Is this where we re-confess old sins to gain the benefit of the sacrament? Any guidance will be appreciated. Your question, it seems to me, can be summarized like this: How can I receive the graces of confession when I am not falling into obvious sin the kind I used to experience so often? This is a good question, because of a widespread bad habit. The bad habit is thinking that confession only exists for those times when we sin so grievously that we experience a spiritual earthquake.
Some Difficulties in the Practice of Frequent Confession and Communion
Without a doubt, this is the primary purpose of the sacrament — to open a way of reconciliation for a baptized Christian who has fallen into grave sin. But popes and spiritual writers in recent centuries have repeatedly and energetically encouraged all of us to practice frequent, regular confession. Every sacrament imparts its own particular grace.
The sacramental grace of confession is primarily the forgiveness of sins, but it is also, secondarily, the spiritual strengthening of the soul. This is why it is called a sacrament of healing. It heals reconciles our relationships with God and with the Church, which have been wounded or broken by personal sin, and at the same time strengthens those relationships. When we break a bone, the body will repair it with an extra dose of calcium, so that the bone is actually stronger at the break point after the healing than it was before the injury. Something similar happens with confession.
God pours out his strengthening grace in a special way on the aspects of our spiritual organism, so to speak, that we present to him in confession.
TODAY'S FRONT PAGES
Now you can understand why the devil works so hard to keep us away from frequent, regular confession. This sacrament, however, proffers even more benefits to the soul than the sacramental graces of forgiveness and strengthening. Making a good confession requires the arduous task of self-reflection. Ongoing self-examination is, all spiritual writers agree, a basic ingredient in spiritual progress. Going to confession is also like doing a major spiritual workout.
This sacrament is like a gymnasium of Christian virtue. Frequent and regular workouts therein will do wonders for our spiritual health. Now we can come to the nitty-gritty of your question. Any valid confession will inundate your soul with these benefits, and the more conscientiously you participate in the sacrament, the better your workout will be. To be valid, a confession needs both sincere repentance which includes the intention of fulfilling your assigned penance , and the actual confession of sin.
When we have obvious sins on our conscience, that it is easy. But as we grow in the spiritual life, the obvious sins tend to diminish. When that happens, we need to examine ourselves more carefully to uncover the hidden attitudes, judgments, and intentions that are still self-centered and not Christ-centered. This is an excellent topic to discuss in spiritual direction.
Freed Russian man caught up in protests: ‘I had nothing to confess’
Yet sometimes we identify failings that were not willful; we just fell into them out of weakness or lack of reflection. A good example of this is internally judging and criticizing other people. It is an injustice, but it stems from deep-seeded selfish tendencies, not willful lack of charity unless we keep doing it even after we notice we were doing it. Third, we must consent completely to it.
We might think about this like the difference between manslaughter and murder. If we're driving down the road and someone runs out in front of our car, we obviously have not intended his death nor given our consent to it if we can't stop in time to avoid hitting and killing him. If, however, we are angry at our boss, have fantasies about running him over, and then, given the opportunity to do so, put such a plan into action, that would be murder.
So are mortal sins always big and obvious? Not necessarily. Take pornography, for instance. If we're surfing the web and inadvertently run across a pornographic image, we might pause for a second to look at it.
If we then come to our senses, realize we shouldn't be looking at such material, and close the web browser or better yet, leave the computer , our brief dalliance with pornography may be a venial sin. We hadn't intended to view such an image, and we didn't give the full consent of our will to the act. If, however, we keep thinking about such images and decide to return to the computer and search for them, we're headed into the domain of mortal sin.
And the effect of mortal sin is to remove sanctifying grace —the life of God within us—from our soul. Without sanctifying grace, we cannot enter Heaven, which is why this sin is called mortal. So, what does this all mean in practice? If you want to receive Communion, do you always have to go to Confession first?
The short answer is no—so long as you're only conscious of having committed venial sins. There are variations on the Penitential Rite that don't use the Confiteor, but in each, at the end of the rite, the priest offers a general absolution, saying, "May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.
This absolution frees us from the guilt of venial sin; it cannot, however, free us from the guilt of mortal sin. If we are conscious of mortal sin, then we must receive the Sacrament of Confession. Until we have done so, we must refrain from receiving Communion. Indeed, to receive Communion while conscious of having committed a mortal sin is to receive Communion unworthily—which is another mortal sin. As Saint Paul 1 Corinthians tells us, "Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.