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The act or virtue of sorrow for one's sins. The virtue of contrition is a permanent disposition of soul. However, only an act of contrition is required for the remission of sin, whether with or without sacramental absolution.
The act of contrition is a free decision involving a detestation of and grief for sins committed and also a determination not to sin again. This detestation is an act of the will that aims at past sinful thoughts, words, deeds, or omissions. In practice it means that a sinner must retract his past sins, equivalently saying he wished he had not committed them. The grief for sins is also an act of the will directed at the state of greater or less estrangement from God that results from sinful actions. Concretely, it means the desire to regain the divine friendship, either lost or injured by sin. There must also be a determination not to sin again, which is an act of the will resolving to avoid the sins committed and take the necessary means to overcome them.
Four qualities permeate a genuine act of contrition and affect all three constituents of the act, the detestation, the grief, and the determination not to sin again. A valid contrition is internal, supernatural, universal, and sovereign.
Contrition is internal when it is sincere and proceeds from the will, when it is not the result of a mere passing mood or emotional experience. It is supernatural when inspired by actual grace and based on a motive accepted on faith. It is universal when the sorrow extends to all mortal sins, and for valid sacramental absolution there must be sorrow for whatever sins are confessed. It is finally sovereign if the sinner freely recognizes sin as the greatest of all evils and is willing to make amends accordingly. (Etym. Latin contritio, grinding, crushing; compunction of heart; from conterere, to rub together, bruise.)
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.