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Instructions and Devotions for
On the Sacrament of Penance. PENANCE is a sacrament instituted by Christ, in which, by the ministry of the Priest, actual sins are remitted, and the conscience is released from all bonds by which it may be bound. In this sacrament, also, the eternal punishment due to sin is remitted, and part or the whole of the temporal punishment, according to the disposition of the penitent.
Hence we see the great necessity of this sacrament; and the Council of Trent has decreed, that it is not less necessary for salvation to those who have fallen into mortal sin after baptism, than baptism to those who have never been baptised. And although penance may, at first sight, and in itself, seem to be a bitter and painful thing, yet, viewed in its fruits and consequences, it is full of consolation; and every Christian, as soon as he is conscious that he has fallen into a mortal sin, ought at once to have recourse to this fount of divine mercy.
The evil consequences of delay are manifold. 1. In a state of mortal sin, every other mortal sin committed becomes more aggravated in its character. 2. The commission of one mortal sin makes a second easier, and this leads to a third, and so on. 3. In a state of mortal sin, a man loses the value of all the good works that he may do. They avail nothing for everlasting life. Neither alms, nor prayers, nor fasts, nor even martyrdom itself, can profit a man, if he has not repented of his sins. 4. Sin, continued in, shuts by degrees the door of divine mercy, until at last scarce any hope is left of obtaining pardon from God. Lastly. Just as the longer a stain remains upon a garment, the more difficult it is to remove, and the longer we neglect to cleanse our chambers or our persons the more defiled they become; so the
longer the soul neglects to purge itself by confession, the more difficult the work becomes, and the more intricate, on account of the number of sins and anxiety of mind, until at last even an experienced confessor may be unable to extricate the soul from its miserable state ; and thus the worm of conscience is begotten and nourished, which, though it may not be felt in life, will assuredly sting cruelly in the hour of death, and much more in that place where the worm never dieth, and the fire is not quenched.
The Parts of Penance. It is not necessary here to enter at any length upon the parts of penance. It will be sufficient to mention that they are three-contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which are absolutely necessary for the perfection of the sacrament and for salvation.
True contrition consists in a hearty sorrow and detestation of our sins, because by them we have offended God, whom we ought to love above all things. To this sorrow must be joined a firm purpose of amendment of life, and of never wilfully sinning again.
In order that confession may be valid, it must be, 1. entire; that is, all mortal sins, as to their number and character, must be laid open to the priest ; 2. faithful, that is, true and sincere ; 3. diligent, that is, it must be preceded by due diligence and care in the examination of conscience ; 4. obedient, that is, the penitent must fully intend to obey whatever the priest commands him. By satisfaction is meant the performance of the penance enjoined by the priest, as well as other penitential works, which we may do in satisfaction for the sins which we have committed ; and which works are of three kinds, prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, or other corporeal austerities.
Causes which render Confession invalid. 1. When any mortal sin is omitted wilfully, from shame or any other motive.
2. When a falsehood is told in confession concerning any mortal sin, known to be mortal.
3. When any mortal sin is forgotten, which might have been remembered with proper diligence in self-examination.
4. When there is not a full purpose of abandoning sin, and avoiding all dangerous occasions of sin.
5. When the penitent is under any sentence of excommunication, and has not been absolved from it previously to confession.
6. When the penitent, having sins of some consequence to confess, deliberately chooses a young or unskilful confessor, who is not experienced in cases of conscience.
Prayer before Examination of Conscience. O most merciful God, I give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy mercies unto me, and, particularly at this time, for thy forbearance and longsuffering with me, notwithstanding my many and grieyous sins. It is of thy great mercy that I have not fallen into greater and more grievous sins than those which I have committed, and that I have not been cut off and cast into hell. O my God, although I have been so ungrateful to thee in times past, yet now, I beseech thee to accept me returning to thee with an earnest desire to repent, and devote myself to thee, my Lord and any God, and to praise thy holy Name for ever.
Enlighten me, O God, for thou knowest all my ways and observest all my footsteps. Come, thou true light, and dispel the darkness of my heart, that I may see what in me is displeasing unto thee, and that with a contrite heart I may bewail my sins, rightly confess them, and effectually forsake and amend them.
