Penance for venial sins

Question: I am afraid that I commit a lot of venial sins, but I can never remember half of them when I go to confession. Will God hold this against me on the Day of Judgment? Does the penitential rite at Mass forgive my venial sins?  

— Name and address withheld   

Answer: According to the moral theology of the Church, sacramental confession is only necessary for serious, or mortal, sins (though the Church encourages us to confess all our sins in the Sacrament of Penance). If we commit lesser sins and do not remember them, God will certainly not hold these against us.  

There are many means by which venial or lesser sins are forgiven. One of these is the penitential rite. When the priest invites the congregation to call to mind its sins, a real pause should be allowed so that we can call to mind our lesser sins.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayers, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (No. 1434).  

The Catechism continues: “Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance” (No. 1435).  

The Eucharist is an important way of seeking forgiveness from lesser sins. “Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened” (No. 1436). Quoting the Council of Trent, the Catechism states the Eucharist “is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins.”  

Moses and Elijah  

Question: You recently said that before his resurrection Jesus “descended into hell” to liberate all those who were awaiting the redeemer. But, at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples. Where were they before the Transfiguration, and where did they go afterward?  

— Mladen Chargin Gardnerville, Nev.    

Answer: Before Jesus’ resurrection, all the dead dwelt in “hell” — not the hell of the damned, but the hell that, in the Old Testament, was the place where all men and women of goodwill awaited redemption, including Moses and Elijah.  

The Transfiguration was a prefigurement of heavenly glory. In that event, Jesus was glorified and showed forth the glory of the heavenly kingdom. Where did Elijah and Moses go afterward? They had to return to “hell” to await the resurrection and glorification of Christ.  

Christian faith proclaims that, in his resurrection and ascension, Jesus opened the gates of heaven. We might even go further and say that the glorified Christ is heaven and that to be in heaven means to be in the glorified realm in which Jesus, the ascended one, dwells. Heaven is the place in which Jesus shares his glory with all the just. There is no heaven without Christ, and the essence of heavenly life is to be with Jesus.  

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.