49 Questions on the Sacrament of Confession

It is a grievous offense willfully to conceal a mortal sin in Confession, because we thereby tell a lie to the Holy Ghost, and make our Confession worthless.

Padre Pio in the Confessional

Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism for teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and it simplifies even the most complex theological questions. All the lists taken from the Baltimore Catechism may be found here.

Questions on the Catholic Faith


Baltimore Catechism No. 3 – Lesson 19



Q. 776. What is Confession?

A. Confession is the telling of our sins to a duly authorized priest, for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness.


Q. 777. Who is a duly authorized priest?

A. A duly authorized priest is one sent to hear confessions by the lawful bishop of the diocese in which we are at the time of our confession.


Q. 778. Is it ever allowed to write our sins and read them to the priest in the confessional or give them to him to read?

A. It is allowed, when necessary, to write our sins and read them to the priest, as persons do who have almost entirely lost their memory. It is also allowed to give the paper to the priest, as persons do who have lost the use of their speech. In such cases the paper must, after the confession, be carefully destroyed either by the priest or the penitent.


Q. 779. What is to be done when persons must make their confession and cannot find a priest who understands their language?

A. Persons who must make their confession and who cannot find a priest who understands their language, must confess as best they can by some signs, showing what sins they wish to confess and how they are sorry for them.


Q. 780. What sins are we bound to confess?

A. We are bound to confess all our mortal sins, but it is well also to confess our venial sins.


Q. 781. Why is it well to confess also the venial sins we remember?

A. It is well to confess also the venial sins we remember: 1.(1) Because it shows our hatred of all sin, and 2.(2) Because it is sometimes difficult to determine just when a sin is venial and when mortal.


Q. 782. What should one do who has only venial sins to confess?

A. One who has only venial sins to confess should tell also some sin already confessed in his past life for which he knows he is truly sorry; because it is not easy to be truly sorry for slight sins and imperfections, and yet we must be sorry for the sins confessed that our confession may be valid — hence we add some past sin for which we are truly sorry to those for which we may not be sufficiently sorry.


Q. 783. Should a person stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to confess?

A. A person should not stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to confess, for the Sacrament of Penance, besides forgiving sin, gives an increase of sanctifying grace, and of this we have always need, especially to resist temptation. The Saints, who were almost without imperfection, went to confession frequently.


Q. 784. Should a person go to Communion after confession even when the confessor does not bid him go?

A. A person should go to Communion after confession even when the confessor does not bid him go, because the confessor so intends unless he positively forbids his penitent to receive Communion. However, one who has not yet received his first Communion should not go to Communion after confession, even if the confessor by mistake should bid him go.


Q. 785. Which are the chief qualities of a good Confession?

A. The chief qualities of a good Confession are three: it must be humble, sincere, and entire.


Q. 786. When is our Confession humble?

A. Our Confession is humble when we accuse ourselves of our sins, with a deep sense of shame and sorrow for having offended God.


Q. 787. When is our Confession sincere?

A. Our Confession is sincere when we tell our sins honestly and truthfully, neither exaggerating nor excusing them.


Q. 788. Why is it wrong to accuse ourselves of sins we have not committed?

A. It is wrong to accuse ourselves of sins we have not committed, because, by our so doing, the priest cannot know the true state of our souls, as he must do before giving us absolution.


Q. 789. When is our Confession entire?

A. Our Confession is entire when we tell the number and kinds of our sins and the circumstances which change their nature.


Q. 790. What do you mean by the “kinds of sin?”

A. By the “kinds of sin,” we mean the particular division or class to which the sins belong; that is, whether they be sins of blasphemy, disobedience, anger, impurity, dishonesty, etc. We can determine the kind of sin by discovering the commandment or precept of the Church we have broken or the virtue against which we have acted.


Q. 791. What do we mean by “circumstances which change the nature of sins?”

A. By “circumstances which change the nature of sins” we mean anything that makes it another kind of sin. Thus to steal is a sin, but to steal from the Church makes our theft sacrilegious. Again, impure actions are sins, but a person must say whether they were committed alone or with others, with relatives or strangers, with persons married or single, etc., because these circumstances change them from one kind of impurity to another.


Q. 792. What should we do if we cannot remember the number of our sins?

A. If we cannot remember the number of our sins, we should tell the number as nearly as possible, and say how often we may have sinned in a day, a week, or a month, and how long the habit or practice has lasted.


Q. 793. Is our Confession worthy if, without our fault, we forget to confess a mortal sin?

A. If without our fault we forget to confess a mortal sin, our Confession is worthy, and the sin is forgiven; but it must be told in Confession if it again comes to our mind.


