A comment by a Catholic in a discussion with a Protestant about faith vs. good works startled me:

Catholics would consider going to Confession to be a work. It's a specific act you need to do. We don't have any qualms about saying Christians need to do all kinds of works, except the works of the Law.

Of course confessing mortal sins are necessary for a Catholic to go back to the state of grace so they can subsequently do "good works" that are meritorious. That's not what at issue here. Secondly, although liturgy literally means "public work", I'm excluding that meaning here since "work" here seems to refer to what the Church is doing on behalf or for the benefit of the people. I'm thus not asking about the "work" done by the priests to assist a faithful's going to confession but asking whether it is considered "good work" for the penitent.

So, within the debate with Protestants on salvation, am I wrong in saying that going to the Sacrament of Confession is technically not "good works" even if it's necessary to restore the state of grace in order to do "good works" for our salvation? For this question I'm defining "good work" in the sense described by this Catholic Answers article Are Good Works Necessary for Salvation?

In my understanding of Catholicism, good works are works of love flowing out of faith and powered by grace; works that are meritorious, which God counts toward the final justification of a believer in the state of grace.

So my question is: According to Catholicism, is going to confession considered "good work" that increases one's righteousness, when considered from the angle that the sacrament merely enable us to perform works of love, the LATTER being the meritorious acts contributing to the increase of righteousness (for final justification)?

  • How does participating in a Sacrament not meet the definition of good work you proposed here?
    – jaredad7
    Oct 24, 2022 at 19:58
  • @jaredad7 I clarified the question to highlight possible differences between "work" that a Catholic does in going to confession / mass vs. "work of love" performed to our neighbors. Oct 24, 2022 at 20:27
  • 1
    Are you separating the instant of the appearance of the sacrament for the liturgy? Because liturgy is literally work.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 24, 2022 at 22:24
  • @PeterTurner Good point. Yes, liturgy is "public work", but in my Q I'm specifically asking for a believer's participation in liturgy, and whether soteriologically it's called "good work" or not. Updated my question accordingly. Oct 24, 2022 at 23:09
  • @PeterTurner I maybe wrong in my understanding of "work" in Catholicism. If you don't separate the merit of participating in the liturgy from the merit of doing works of love for our neighbors, then yes, it makes sense that participating in the liturgy counts as "work". My instinct says there is a difference because in polemical / apologetical articles discussing faith vs. work with Protestants, I have never seen going to liturgy / confession included in the discussion. Oct 24, 2022 at 23:16

1 Answer 1


Specific works in going to confession are bolded:

  1. Examining your conscience
  2. Waiting in line
  3. Saying your sins
  4. Listening to advice
  5. Praying an "act of contrition"
  6. Thanking your priest
  7. Doing your penance

Each of these things can be done well or poorly and the penitent still receives the same measure of forgiveness (i.e. is brought back in to the same state of grace).

The infusion of grace suffices for the remission of sin;


Doing them well can form a good habit (i.e. a virtue) and thereby increase ones receptivity to grace; especially actual grace to go and do more good works.

I wish St. Thomas were around to offer a distinguo as to whether only confessing once a year was a "work of the law" because it is a precept of the Church. He does say that we're bound to go to confession once a year if only to confess venial sins.

Now, if I were to put on my dumb ox cap, I can reason out that that work would not save you because in the unlikely event that you remain in a state of grace throughout the whole year and only confess venial sins, the work would not save you - but the neglect of the work would condemn you.

Therefore, it seems rational to call the whole thing a "good work" since it fits the bill as

  1. Inspired by the movement of grace
  2. Essential for salvation of fallen human beings
  3. Has elements which may or may not be meritorious based on ones disposition
  • 1
    I see my blind spot now: I was focusing only on the mortal sin aspect. Framed this way, the act of preparing to confess venial sins, if done well, increases virtue since it increases one's receptivity to grace, which in turn helps one to do more good works. Oct 25, 2022 at 13:31
  • @GratefulDisciple yeah, confessing mortal sins is like a going to the hospital for an appendectomy so you can not die; confessing venial sins is like going to the clinic for a physical so you can go play baseball.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 25, 2022 at 14:53
  • If it is a good work, the question then remains as to whether it is a good work unto salvation or a good work resulting from salvation. Paul says the former is impossible and only acknowledges the latter (Ephesians 2:8-10). Oct 26, 2022 at 15:30

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