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The term has two different meanings, both referring to the reception of the sacrament of penance. Most commonly, it means a private confession where the penitent (exceptionally) resolves to confess as far as he or she can all past sins, and not only those since the last confession. The practice is recommended when a person is entering on a new state of life -- the priesthood, religious life, or marriage -- and is required in some religious institutes by rule to be done annually. Less often, general confession is associated with the granting of general absolution. When general absolution may be validly given, the provision for general confession is that "the penitents who wish to receive absolution" are invited "to indicate this by some kind of sign." The penitents then say a general formula for confession, for example, "I confess to almighty God." However, one of the necessary dispositions for receiving valid absolution, when only a general confession was made, is that the penitent "resolve to confess in due time each one of the grave sins which he cannot confess at present."
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.