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How Does Forgiveness Work in the Catholic Church

Updated on June 18, 2012

Three Aspects of Catholicism With a Role in Forgiveness

  • Prayer
  • Mass
  • Sacraments

"I am sorry!"

"Please forgive me."

Forgiveness in the Catholic Church is complicated and yet, simple.

Two Types Of Sin: Venial and Mortal

To understand how the Church handles forgiveness, you must first understand how the Church defines sin.

Catholic Essentials defines sin as:

Venial sin: An offense against the law of God less grievous than mortal sin, not depriving the soul of sanctifying grace. “

Mortal sin: A mortal sin is a transgression of the moral law in a serious matter, committed with clear advertence to the grievous nature of the act and with full deliberation and consent on the part of the will.

Venial sins can be forgiven during prayer, mass and communion.

Mortal sins require confession.

Praying As A Family

Praying As A Family
Praying As A Family | Source

Bedtime Prayers

I was born, raised and educated in the Catholic Church. Growing up, the television was turned off; we knelt as a family and said our bedtime prayers. We started with the sign of the cross and went straight into the Act of Contrition.

Personal Prayer

Personal Prayer
Personal Prayer | Source

Act of Contrition

O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.

We learned a less formal version in grade school, but I could recite the formal version by heart as early as I can remember. It was in school that I finally understood what I was saying.

After the Act of Contrition, we continued with the Angel of God and then blessed my entire family by name.

I asked for forgiveness every night before I went to bed.

Forgiveness in Prayer

Besides The Act of Contrition, you can ask for forgiveness within your own prayers. There are four components to a good prayer: Adoration or Love, Thanksgiving, Contrition, Petition. In home and at school, I learned how to pray. I praised God first. I thanked him next. I said that I was sorry. Then I asked for something if I needed it.

Contrition or saying you are sorry has always been a key component of my daily prayers.

Communion Provides Forgiveness

Communion Provides Forgiveness
Communion Provides Forgiveness | Source

Forgiveness During Mass

Before mass begins, Catholics kneels and pray. Prayers of contrition are common during this time.

We begin mass with the Entrance Procession, the Greeting Rite and then the Penitential Rite. During the Penitential Rite, the congregation asks for God's forgiveness.

After the consecration or when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, we receive Communion. Communion can only be received by those without mortal sin. In addition to nourishing your body, communion absolves venial sins.

Following Communion is another silence or prayer time. This is another opportunity to say your own prayers, including any or all of the four components of prayer.

Going to mass is more than gathering as a community to worship. it is another opportunity for forgiveness.

Forgiveness In The Sacaments

There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. Four have relationships with forgiveness. Only the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance can absolve mortal sins.

Sacraments and Forgiveness

Age of Receipt
Role In Forgiveness
How Many Times Sacrament Can Be Received
Infant or older
Catholics believe that Baptism washes away original sin brought to the Earth by Adam and Eve. This is our first forgiveness from God.
Only once
Approximately age 8 or older
Forgiveness is granted via absolution by a priest. Sins are confessed and forgiven. Penance and extra prayers are assigned. Both Mortal and Venial sins are forgiven.
More than once
Holy Communion/Eucharist
Approximately age 8 or older
You must be free from mortal sins to receive communion. Communion will absolve venial sins.
More than once, often weekly
Annointing of the Sick/Last Rites
At at time deemed necessary in life
If Penance was unable to be received prior to Annointing of the Sick, this sacrament will absolve sins.
More than once
There are four Sacraments which aid in the forgiveness of sins. Three can be received more than once.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit | Source

Critcism Regarding Forgiveness in The Catholic Church

Forgiveness can be granted during a direct relationship and conversation with God. The priest's role in forgiveness has been questioned. Only God can forgive sins. At the end of a confession, the priest states, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?" How can a priest forgive sins?

Catholics agree that only God can forgive sins. Catholics believe that Jesus is God and has the power to forgive. Jesus was once human and a high priest on Earth. He gave his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit. clarifies the statement, " 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you'... Jesus is giving his apostles the same authority that he received from his Father." He has granted this followers the ability to forgive sins on his behalf. further explains, "A priest’s authority to convey forgiveness does not come from himself. It comes from Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest stands in the place of Christ to declare the sinner forgiven. That is why the formula of absolution uses the pronoun I. The I is Christ speaking through the human priest."

Books About Forgiveness in the Catholic Church

Personal Views On Forgiveness

I ask for forgiveness during my personal prayers. I attend mass weekly and participate in the Penitential Rite. I receive Communion once a week to absolve venial sins. Reconciliation involves telling a priest your sins and asking for forgiveness.

Despite the controversy surrounding this topic, there is a deeper sense of peace and calm after receiving Reconciliation. The ability to admit our faults aloud is more powerful than one might expect. After my first Reconciliation, I recall feeling physically lighter. My slate was clean.

There are many options available for forgiveness in the Catholic Church. This may appear complicated. However, the simplicity lies in admitting fault and saying you are sorry.

"I am sorry and please forgive me" are powerful and simple words.

© 2012 Karen Lackey


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    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      1stcitizen, I truly appreciate your time to read and comment!

    • lstCitizen profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you twinstimes2 for your wonderful hub on sin and forgiveness from a truely Catholic perspective.

