Catholic Prayer for Forgiveness – Guilt or Release?

This article on Catholic prayer for forgiveness does not claim to represent official Catholic thought or doctrine. It may do or it may not.

There is a great breadth of thought and belief to be found among the Catholic brethren on forgiveness as well as on all other topics..

I am a Catholic and go to mass each week, but I identify more with the label of Christian mystic or simply "child of God" :-)

My intention in this article is to share my thoughts on some of the practices of catholic forgiveness, along with what I have found helpful.

As always, pray for guidance.

catholic prayer for forgiveness said at the end of confession

Act of Contrition

A Catholic prayer for forgiveness of oneself can be called an act of contrition.

I have just looked up the definition of contrition on Wikepedia.

“Contrition or contriteness (from the Latin contritus 'ground to pieces, i.e. crushed by guilt) is sincere and complete remorse (i.e. regret with a sense of guilt) for sins one has committed.”


That last sentence contains so much of what can potentially cause damage in religion. Ground to pieces, crushed by guilt.
I can't see anything positive in that.

And the word “sin” has become a trigger word for so many people.

The intention of saying a catholic prayer for forgiveness (or any prayer for forgiveness) is not to be crushed by guilt. It is very much the opposite.

The intention is to remove yourself from under the weight of guilt. You acknowledge a mistake you have made or think you have made and you ask for forgiveness.

You ask the God of Love in the knowledge that forgiveness will be given.

God’s love empowers us towards positive change.

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Confession - the sacrament of penance

Catholics have available the sacrament of penance. You go to a priest at least once each year, confess your sins/mistakes, and receive absolution from God via the priest.

Alternatively, you may be able to attend a mass twice a year dedicated to prayer for forgiveness. It is called a penitential service.
Any non-catholic would, I hope, be welcome to attend.

Here is a common catholic prayer for forgiveness to be said at the end of a confession.

O my God, because you are so good,
I am very sorry that I have sinned against you
and by the help of your grace I will not sin again.

In order to write this article, I looked up the instructions for confession in "A simple prayer book".

It says that in confession, you can "express your sorrow in any words you choose".

I suspect though that most people use the standard prayer above.

An ungodly sense of guilt

For myself, growing up as a Catholic Christian, I ended up with an unhealthy, I would say, ungodly sense of guilt. It did not come from the catholic practice of confession though. Not at all.

The practice of confession cultivated a belief in me of a loving God who always forgives.

I was blessed to be taught a God of love not of fear.

Sadly many people of various religions – especially in previous generations, have received false teachings that lead them to believe in a punishing and unforgiving God.

Many secular (non-religious) people also live with a sense of being punished and inappropriate guilt for what they have not done.

I Don't Have To Be Right To Be OK

When I was housebound due to severe chronic illness, my spiritual journey eventually moved me back towards Christianity. A priest started to visit me at home.

To my surprise, I found an enormous sense of release and relief in saying The Confiteor – a Catholic prayer for forgiveness which is said in every mass.

The Confiteor

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I realised that without practising belief in a loving, all-accepting God, I had started to define my worth by whether I was right or wrong.

There was a tightness about me, an unhealthy need to be right.
In turn, this was making it harder for me to see my mistakes.

What a relief to remember we don't have to be right to be OK.

We can say a prayer for forgiveness and rest in the knowledge that God is big enough to love and accept us as we are.

There is a wonderful line in A Course In Miracles (ACIM):

“Do you prefer that you be right or happy?” (T-29.VII.1)

When you feel unhappy with yourself or another person, pray for another way of seeing things; one that leads to peace.

Do I prefer to be right or happy?

Dear God,
I choose happiness.
Please redirect my thoughts and give me an experience of your peace.
Thank you.

Christian Forgiveness Bible Quote

The basis for the practice of confession in the Catholic church is the following Bible quote:

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”
(James 5:16 , KJV e-Sword)

Articles relevant to Catholic Prayer for Forgiveness

Click below to read a prayer for self forgiveness.

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