” are like synonyms, and this is decisive! God is mercy (cf. 1 Jn 4:8), mercy is His name, His face. It is good for us to remember this, always: In every act of mercy, in every act of love, the face of God appears.

Tags:
ConfessionPope FrancisPrayer
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