Q. 794. May a person who has forgotten to tell a mortal sin in confession go to Holy Communion before going again to confession?

A. A person who has forgotten to tell a mortal sin in confession may go to communion before again going to confession, because the forgotten sin was forgiven with those confessed, and the confession was good and worthy.


Q. 795. Is it a grievous offense willfully to conceal a mortal sin in Confession?

A. It is a grievous offense willfully to conceal a mortal sin in Confession, because we thereby tell a lie to the Holy Ghost, and make our Confession worthless.


Q. 796. How is concealing a sin telling a lie to the Holy Ghost?

A. Concealing a sin is telling a lie to the Holy Ghost, because he who conceals the sin declares in confession to God and the priest that he committed no sins but what he has confessed, while the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, saw him committing the sin he now conceals and still sees it in his soul while he denies it.


Q. 797. Why is it foolish to conceal sins in confession?

A. It is foolish to conceal sins in confession:

Because we thereby make our spiritual condition worse;
We must tell the sin sometime if we ever hope to be saved;
It will be made known on the day of judgment, before the world, whether we conceal it now or confess it.


Q. 798. What must he do who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in Confession?

A. He who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in Confession must not only confess it, but must also repeat all the sins he has committed since his last worthy Confession.


Q. 799. Must one who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in confession do more than repeat the sins committed since his last worthy confession?

A. One who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in confession must, besides repeating all the sins he has committed since his last worthy confession, tell also how often he has unworthily received absolution and Holy Communion during the same time.


Q. 800. Why does the priest give us a penance after Confession?

A. The priest gives us a penance after Confession, that we may satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to our sins.


Q. 801. Why should we have to satisfy for our sins if Christ has fully satisfied for them?

A. Christ has fully satisfied for our sins and after our baptism we were free from all guilt and had no satisfaction to make. But when we willfully sinned after baptism, it is but just that we should be obliged to make some satisfaction.


Q. 802. Is the slight penance the priest gives us sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed?

A. The slight penance the priest gives us is not sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed:

Because there is no real equality between the slight penance given and the punishment deserved for sin;
Because we are all obliged to do penance for sins committed, and this would not be necessary if the penance given in confession satisfied for all. The penance is given and accepted in confession chiefly to show our willingness to do penance and make amends for our sins.


Q. 803. Does not the Sacrament of Penance remit all punishment due to sin?

A. The Sacrament of Penance remits the eternal punishment due to sin, but it does not always remit the temporal punishment which God requires as satisfaction for our sins.


Q. 804. Why does God require a temporal punishment as a satisfaction for sin?

A. God requires a temporal punishment as a satisfaction for sin to teach us the great evil of sin and to prevent us from falling again.


Q. 805. Which are the chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin?

A. The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving; all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.


Q. 806. What fasting has the greatest merit?

A. The fasting imposed by the Church on certain days of the year, and particularly during Lent, has the greatest merit.


Q. 807. What is Lent?

A. Lent is the forty days before Easter Sunday, during which we do penance, fast and pray to prepare ourselves for the resurrection of Our Lord; and also to remind us of His own fast of forty days before His Passion.


Q. 808. What do we mean by “almsgiving”?

A. By almsgiving we mean money, goods, or assistance given to the poor or to charitable purposes. The law of God requires all persons to give alms in proportion to their means.


Q. 809. What “ills of life” help to satisfy God for sin?

A. The ills of life that help to satisfy God for sin are sickness, poverty, misfortune, trial, affliction, etc., especially, when we have not brought them upon ourselves by sin.


Q. 810. How did the Christians in the first ages of the Church do Penance?

A. The Christians in the first ages of the Church did public penance, especially for the sins of which they were publicly known to be guilty. Penitents were excluded for a certain time from Mass or the Sacrament, and some were obliged to stand at the door of the Church begging the prayers of those who entered.


Q. 811. What were these severe Penances of the First Ages of the Church called?

A. These severe penances of the first ages of the Church were called canonical penances, because their kind and duration were regulated by the Canons or laws of the Church.


Q. 812. How can we know spiritual from corporal works of mercy?

A. We can know spiritual from corporal works of mercy, for whatever we do for the soul is a spiritual work, and whatever we do for the body is a corporal work.


Q. 813. Which are the chief spiritual works of mercy?

A. The chief spiritual works of mercy are seven: To admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.


Q. 814. When are we bound to admonish the sinner?

A. We are bound to admonish the sinner when the following conditions are fulfilled:

When his fault is a mortal sin;
When we have authority or influence over him, and
When there is reason to believe that our warning will not make him worse instead of better.


Q. 815. Who are meant by the “ignorant” we are to instruct, and the “doubtful” we are to counsel?

A. By the ignorant we are to instruct and the doubtful we are to counsel, are meant those particularly who are ignorant of the truths of religion and those who are in doubt about matters of faith. We must aid such persons as far as we can to know and believe the truths necessary for salvation.


Q. 816. Why are we advised to bear wrong patiently and to forgive all injuries?

A. We are advised to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive all injuries, because, being Christians, we should imitate the example of Our Divine Lord, who endured wrongs patiently and who not only pardoned but prayed for those who injured Him.


Q. 817. If, then, it be a Christian virtue to forgive all injuries, why do Christians establish courts and prisons to punish wrongdoers?

A. Christians establish courts and prisons to punish wrongdoers, because the preservation of lawful authority, good order in society, the protection of others, and sometimes even the good of the guilty one himself, require that crimes be justly punished. As God Himself punishes crime and as lawful authority comes from Him, such authority has the right to punish, though individuals should forgive the injuries done to themselves personally.


Q. 818. Why is it a work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead?

A. It is a work of mercy to aid those who are unable to aid themselves. The living are exposed to temptations, and while in mortal sin they are deprived of the merit of their good works and need our prayers. The dead can in no way help themselves and depend on us for assistance.


Q. 819. Which are the chief corporal works of mercy?

A. The chief corporal works of mercy are seven: 1.To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.


Q. 820. How may we briefly state the corporal works of mercy?

A. We may briefly state the corporal works of mercy by saying that we are obliged to help the poor in all their forms of want.


Q. 821. How are Christians aided in the performance of works of mercy?

A. Christians are aided in the performance of works of mercy through the establishment of charitable institutions where religious communities of holy men or women perform these duties for us, provided we supply the necessary means by our almsgiving and good works.


Q. 822. Who are religious?

A. Religious are self-sacrificing men and women who, wishing to follow more closely the teachings of Our Lord, dedicate their lives to the service of God and religion. They live together in societies approved by the Church, under a rule and guidance of a superior. They keep the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and divide their time between prayer and good works. The houses in which they dwell are called convents or monasteries, and the societies in which they live are called religious orders, communities or congregations.


Q. 823. Are there any religious communities of priests?

A. There are many religious communities of priests, who, besides living according to the general laws of the Church, as all priests do, follow certain rules laid down for their community. Such priests are called the regular clergy, because living by rules to distinguish them from the secular clergy who live in their parishes under no special rule. The chief work of the regular clergy is to teach in colleges and give missions and retreats.


Q. 824. Why are there so many different religious communities?

A. There are many different religious communities:

Because all religious are not fitted for the same work, and
Because they desire to imitate Our Lord’s life on earth as perfectly as possible; and when each community takes one of Christ’s works and seeks to become perfect in it, the union of all their works continues as perfectly as we can the works He began upon earth.

  • jo

    I am 71 years old and never too old to learn.
    By reading this article,I just learned a deeper way to go to confession and refreshed my memory of the spiritual works of mercy.

  • jenny

    Masturbation was a constant sin since I can remember.
    At the age of 9 I was sexually molested by the good friend of my father, with my father quiet acceptance.
    From the age of 9 till 13 I confessed the sin of masturbation every 2-3 weeks , that makes a total of approx. 80 times.
    Every time the priest asked me: “alone or with others…?”

    I felt very embarrassed to ask him what does he meant by ” alone or with others…?”. He asked me this question every time I confess that particular sin, which was, as I said, approx. 70 times in 4 years.
    I felt violated by his question. He never asked a question that would have helped me to link my sin to the rape I suffered. That would have maybe bring some understanding and eventually a solution. I felt angry toward this priest. He seemed more interested if I masturbated alone or with others , but did not seem to
    realize that there maybe some underlying cause of such repetition.
    I do not go to confession any more. I know that it very wrong that a young girl talks about intimate acts with a man, at an age when the girl is not mature enough to understand what and why this sin is so repetitive.
    That priest was unable in 4 years to give any advise on how to avoid the sin of masturbation, but instead kept asking me “alone or with others..?”

    • Chris


      My heart aches for the horrible abuse you suffered at the hands of your father’s, so- called, “friend”. As a father of 2 daughters this, to me, is unimaginable. I promise that I will pray for your healing, particularly, through the recitation of my daily rosary.

      As for the comments made by the priest in question, I don’t pretend to understand why he would ask such a question. I do know, for certain, that as Catholics we are so very fortunate in so many ways not the least of which is the ability to receive pardon and forgiveness for our sins, no matter what they are, through the incredible and unnending mercy of our Father in heaven. Do not deprive yourself of His mercy; alwyas go back to that bottomless well of forgiveness, love and mercy which he wants to give to you. To not do this is to let the evil one win in the battle for your immortal soul. May God bless you and keep you Jenny.

      • jenny

        If you look at Q791 in the article above you will see that it includes “alone or with others ?”. So, it seems that the priest knew it from the Baltimore Catechism.
        Thank you for your prayer….I am getting more confident that I can recover.

  • Gabriel

    I’ve never understood the concept of “mortal sins”, since the Bible says that all sins can be forgiven! And how can the Church provide such a detailed list of mortal and venial sins, since every sin is to be taken into account individually based on a number of factors: intention, consequences, state of mind, etc.

  • cary


    You should return to the church and forgive the priest for not understanding… additionally you should offer up your hurt to join with Jesus’ suffering on the cross for the salvation of souls. This would please the Lord greatly because in this act you would have returned to Him, forgiven the priest, suffered for the Lord and offered it for others… and ultimately you will have risen in great virtue. This is what it is to be called a Christian. Do not judge and be not judged. Go in Peace Jenny… I will pray for you and hopefully one day see you in the heavenly kingdom where there is no pain or suffering…

    Peace in Christ



  • “Another Jenny”

    I was in a similar situation….I was exposed to it at an early age. It became an addiction where I lost respect for myself and for the opposite sex. I had to confess it quite a few times before I was able to stop for good. Perhaps the priest was trying to figure out if you influenced others or someone else was compelling you to do it. Don’t give up on confessing your sins God will give you the grace and the strength to break the chains.

  • jenny

    Thank you Cary and Another Jenny. I start crying while reading your advise. Maybe these tears are a new beginning.

  • Jenny, every moment can be a new beginning. Trust is a choice, to simply accept Christ love for you. I hope things get better for you and never underestimate God’s compassion. Also, compulsion needs to be dealt with in way other than confession. From what you shared, if it is still an occurrence in your life, you may need to see someone to help you let go of your shame, that can help to release you as well. I will pray for you. Mortal sin is a freely chosen act, from what you shared, that was never the case. You are bound, but the chains can be healed by Christ love for you, just don’t despair, trust, and seek to grow in love of God and others.


  • jenny

    Mark, I am getting help now from a pastoral psychotherapy doctor. The irony is that the meetings, I already have 6, take place in one of the parish office rooms. It was extremely challenging for me to see priests walking in the hall. But their presence there seems to be part of the healing process for me, as I do not feel fear seeing them, anymore, even if I am not yet at the point of making eye contact with them. But, I am sure it will come.
    The despair is disappearing little by little. Thank you for the prayers.

    • That is wonderful Jenny, you are never alone, the more we see our need, the closer Christ draws near us. Below is something I wrote on Spiritual Childhood….something I work on as well.

      Spiritual childhood
      (Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus)

      Words like littleness and spiritual childhood, do not always receive a positive response from people. Perhaps it is because at its root it shows us our actual stance not only towards the world, but especially, our relationship with God.

      We are I suppose powerful beings in our own right, but in the end it is an illusion. For the littlest thing can bring us either close to death, or to death itself. Many die young, perhaps 50% of the population die before they are 75, after that, well time takes care of the rest.

      The truth can set us free. What is that truth? We are like the flowers of the field, we open up to life, grow, flower, wither and die. Well those who actually live long enough for that to happen. Is it depressing to think on such things? I don’t think so, for in fact the sooner we come to the reality of that truth, perhaps the freer we can become.

      Our lives are a gift. We did not call ourselves into existence. Nor did we bestow on ourselves our giftedness, though we may have to work hard to develop them. We did not choose our families, a sad fact for many. Our health, our looks, can be taken at any time, as well as those we love. Our loved ones are the greatest gift of all. It is one way that we bestow grace on one another, in our love and friendship.

      We give back by how we respond. Children know that they are dependent on their parents for their livelihood. We are taught to become independent, which is good, but the existential reality is that we really aren’t. Everything we have, know, work for is there because we live with others, in a certain culture and time. We do have a choice in what we do with what we have been given, or graced with, yet it is all given. If we become strong it is because we have to fight for what we have. If we are successful, well, it is others who allow that to happen; by their challenges as well as support. Our failures as well come about because of how we react. Although we may have to retort by rejecting what our culture and yes at times our religions and philosophical traditions, tell us what is successful or not.

      Go deep enough, existence itself, did not bring on its own being, no it comes from that which is self-existent, all else flows from that, so all is a gift. So what is of deepest importance is how we respond. To answer in a life giving way is the way of spiritual childhood, for it is based on reality at its most profound level.