      Dave Matthews, twinstimes' explaination of sin and forgiveness is in line with Catholic doctrine. Yours is not. I suggest you consult the Catechism to resolve your misunderstandings. Here's a link for you:

      Dave, you are free to accept or reject Catholic doctrines, but understand that when you do reject them, you are being Protestant, not Catholic. Your post is full of "I say... I say...". You do not have the authority to say. That authority was granted to the Church by Jesus himself. Jesus gave Peter the "keys" and the authority to "bind and loose" (MT 16: 18-19). You may not want to hear this, but priests do need to hear our sins, and by apostolic succession and acting on Jesus' behalf, priests do have the power to loose AND bind. Do you really think we can "trick" God by avoiding a priest and thereby make sure there is no chance that our sins might be bound? Really?

      I hope you continue to attend Mass but you should NOT be receiving the holy Eucharist while at the same time advocating your own personal ideas which, are neither Catholic nor scriptural.

      It is hard to be Catholic. I am a sinner too and I thank God that He's given us the sacraments. They are precious gifts and Dave, we ought not dismiss them so readily.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks, KrystalD for your kind words as well!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share comments, Agnes!

    • KrystalD profile image


      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Who knew this hub would bring out such strong opinions ;)

      I enjoyed your hub. You really made it both personal and informative and that'snot always easy to balance. Nicely done :)

    • Agnes Penn profile image

      Maria del Pilar Perez 

      6 years ago from Nicholson, Pennsylvania, USA

      Straightforward, yet personal, the hub expresses the tenets of the Church well and our participation in a relationship between Heaven and earth that should be fought for and amended - best if through the treasures of the Church.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      I understand that you are associated with the Church. I also understand that you have strong opinions regarding your faith. I am commending your strong faith. I think that is admirable. I have not missed your points! :)

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      twinstimes: What you don't seem to get is that I am and I have been for 64 years now, in association as a Christian, in the Roman Catholic Church.

      I am a Christian first and foremost, but I attend church weekly in the Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, I also sing with two Catholic Church choirs.

      The difference between me and a Catholic is that I as a Christian, refuse to blindly believe and accept all of the dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church, and its rites and rituals, based on faith alone.

      Jesus WILL separate the sheep from the goats. Only the true followers of Christ and Christianity will be recognised and welcomed. "Many will cryout in the last days, Lord Lord, and I will tell them I know you not."

      If it is not soundly based in Holy Bible Scripture, then it is not of God, therefore it is wrongful teachings by the church.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Interesting comments and I appreciate you taking the time to share them with me, Dave. You are clearly strong in your faith and beliefs and I think thatis wonderful!

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      twinstimes: Thank you for this hub. Some of it I agree with, some not.

      First of all; Sin is sin. There is no such thing as a little sin, a little "White lie" in God's eyes, sin is sin. For instance, if you go to the grocery store and you decide to sample a grape, or a berry, or a candy or anything, if you do not admit to sampling and offer to pay for it, guess what you stole, that's a violation of the Ten Commandments. Or, if you tell your mate or a friend how great they look, when it is obvious something is wrong or off, that is a violation of the God's commandment to not bear false witness. That's just two examples and there are millions more if we stop and think about it just a little.

      Let's take a brief look at repentance now. Forgiveness of one's sin, is solely between the sinner and Jesus, as Jesus is the only one capable of forgiving sin.It is one thing to admit to a sin to God. If it was a sin against another, do you admit it to them? Do you ask their forgiveness? Or, do you simply include it in your daily prayers. If you do not admit it to the person, how can they forgive you? How can Jesus forgive you, if you have not confessed to the person and asked their forgiveness first. If their happens to be some kind of financial involvement involved with the sin, do you willingly offer to manke financial restitution? If you answer to either of these questions in "No" how can you expect to receive Jesus forgiveness. Part of Jesus forgiving us our sins is based upon true repentance and how can you have true repentance if there is no restitution?

      You say that receiving communion absolves venial or a lesser sin. I say sin is sin and one must not receive communion with any kind of guilt from sin. Sin is still sin in the eyes of God. It is not up to any priest, or any man to determine our state of grace from God.

      In your chart of sacraments, you state an age of infant or older for baptism. Baptism should only be received by a person who is old enough to willingly commit to it and willingly and knowledgably be able to understand and answer of their own free accord the questions asked during the baptism ceremony.

      For penance, the chart states that it is granted through the priest. I say it is granted through Jesus Christ, and no priest is required. It is true that Jesus gave and granted the right for the apostles to hear confession from people, but only Jesus has the power of forgiveness for sin. Furthermore, any of the sacraments issued by God either thru Jesus or thru the holy spirit, we as disciples and apostles of Jesus must also be in receipt of such as baptism. Baptism is a part of Jesus Grand commission to go forth to all inhabitiants preaching the gospel of christ and baptising. How about receiving Communion, we receive communion daily, is it only the apostles that are to do this?

      Lastly in your closing you state that you receive communion for the forgiveness of venial sin. I say you cannot be in sin and receive communion. I receive communion because as a true Christian a true follower of Christ Jesus, I am ordered, commanded to receive communion as often as communion is served.


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