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Dear Father Angelo,

I am asking you this question starting from my own experience. I confess regularly, at least twice per month. I do it so that I can examine my conscience, prevent sin from spreading into my soul, and to strengthen my relationship with the Lord by living in his grace and communicating worthily. However, it often happens that the confession becomes something mechanical, lacking proper repentance. I therefore wonder if, in these cases, I make the sacrament vain.

In Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1128, it’s written: “This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister”. (CCC, 1128). This comforts me, because I understand that, in the case of the sacrament of reconciliation, God’s mercy goes beyond my ability to confess/repent more or less well. 

Then it’s said: “Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them” (CCC, 1128). I know that every soul can be in a state of perfect or imperfect contrition, with all that that entails. However, sometimes I feel that my contrition is a little too imperfect, and is based solely on the need for confession of the sin itself.

My question is: how can these two statements, that the sacrament acts ex opere operato, and that the fruits of the sacrament depend [however] on the disposition of our soul, be both valid at the same time?

How can I improve the sense of contrition and of repentance, so that I can make a good confession?

I thank you,



Dear Anna,

1. First of all, I am pleased to read that you confess regularly. You decided to confess on a biweekly basis: this is a good timing for many reasons: to keep your soul always free from sin; to eradicate the disordered inclinations inherited with original sin; to receive strength and a new increase of grace or sanctification. 

2. Regarding your concern: every sacrament communicates its effect ex opere operato. It means that it does it without mistakes, because Jesus Christ is the only one who celebrates it, even if through his ministers. The effect of the sacrament would be infallibly communicated, even if the priest (may it never happen!) were in a state of mortal sin.

3. But the grace infused through the sacrament can be received more or less abundantly according to the disposition of the subject. If you go to confession with a feeling of great repentance and with a strong desire to change your life, grace finds a more willing ground in you. The same happens when you open a window to let the sunshine in. The sun infallibly illuminates, but you’ll receive more light and warmth if the window is wide open and without curtains.

4. You told me that you sometimes go to confession without fervor, feeling little to no pain for your sins. You might like to know that it is not required to feel sensitive sorrow. What is required is spiritual sorrow, which consists in the repudiation of the sin, and the firm intention not to commit it again.

5. Blessed Giacinto Cormier, Master General of the Dominican Order, wrote: “In order to have a good contrition, we will ask God for it with much humility and confidence, and then, helped by his grace, we will try to kindle it in our souls.
For this it will be useful to consider:
1°. The main reasons that induce in us the love of God; thus, for example, His sovereign goodness, His immense love, His inestimable benefits, the cruel passion that Jesus endured for our health.
2°. The horrible insult that sin does to God by offending and dishonouring him for a small pleasure, for a miserable creature, for a puerile interest, for a vain human respect, for a malicious thought, a bad desire, etc.
3°. What we lose through sin, namely: God, his grace, charity with the virtues that accompany it, the right to the kingdom of heaven, the consolations of the Holy Spirit; whereas instead we become slaves of the devil and deserve hell for all eternity” (Hyacinth Mary Cormier, Meditations, p. 67).

Therefore, as Blessed Cormier said, before going to confession, recite a Hail Mary begging Our Lady to obtain for you from God true and heartfelt contrition.

I wish all the best, I remember you to the Lord and I bless you.

Padre Angelo

Translated by Giulia Leo

Translated by Giulia Leo
Proof edited by Sara Bellei