The Act of Contrition prayer is a traditional Catholic prayer expressing sorrow for our sins and a plea for our merciful God to forgive us and help us to avoid sin in the future. When we go to confession, after we confess our sins and the priest gives us advice, he asks us to pray an act of contrition.
This prayer of contrition is a perfect prayer to accompany our other evening prayers, but it can be prayed at any other time of the day as well.
“Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’ (Psalm 51:4) Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.
“Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1850).
Fr. Ed Broom, O.M.V., says of Psalm 51 and contrition: “This is the heartfelt Act of Contrition that King David prayed after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered Urias the innocent man. Beg for the grace to have true repentance for your sins.
“True sorrow, true and heartfelt contrition, is essential to making a good confession. David humbly admits that his sin is his own doing and blames nobody except himself. May we own up to our own sins and blame only ourselves always, like David, trusting in God’s infinite mercy!”
“Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord; and he will have mercy on him (Isaiah 55:7).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1451-1453) explains contrition: “Among the penitent’s acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ‘sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.’
“When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called ‘perfect’ (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.
“The contrition called ‘imperfect’ (or ‘attrition’) is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear).
“Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.”
With a prayer of contrition, we acknowledge our sins and ask forgiveness and help to avoid sin in the future. Our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much that He died for our sins. This thought should help us be truly sorry for our sins, whatever they may be, and resolve to avoid future sins.
Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee; and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.