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According to Catholic Church, what are the cases in which the absolution can be anticipated and the confession left for a time in which it will be possible to make it?

Also, in cases of anticipated absolution, supposing that for some reason the confession cannot take place, will that absolution be valid and effective to go to Heaven?

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3 Answers 3

Two questions seem to be asked:

1) When can absolution be anticipated to actual confession?, and

2) What happens if the "postponed" confession does not come to pass?

In regards to when our sins are forgiven in anticipation to confession, The Church teaches that this should happen only in cases of physical or moral impossibility (CCC 1484, in part):

"Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession."

When absolution of one's sins is absolutely needed --- dangerous circumstances that could lead to death --- and access to a priest for confession is a physical or moral impossibility, The Church advises to make a perfect act of contrition. As noted in other answers to this question (CCC 1451-1452):

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.

So, what happens if the anticipated confession does not come to pass?

Well, a close examination of CCC 1452 reveals that, as long as we have made a perfect act of contrition: a) venial sins are forgiven, regardless of whether we confess later or not; b) mortal sins are forgiven provided that, in addition, we make a "firm resolution" to go to confession as soon as possible. Note that only a "firm resolution" to confess as soon as possible is needed, and not necessarily the actualization of such a resolution --- this covers the cases where we die before finding a priest! Of course God knows whether our firm resolution is sincere or not, and he can act accordingly.

As for imperfect contrition: well, in that case we are out of luck if we don't have access to confession. The only ordinary way that The Church knows how to deal with that is through confession --- though God may still in act in extraordinary ways which we do not know --- (CCC 1453):

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.

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From the CCC:

1452 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.

From that, if one has perfect contrition for their sins, they should be alright. But, they should go to confession at their earliest convince.

But, if one reads paragraph 1257, it states that God is not bound by the Sacraments. What this means is that the Sacraments are the normal means of receiving grace. However, God is merciful and can save people outside of the Sacraments if he so chooses. For example, I do not think he would necessarily send someone to Hell if they had a heart attack during their confession and was unable to receive absolution.

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As far as I know, the traditional Catholic doctrine on forgiveness of sins apart from confession is as follows. Perfect contrition, meaning sorrow for one's sins because of one's love for God, results in forgiveness even before confession, and even if one is legitimately impeded from going to confession later. The love of God that is involved in perfect contrition must, however, include in particular the intention to receive sacramental absolution when possible. So I cannot just forget about confession and expect all my sins to be forgiven on the basis of perfect contrition --- by ignoring the sacrament, I would make my contrition imperfect. (On the basis of my own experience, it is difficult to tell whether my contrition is perfect or not. I love God, but I may also have other motives for being sorry for my sins, and it's hard to accurately assess the relative importance of the various motives.)

A couple of additional points. (1) For a valid confession, the penitent must have contrition for a supernatural motive, but it need not be perfect contrition. For example, fear of hell is a supernatural motive. Fear of the police is not. (2) All that I wrote here refers to people who are already baptized and therefore capable of receiving other sacraments, in particular the sacrament of penance. If someone is not yet baptized, then the way to forgiveness is to receive baptism.

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