Act of Contrition is affirmation of God’s loving mercy, pope says

A clergyman hears Pope Francis' confession during a Lenten penance service March 9 in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A Christian’s awareness of being sinful should be directly proportional to their “perception of the infinite love of God,” Pope Francis said.

“The more we sense God’s tenderness, the more we desire to be in full communion with him and the more evident the ugliness of evil in our lives becomes,” the pope said in a speech written for priests and seminarians attending a course on confession offered by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican tribunal that deals with matters of conscience.

Priests whose main ministry is hearing confessions in the major basilicas of Rome also attended the audience March 8. The pope’s text, which he did not read but was distributed to participants, focused on the Act of Contrition, the prayer that penitents recite during the sacrament of reconciliation.

The awareness of God’s love and mercy, the pope wrote, “pushes us to reflect on ourselves and our actions, and to convert.”

“Let’s remember that God never tires of forgiving us and that we should never tire of asking him for pardon,” he said.

Pope Francis wrote that “it is beautiful” when a penitent, reciting the Act of Contrition, recognizes that God is “all good and deserving of all my love.”

The prayer means that the penitent promises to put God at the center of everything, making God “the foundation of every order of values, entrusting everything to Him,” the pope wrote. And making love for God first also means loving the people and the planet God created, always seeking what is best for them.

Making their act of contrition, penitents also say, “I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.”

“These words express an intention, not a promise,” Pope Francis wrote.

“None of us can promise God not to sin again,” he said, so “what is required to receive forgiveness is not a guarantee of impeccability, but a real resolution, made with righteous intention at the moment of one’s confession. Moreover, it is a commitment we always make with humility, as the words — ‘with the help of thy grace’ — emphasize.”

In confessing and seeking forgiveness, the pope wrote, penitents recognize that “God is mercy; mercy is his name, his face. It’s good for us to always remember that in every act of mercy, in every act of love, the face of God shines through.”

The ministry of a priest in the confessional “is beautiful and crucial because it allows you to help so many brothers and sisters experience the sweetness of God’s love,” he wrote to the priests and seminarians. “So, I encourage you to live every confession as a unique and unrepeatable moment of grace and to generously give the Lord’s forgiveness with courtesy, paternity and, dare I say, with maternal tenderness.”

Pope Francis also asked them to pray and help prepare people so that the celebration of the Holy Year 2025 “will see the Father’s mercy flourish in many hearts and in many places so that God would be always more loved, recognized and praised.”


Act of contrition

O my God,
I am heartily sorry 
for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments,
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
who is all good and worthy of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace
to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.


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