Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
General Confession
by Fr. Johann Evangelist Zollner, 1883

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"Go, show yourselves to the priests."--Luke, 17: 14.

In the Old Testament, all lepers who had been cleansed from leprosy, either in a natural way or by a miracle, were to be examined by the priests, whose duty it was to declare them clean. Before this declaration had been made they were considered unclean, and were obliged to abstain from all intercourse with the healthy. In the New Testament, all Christians who are contaminated with the spiritual leprosy of sin, must show themselves to the priests, that is, they must confess to them their sins, that they may not only be declared clean, but that they may be really cleansed; for sacramental confession is the means ordained by Christ for the remission of sins. We may distinguish confession as ordinary and extraordinary. The ordinary confession consists in accusing ourselves of the sins committed since our last confession; the extraordinary confession is that which extends itself over the sins of the whole life, or of a great part of it. As this extraordinary or general confession is very important, eternal salvation even sometimes depending upon it, I shall speak of it today, and answer the three following questions:

I. To whom is a general confession necessary?
II. To whom it is useful?
III. When is a general confession necessary?

Part I. To Whom Is A General Confession Necessary?

A general confession is necessary whenever the previous confessions were invalid; for invalid confessions cannot be rectified and amended in any other way than by a repetition of them, i.e., by a new confession of the sins already confessed. There are six classes to whom a general confession is necessary for salvation.

1. The first class comprises those who through shame or fear conceal a sin which they know to be mortal, or in regard to the mortal character of which they entertain at least grave doubts. Every confession in which a mortal sin is knowingly and wilfully concealed is invalid. The same holds good of confessions in which the number of mortal sins is not truthfully given, or purposely diminished, or in which essential circumstances which change the nature of sin are left out. He who, for instance, says that he committed the vice of impurity three times, knowing that he committed it oftener, confesses invalidly. If a married person has sinned carnally with a single person, and does not add that he or she is married, his or her confession is also invalid, provided he or she purposely conceals this circumstance. All those who have concealed anything that should have been confessed, have confessed invalidly; and if they wish to save their souls, nothing remains but that they repeat their confessions, i.e., make a general confession.

2. The second class comprises those who leave out mortal sins or aggravating circumstances, or such as change the kind of sin; because they either do not examine their conscience at all, or examine it only superficially. Every penitent must diligently examine his conscience and spend as much time in the examination as is required for the knowledge of the sins committed, together with their number and circumstances. He who on account of a totally neglected or very careless examination of conscience does not perceive what he is bound to confess, and therefore does not confess it, receives the Sacrament of Penance sacrilegiously, and his confession is as invalid as if he had knowingly concealed some sin. For this reason all those who confess only once a year are in danger of making sacrilegious confessions. As they mostly live in thoughtlessness and forgetfulness of salvation, they ought, in order to overlook nothing, to examine their conscience very carefully, but this they frequently neglect; they think only superficially and hastily of their sins; and the whole business of the examination of conscience is done in a few minutes. How is it possible in such a way to come to the knowledge of all the sins which a man has committed in the space of a year? Hence it is that many confessions are invalid from the want of a proper examination of conscience. Now all these invalid confessions must be repeated and rectified by a general confession.

3. The third class comprises those who at confession have no true contrition for their sins. Most of the invalid confessions that are made, are perhaps so made from the want of contrition. How many are there who are not sorry at all for having offended God! They confess from habit; they do not detest their sins in the least, nor do they change the disposition of their mind. How many are there whose contrition is not universal! They are infected with certain favorite sins, to which they cling with all their soul, and from which they will not detach themselves. How many are there whose contrition is not supernatural! They are not grieved on account of their sins, but on account of temporal loss, temporal shame and punishment. All these confess invalidly, because they lack true contrition; and they must repair these bad confessions by a general confession.

4. The fourth class comprises those who make no firm resolution of amendment. This resolution is a necessary consequence of contrition, and is therefore absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of sin. He who is not resolved not to offend God, at least by mortal sin, confesses invalidly. And from the want of this firm resolution many invalid confessions are made. If you never show an amendment of life; if shortly after confession you fall back into your former vices of unchaste conversation, of fornication, of drunkenness, of cursing and swearing, it is most assuredly a sign of a want of a firm purpose of amendment.

