Why we pray an act of contrition

Editor’s note: During Lent, many of us choose to go to confession (the sacrament of reconciliation). But, it may have been a while since your last visit. It may seem a bit daunting. And there are questions: “Why do I have to go, doesn’t God already know?” “How can I confess that face to face? The priest knows me.” Even people who receive the sacrament regularly have questions. With that in mind, The Compass asked some local priests and others involved in pastoral ministry to give tips about going to confession. We will feature a different writer each week during Lent. See if they answer your questions.


When we go to the sacrament of reconciliation and confess our sins to the priest present, we are asked to make an Act of Contrition. This is a prayer of saying that you are sorry for offending God through breaking one’s relationship with God and neighbor. In the prayer, you are actually saying you are sorry for your sins and promise not to sin in that way again.

Contrition doesn’t have to mean that you feel bad, because our feelings are often out of our control. Rather, contrition means that you reject your sins and resolve to avoid committing them in the future.

The Act of Contrition
There are many versions of the Act of Contrition. It is not crucial to use one prayer rather than another, although some prayers are more commonly used. You may even use an Act of Contrition that you make up yourself. If you do this during the sacrament of reconciliation, however, the priest may have some confusion because he will not be used to hearing it. One way to counteract his confusion is to make sure you say “Amen” at the end of your prayer.

Important components
There are components that must be part of every Act of Contrition. This includes prayers you memorize or prayers you create:

  • An expression of being sorry for your sins;
  • A resolve not to sin again. Often this includes a statement that shows we are aware that we can only avoid sin by God’s grace.

Praying a memorized prayer that the church has approved can be very useful because you know that it has those elements in it already.

One common version
“O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because of your just punishments but most of all because I have offended 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 avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

Whether you use a memorized version of the prayer or say one from your heart, it is important to remember that you are repairing your relationship with God and neighbor. The gift of this prayer is that we can voice our desire to change our hearts and begin anew.

Sr. Laura is the diocesan Catholic Campus Ministry Director at UW-Green Bay. She belongs to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Green Bay.