What is Perfect Contrition?
Since just one mortal sin could condemn you to hell forever, what do you do if you sin on Monday, but won’t be able to get to confession until the weekend?
Pray an Act of Perfect Contrition, that’s what!
Then go to confession as soon as you’re able.
“Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin arising from perfect love. In perfect contrition the sinner detests sin more than any other evil, because it offends God, who is supremely good and deserving of all human love. Its motive is founded on God’s own goodness and not merely his goodness to the sinner or to humanity. This motive, and not the intensity of the act, less still the feelings experienced, is what essentially constitutes perfect sorrow…” EWTN.
The 5 Qualities of an Act of Perfect Contrition
It must be an interior act of mind and will. One can’t just recite it by rote. One must be entirely focused on making this perfect contrition.
The CatholicFirst website explains the supernatural aspect this way:
“There are many elements or divisions in this quality. The act of contrition must be supernatural as to the “power” with which it is performed. It must be made under the influence of actual grace. Actual grace is the supernatural assistance that enlightens the mind to know the will of God and strengthens the will to do the will of God. Hence, before starting the act of contrition, it is good (and I encourage you to do so) to ask for this special grace. Without it, the act of contrition is useless.
Secondly, the act must be supernatural as to “motive.” Here we have 2 motives. The inferior motive (imperfect contrition) has to do with the dread of the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. The superior motive (perfect contrition) has to do with the fact that we have offended God who is all good. Together with the sacraments of Baptism and Penance, the inferior motive (fearing the loss of heaven and the pains of hell) is sufficient for forgiveness of all sins. However, outside of those sacraments, only the superior motive (being sorry for having offended God who is all good) will suffice for the forgiveness of all sins.
We must answer this question. Just why are you sorry for your sins. Is it because drinking made you sick? That is a natural motive, and it has no relation to forgiveness. While the natural motives are good in themselves, they will never work for forgiveness.”
It’s all or nothing. You cannot omit any mortal sins that you have a particular fondness for.You have to include all of your mortal sins as any mortal sin is alone enough to condemn you to hell.
Our desire to not sin must be paramount to everything, including death.
…the good Queen Blanche did most earnestly by St. Louis, her son: witness her oft-repeated words, “My son, I would sooner see you die than guilty of a mortal sin;” words which sank so deeply into the saintly monarch’s heart, that he himself said there was no day on which they did not recur to his mind, and strengthen him in treading God’s ways.’ St Francis de Sales.
We must “detest‘ sin in the most intense way and our desire to not sin again must be intense.
A Simple Method of Making an Act of Perfect Contrition – The Three Visits of St Charles Borromeo
Enough about the qualities of a perfect act of contrition. You want me to get to the good part right? How do you stir up your heart enough so that your act of contrition is perfect enough to save you from hell, if you should get hit by a car right after you pray it?
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The Three Visits of St Charles Borromeo
‘Do you wish,’ he used to say, ‘to know an easy way of exciting yourselves to true sorrow for your sins?
Make three little visits- the first above, the second below, the third in the middle.
THE FIRST VISIT ABOVE
Your visit up above will show you Paradise, which you have renounced for some empty pleasure, for some sinful thought, or word or act. The displeasure that will arise in your heart at the thought of this loss will be good attrition, or imperfect contrition, and in Confession will suffice to wash away your sins.
THE SECOND VISIT BELOW
‘Your visit below will show you that frightful place in which you would be now if God had exercised His justice- that place where you would for ever suffer the torment of fire, far from your true home, which is Heaven. The sorrow arising from this consideration is also excellent, and sufficient in Confession.
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THE THIRD VISIT IN THE MIDDLE
‘Your third visit will show you Christ crucified and dying for you on Calvary amid pains and insults of every description. The knowledge that the Crucified One is Infinite Goodness Itself, your greatest Benefactor, Whom, instead of loving, you have insulted and crucified, will awaken in your heart sentiments of love and sorrow that will wipe away your sins even before you enter the confessional.’ The Catholic Collection: 734 Catholic Essays and Novels on Authentic Catholic Teaching:
Need an Act of Contrition to pray? Here is our favorite Act of Contrition.
So there you have it. You should get into the habit of praying a Perfect Act of Contrition regularly so that if you are ever in need, you’ll know exactly what you need to do.
So, once I’m a pro, can I just pray the Act of Perfect Contrition instead of going to confession?
Absolutely not. Part of praying the Perfect Act of Contrition is to have a firm intention to go to confession as soon as possible. So get thee to confession!
How do I know for sure I prayed an Act of Perfect Contrition and not an Act of Imperfect Contrition?
You don’t know. The most important element is God’s grace and that is supernatural. So pray for God’s grace before you pray the Perfect Act of Contrition.
Read about the difference between an Act of Perfect Contrition and an Act of Imperfect Contrition (attrition).
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- Free Ebook: More Than Single: Finding Purpose Beyond Porn
- The Imitation of Christ
- Introduction to the Devout Life by St Francis de Sales
- The Sinner’s Guide by Venerable Louis of Granada
- The Spiritual Combat
- Spiritual Theology by Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P.
This article was originally posted in 2018 and updated in 2023