5. The fifth class comprises those who after confession are not willing to shun the proximate occasion of sin, which they could shun, and who did not employ the necessary means of amendment. Contrition and an earnest resolution are most assuredly wanting to such penitents; for if they really hate and detest their sins and are willing to amend their lives, they will gladly make use of the means which are required for that amendment, and which are a preventive against relapse. Those who by experience know that whenever they enter a saloon they become intoxicated, and who yet continue to frequent them; also those who fall repeatedly into sin with a person of the opposite sex, and yet continue to live under the same roof; those who make no use of the remedies prescribed by their confessor as absolutely necessary for an amendment of life, confess invalidly, and can find grace with God only by a general confession and amendment of life.

6. The sixth class comprises those who make no restitution of ill-gotten goods, nor repair damages inflicted on others, who practice injustices and impositions in business transactions, and continue them after confession; and lastly, all those who, living in enmity, refuse to be reconciled with their neighbor.

Now examine your conscience and see if you do not find sufficient reason to doubt the validity of some of your former confessions, from failure to comply with the conditions necessary for the forgiveness of sin. If you do, go, show yourselves to the priests, and make a general confession.

Part II. To whom it is useful?

A general confession is useful and advisable to all those who have never made one. This is a rule admitting of few exceptions.

1. General confession is one of the principal means to obtain a true knowledge of the state of your soul. "If you set a forest on fire on all sides," says Blessed Leonard of Port Maurice, "you will be surprised at seeing how great a multitude of wild beasts, wolves, bears and foxes were hidden in its coverts." You witness a similar effect when you make a general confession, by which you set your conscience on fire on all sides. How great may appear the multitude of sins concealed from you heretofore! Many Christians who resolved to make a general confession only as an act of devotion, avow after its performance that they discovered sins and causes of uneasiness of which they had never thought before.

2. By general confession our heart becomes more contrite. In an ordinary confession our contrition is seldom very profound, because we do not know ourselves to be guilty of many and grievous sins. But it is different in a general confession. We see all the wild beasts of our sins, the monsters of our own soul, on the path of our past life, from our childhood to this day. This bewildering sight urges us to sigh with King Esdras: "My God, I am confounded, and ashamed to lift up my face to thee; for our iniquities are multiplied over our heads; and our sins are grown up even unto heaven (1 Esdras, 9: .6)." But the greater our contrition, the greater is our certainty of a worthy reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the more abundant the sacramental graces, so that we may obtain even the release of all or nearly all the temporal punishment due to our past sins.

3. The result of a general confession is also that we make firmer purposes of amendment than is the case in ordinary confessions. He who once resolves to make a general confession, has also the earnest will to amend his life and from henceforth to be solicitous for the salvation of his soul. This resolution is still more increased when, in the course of the general confession, we come to a clear knowledge of our sins and see how often and how grievously we have offended God; how ungrateful we have been to him for all his graces and benefits; and in what peril our salvation has been. And if then we receive the priest's absolution of all the sins of our past life, shall not this be a motive for us to remain faithful to our promises?

History and experience prove that a general confession is one of the most effectual means for a thorough and permanent change of life. How many sinners who confessed for years and always relapsed into their former sins, have amended their life after a general confession! And how many of them have by their penitential fervor reached a high degree of holiness! Even some of them, who after a general confession relapsed, rose again from their fall, for conscience gave them no peace till they resolved by a sincere confession to be reconciled again with God. Hence it is that most penitents date their conversion from the time of their general confession.

4. From this it follows that a general confession is the source of great inward peace. William, Duke of Aquitaine, after he had made his general confession to St. Bernard, felt a sweet peace and heavenly joy, such as he had never before experienced in the midst of all the joys and pleasures of the world. In like manner does every sinner, in consequence of a sincere general confession, experience the delight of heart which King David felt when he exclaimed: ''How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. Better is one day in thy courts above thousands in the pleasures of the world (Ps. 83: 2-11)."

