Psalm 51:17

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.

Contrition is the second element of a good confession.  It is part of the typically Catholic insistence of a marriage between word and deed, spirit and flesh, inner and outer.  If you confess but don't mean to change, your confession is just a show.  If you claim to have undergone a change of heart, but then refuse to confess your sins or change, you're just kidding yourself.  By far, contrition is the most important element of the sacrament.  If you are truly and fully contrite for your sins, but get killed in battle, or run over by a bus, or struck by a meteor before you get a chance to go to confession, you are still fully forgiven by God.  But, of course, if you are seriously contrite and none of these somewhat improbable occurrences befalls you, then you should get to confession.  And, wherever you are, you should pray the prayer of the psalmist: "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me!"

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage