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Confession at End of Life

Date: November 7, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: At the time of death, to make a final confession, how does one go about recalling sins of a lifetime, although they have been confessed and forgiven during a lifetime. What does a final confession entail? -- E.C., Calgary, Alberta

A: First of all, a clarification: There is no obligation whatsoever to confess the sins of a lifetime as one approaches death.

When a person receives the sacrament of the sick it is the usual practice for people to confess their sins before receiving the anointing and Communion. However, in such cases the obligation is the same as for any confession, that is, to confess all mortal sins since the previous confession and any venial sins the person recalls and wishes to present to God.

The confession may be omitted if the person is unable to do so or has received the sacrament of reconciliation at some other moment before the anointing.

At the same time, a person who is knowingly close to death may wish to prepare spiritually by making a confession of sins that embrace a lifetime. In such cases the sins confessed have generally already been confessed and absolved in earlier celebrations of the sacrament.

We are thus in a situation that is akin to the general confession that many people make on occasion of annual spiritual exercises and similar situations.

On such occasions there is no obligation to strive to remember each individual sin, nor the number of times it was committed. Rather, it is an occasion to recall and ask forgiveness once more for those sins which, during the course of a year, or a lifetime, have most separated one from God’s love, from love of neighbor, and distanced the person from living the message of the Gospel. They can be specific acts of sin or capital sins or attitudes that are at the origin of many specific sins such as vanity, envy, gluttony and the like.

A person who makes such a confession thus attempts to face up to and remove the principal obstacles between himself and God’s merciful love. It can be a moment of healing spiritual honesty even though, as mentioned above, not an obligation or necessary for salvation.

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