5. Finally, by a general confession the salvation of our soul is made more secure. Suppose that you have not been careless in your former confessions, as many lukewarm Christians are, you do not know whether you have every time complied with the conditions which are required for a valid confession. At all events, it might be possible that in some of your former confessions you may not have sufficiently examined your conscience, may have had no true contrition with a firm purpose of amendment, or may have concealed something which you were bound to confess. In such a case you have confessed invalidly, and therefore all your subsequent confessions have been invalid. Do you not then act more securely when you make a general confession? Would it not be criminal negligence for you to neglect the many opportunities which are afforded you for making a general confession, and without such a confession to pass into eternity? The solicitude to secure their salvation as much as possible and to die quietly is one, of the principal motives why all good Christians make a general confession. A general confession, therefore, is necessary and advisable to all Christians who have never made one.

Part III. When is a general confession necessary?

1. It is necessary for every one who earnestly resolves to amend his life. Without such a resolution no confession is valid, whether it be an ordinary or a general confession. He who makes a general confession must be determined at any cost to shun evil inclinations, to put off sinful habits, and to lead a penitential life, because otherwise the general confession would be invalid. Every sinner has days and hours in which he deeply feels the misery of his sins and is urged to put an end to this misery. These are days and hours of grace, which God gives to man to save his soul. The sinner must make good use of these times of grace; for if he permits them to pass by without a thorough confession, he runs the risk of dying impenitently and of being delivered to eternal perdition.

2. When one changes his state of life; especially those who enter into matrimony. Most young people do not comply with the duties of this state as they ought; they live heedlessly, yield to many excesses, and confess often invalidly for the want of contrition or resolution or sincerity. How ill would it be with them if they should enter into matrimony without a general confession! They would begin that state with a triple sacrilege, therefore not with God, but with the devil. What can be expected from such a matrimony? How can it be expected of such married people to live contentedly and happily together, fulfil their duties and endeavor with their children to increase the number of the elect? It is therefore necessary for all those who enter into the nuptial state, to make a general confession before they receive the Sacrament of Matrimony.

3. When one retires from business to rest. Many Christians in their business life think little of God and the salvation of their souls; they accommodate themselves to the principles of the world, and burden their conscience with many sins; what can be more advisable on retiring from active business life than to make a general confession, in order to set the affairs of their conscience in order, and to devote the time of rest to the atonement of their sins and to the preparation for a good death?

4. At the time of a mission or a Jubilee. At such a time many spiritual exercises are performed; the word of God is preached frequently and forcibly and the faithful are earnestly exhorted to renew themselves in spirit and to bring forth fruits worthy of penance. The confessors have at the time of a Jubilee or mission greater faculties than at other times; they can especially absolve from all cases reserved to the Pope, with only a few exceptions. Moreover, God imparts at such times greater graces to sinners, often even extraordinary graces, which he is not wont to give at other times. What important reasons then have all who never made a general confession, to make it and to set the business of their salvation in order. He who suffers such times of grace to pass without profiting by them exposes himself to the danger of persevering in sin and of dying a bad death. This is corroborated by history and experience.

5. Finally at the hour of death. It is assuredly not wise to defer the general confession to the death-bed, for no one knows whether he will then be able to confess. Death may overtake him suddenly, or he may lose his senses and speech, when confession becomes impossible. Christians who are solicitous for the salvation of their soul do not defer their general confession to their death-bed. If it should, however, be the case that one never made a general confession in his life, he should do it at least on his death-bed, for, as already remarked, no one should go out of this world without having made a general confession.


After having explained to you why a general confession is necessary, useful and advisable, and at what times such a confession should be made, I conclude my instruction with a history of a certain nobleman who, in his youth lived a careless life, but having entered into himself, made a spiritual retreat and a very good general confession after it. After this confession he experienced sweet peace and heavenly joy; and as often as he thought of it, tears of joy trickled down his cheeks. Coming to his death-bed after a few years, he said to those who stood around his bed: "I would have perished eternally if I had not made a general confession. When I think of that confession, it appears to me to be a letter of introduction into heaven." A quarter of an hour before he died he requested one of the attendants to read for him the good resolutions which he had made at his general confession and which he had written down. At the reading of each of these resolutions joy beamed from his face, for he had faithfully kept them, and thus he died with all the signs of a good death. Go and do likewise; make a good general confession, keep the promises and resolutions which you make, serve God with fidelity, and you will die well and be saved. Amen.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre

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