How does a general confession differ from a regular one?

By Fr. John Broussard | For The Compass | February 15, 2022


I’m 90 years old and I have read the paper since it was The Register. I read the term “a general confession” and it was new to me. Can somebody write about what that is? — Green Bay


When Our Lady of Good Help appeared to Adele Brise in 1859 here in northeastern Wisconsin, she instructed Adele to make a “general confession.” This was seen as a necessary beginning to Adele’s ministry as she undertook the mission given to her by the Queen of Heaven.

It would seem appropriate to ask, therefore, what is a general confession? Given that its name implies that I confess my sins generally, it warrants looking to the traditions of our Catholic faith to see what this confession would entail.

Usually, the term “general confession” refers to going to confession and confessing all the sins of one’s past life (or of an extended period, like the past year) instead of just confessing those sins committed since one’s previous confession. This is not for the purpose of rehashing all of one’s old failures out of guilt, but rather it is an expression of one’s continuing contrition and sorrow for all the ways in which one may have offended God. It can be a very cathartic and healing exercise. It is often practiced as a means of putting to rest past sins that have plagued one with guilt.

General confessions should be practiced very rarely — once or twice in one’s whole life — as we do not want to develop the mentality that my sins are in some way not completely forgiven when we do go to confession regularly.

Traditionally, making this kind of confession has been a recommended spiritual practice for moments of major life transition. For example, young people often make a general confession before professing religious vows or before being ordained to the priesthood. Some retreat directors will also recommend making a general confession when retreatants participate in serious retreats like the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Remember, the sacrament of reconciliation is meant to be a significant encounter with God’s mercy. At particularly poignant moments in our faith journey (like those mentioned above), preparing a general confession gives us a good opportunity to prayerfully reflect on our whole life history and on how faithful God has been to us throughout that history, even when we were not faithful to him. 

Going over our whole past, or a significant part of that past, together with the Lord, is meant to bring us to a new appreciation of our need for God, of the abundance of his mercy and of the depth of his care for us.

Fr. Broussard, a Father of Mercy, is rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wis.    

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