Receive my confession, and spare me, O most gracious Lord Jesus Christ, whom I, an unworthy sinner, am not worthy to name, because I have so often offended thee through my fault, through my own fault, through my own most grievous fault. Behold, O God, I humbly bow my knees before thee. I blush and am confounded, and am ashamed to lift up my face unto thee; for my iniquities are multiplied, and as a heavy burden oppress me. But thou, O most merciful Jesus, be merciful unto me a sinner. Rebuke me not in thine anger, and cast me not away from thy face, O good Jesus, who hast said that thou willest not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. Receive me, I beseech thee, returning to thee with a penitent and contrite heart. Thou art my Saviour and my God; I am thy servant, although a wicked one, and a most unworthy sinner. Spare me, O most kind Jesus, who didst die upon the cross that thou mightest save sinners. To whom shall I fee but unto thee, my only hope and my salvation? If thou dost reject me, who will receive me? To whom shall I look for assistance ? Who will heal my iniquities? Have mercy upon me, O most gracious Lord, and despise not the humble and contrite heart of thy servant. Grant me, I beseech, thee, perfect contrition for my sins, that I may detest them with the deepest sorrow of heart. Send forth thy light into my soul, and discover to me all those sins which I ought to confess at this time.
Assist me by thy grace, that I may be able to declare them to the priest thy vicar, fully, humbly, and with a contrite heart, and so obtain perfect remission of them all through thine infinite goodness. Amen.
O most gracious Virgin Mary, beloved Mother of Jesus Christ my Redeemer, intercede for me to him. Obtain for me the full remission of my sins, and perfect amendment of life, to the salvation of my soul, and the glory of his name. Amen.
I'implore the same grace of thee, O my angel guardian ; of you, my holy patrons N. N.; of you, O holy Peter and holy Magdalen, and of all the saints of God. Intercede for me a sinner, repenting of my sins, and resolving to confess and amend them. Amen.
An Eramination of Conscience for those who confess their
Sins regularly and frequently, according to the threefold duty we owe to God, to our Neighbour, and to ourselves.
I. IN RELATION TO GOD. 1. Have you omitted morning or evening prayer, or neglected to make your daily examination of conscience ? Have you prayed negligently, and with wilful distractions ? 2. Have you spent your time, especially on Sundays and holidays, not in sluggishly lying a-bed, or in any sort of idle entertainment, but in reading, praying, or other pious exercises; and taken care that those under your charge have done the like, and not wanted the instructions necessary for their condition, nor time for prayer, or to prepare for the sacraments? 3. Have you spoken irreverently of God and holy things? Have you taken his name in vain, or told untruths ? 4. Have you omitted your duty through human respect, interest, compliance, &c. ? 5. Have you been zealous for God's honour, for justice, virtue, and truth, and reproved such as act otherwise ? 6. Have you resigned your will to God in troubles, necessities, sickness, &c. ? Have you faithfully resisted thoughts of infidelity, distrust, presumption, impurity, &c. ?
II. IN RELATION TO YOUR NEIGHBOUR. 1. Have you disobeyed your superiors, murmured against their commands, or spoken of them contemptuously? 2. Have you been troubled, peevish, or impatient, when told of your faults, and not corrected them ? Have you scorned the good advice of others, or censured their proceedings ? 3. Have you offended any one by injurious threatening words or actions ? 4. Or lessened their reputation by any sort of detraction, or in any matter of importance ? 5. Or spread any report, true or false, that exposed your neighbour to contempt, or made him undervalued ? 6. Have you, by carrying stories backward and forward, created discord and misunderstanding between neighbours ? 7. Have you been froward or peevish towards any one in your carriage, speech, or conversation ? 8. Or taken pleasure to vex, mortify, or provoke them to swear, curse, or any ways offend God ? 9. Have you mocked or reproached them for their corporal or spiritual imperfections ? 10. Have you been excessive in reprehending those under your care, or been wanting in giving them just reproof? 11. Have you borne with their oversights and imperfections, and given them good counsel ? 12. Have you been solicitous for such as are under your charge ; and provided for their souls and bodies ?
III. IN RELATION TO YOURSELF. 1. Have you been obstinate in following your own will, or in defending your own opinion in things either indifferent,