Ten Signs Your Confession May Have Been Invalid


Sacramentally speaking, there are a few things that would make a confession invalid: The penitent must examine his or her conscience, truly repent, confess all mortal sins and do the penance he or she gets assigned. The priest has to say the words of absolution.

But my friend Nick Christie thought of a few gray areas so I filled out his list.


Your confession may be invalid if …


10. You hear a voice say: “Your confession is being recorded for quality control purposes.”


9. “This is John, a seminarian,” says the priest. “Would you mind if he joined us for training?”


8. After your confession the priest sounds accusatory and defensive: “Are you really sorry? Because I heard a tone in your voice like you’re not really sorry.”


7. When you’re done, you hear: “Whatever, buddy. Now just give me your social security number and everything will be forgiven.”


6. When you’re done you hear your wife, obviously trying to imitate a male voice, say “Good confession, my son. For your penance I want you to do more around the house. A lot more.”


5. When you’re done listing your sins, the priest says, “Awesome! Now let me tell you what I did.”


4. The priest insists on only giving you absolution using his “duck voice.”


3. The confessional fades away and becomes a clown car, and you realize you’re back in your recurring dream about the circus.


2. The priest says: “For your penance, I want you to deliver this package to the Chinese embassy. Use the back door and don’t let the woman in the yellow jacket see you.”


1. When you’re done you hear an anxious voice say, “If you are really a voice outside my head, speak my mother’s name. My voices never will.”




  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for the clarification regarding penance. I was actually wondering that recently because I was given 15 minutes of quiet reflection as penance and I have 3 daughters under the age of 4 and I have not yet been able to devote 15 minutes to reflect. Glad to know my confession still counts. :)

  • Slats

    Tom, with regard to your intro, not doing the penance doesn’t invalidate the sacrament. Efficacious absolution took place. What is needed is the ex opere operato of the priest absolving you and the ex opere operantis of true contrition (or at least attrition), no mortal sins deliberately excluded, and a firm purpose of amendment.

    • Tom Hoopes

      True, regarding Sacramental validity … I was attempting to sum up this in the Compendium:

      302. What are the essential elements of the sacrament of Reconciliation?

      The essential elements are two: the acts of the penitent who comes to repentance through the action of the Holy Spirit, and the absolution of the priest who in the name of Christ grants forgiveness and determines the ways of making satisfaction.

      303. What are the acts of the penitent?

      They are: a careful examination of conscience; contrition (or repentance), which is perfect when it is motivated by love of God and imperfect if it rests on other motives and which includes the determination not to sin again; confession, which consists in the telling of one’s sins to the priest; and satisfaction or the carrying out of certain acts of penance which the confessor imposes upon the penitent to repair the damage caused by sin.



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