Penance is a Sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ, in which, by the ministry of the Priest, actual sins are forgiven, and the conscience is released from the bonds by which it may be bound. In this Sacrament, also, the eternal punishment due to sin is remitted, and a part or the whole of the temporal punishment, according to the disposition of the penitent.
This holy and salutary institution is grounded on the words of Jesus Christ: Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven (Matt. XVIII,18), and, 'As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.'
When He had said this, He breathed on them, and He said to them; 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained (John XX,21, etc.). In these words Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles, and to their lawful successors, power and authority to absolve from all sin those who sincerely repent of their offences.
Hence we see the great necessity of this Sacrament; and the Council of Trent has decreed that it is not less necessary for salvation to those who have fallen into mortal sin after Baptism, than Baptism to those who have never been baptized. And although Penance may, at first sight, and in itself, seem to be a bitter and painful thing, yet, viewed in its fruits and consequences, it is full of consolation; and every Christian, as soon as he is conscious that he has fallen into a mortal sin, ought at once to have recourse to this fount of divine mercy.
The evil consequences of delay are manifold.
1. In the state of mortal sin, every other mortal sin committed renders our hearts still more hardened.
2. The commission of one mortal sin makes a second easier, and this leads to a third, and so on.
3. In the state of mortal sin we lose the value of all the good works that we may do. They avail nothing for everlasting life. Neither alms, nor prayers, nor fasts, nor even martyrdom itself, can profit us, if we have not repented of our sins.
4. Sin, continued in, closes by degrees the door of divine mercy, until at last scarce any hope is left of obtaining pardon from God. Lastly, just as the longer a stain remains upon a garment, the more difficult it is to remove, so the longer the soul neglects to purify itself by Confession, the more difficult the work becomes, and the more intricate, on account of the number of sins and anxiety of mind, until at last even an experienced Confession may be unable to extricate the soul from its miserable state.
Considerations to excite Contrition
1. Place before yourself, as distinctly as you can, the sins which have come to your remembrance, and their circumstances.
2. Consider WHO GOD IS, against Whom you have sinned, how great, how good, how gracious to you; that He made you, that He gave His Only Son to die for you, that He made you His child in Baptism, that He has loaded you with blessings and prepared heaven for you. Consider how patient He has been with you -- how longsuffering in calling you and moving you to repent: Say, O most loving God, Infinite Goodness, I repent of having offended Thee; behold me at Thy feet. O my Father, my Creator, my Benefactor, grant me the grace of a true repentance, and the blessing of a pardon, for Thy dear Son's sake.
3. Consider the infinite wickedness of sin: Say, O my Saviour, I behold Thee on the Cross, torn and wounded, Thy sacred Body streaming with Blood; this is the work of my sin. In Thy Wounds, O my Saviour, I read the greatness of the guilt and malice of my sins. By the greatness of Thy pains and sorrows, O my loving Redeemer, I measure the hatefulness of my offences.
4. Consider the consequences of one mortal sin: that you might justly be now banished from God's presence for ever for one single unrepented, deadly sin, how many have you not committed! Say, O my God, how much do I owe Thee for not cutting me off in the midst of my sins. Before I fell into sin, heaven was my home, my inheritance, my country, my blessed resting-place; by sin, I have given up my title to the glory of the Blessed. For the sake of sin I have lost the love of Jesus, the sight of Mary, the communion with the Blessed Saints and with the Angels. O my God, would that I had never offended Thee, would that I had never consented to sin. In pity behold me now at Thy feet, full of sorrow and compunction. I hate sin, which is accursed of Thee; I renounce all that would draw me away from Thee; I most bitterly repent of my sin and folly, which would have deprived me forever of heaven if Thou hadst not mercifully brought me to repentance. I grieve that I have sinned against Thee, O my God, Who art all-good, all-bountiful, all-worthy of love. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us sinners, who have recourse to thee.
I BELIEVE in Thee, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Sanctifier; I believe that Thou art all-holy, just and merciful. I believe that Thou art willing to pardon and to save me, if I repent and forsake my sins.
O MY GOD, strengthen and increase my faith, and grant me the grace of a true repentance, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
I HOPE in Thee, O my God, because Thou art almighty, faithful, and longsuffering. I humbly trust that Thou wilt pardon my sins for the sake of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, Who suffered and died for me upon the Cross; and that Thou wilt cleanse my sinful soul in His precious Blood, and make me holy, and bring me safe to everlasting life.
O Lord, in Thee have I hoped, let me never be confounded. Amen.
I LOVE Thee, O my God, above all things, because Thou hast been so good, so patient, so loving to me, notwithstanding all the sins by which I have so grievously offended Thee. I love Thee, O Blessed Jesus, my Saviour, because Thou didst suffer so much for love of me, an ungrateful sinner, and didst die on the Cross for my salvation. O make me love Thee more and more, and show my love to Thee by faithfully keeping Thy Commandments all the days of my life. Amen.
O MARY Immaculate, Mother of Fair Love: obtain for me that love of God, which is so necessary for true contrition. Amen.