Purpose of Amendment

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A resolve on the part of a penitent not to sin again. It is not a mere wish, nor is it a promise, but a simple determination of will to avoid sin. In the early Church a relatively long period of actual reform was often required to precede the reconciliation of a sinner. But in the later discipline of the Church the intention to reform was, under ordinary circumstances, permitted in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to substitute for actual reform as a condition necessary for reconciliation. However, there can be no forgiveness of sin without sorrow, and sorrow is insufficient if it does not include a purpose to give up future sin; hence the purpose of amendment is an indispensable part of the true contrition necessary for the valid reception of the Sacrament. Both the Councils of Florence (Enchiridion symbolorum, 1323) and Trent (Enchiridion symbolorum, 1676) expressly associate the resolution to improve in the future with regret for past moral lapses. Although a clearly deliberate and distinct volitional proposal regarding moral reform is more helpful than a vague, undetermined, and implicit intention of amendment, the proposal to improve implicit in true contrition is sufficient in practice to ensure the validity of the Sacrament.

Theologians commonly enumerate three qualities that should mark the purpose of amendment. (1) It should be firm, i.e., the penitent's present attitude should be one of sincere determination to avoid the sin at the cost of whatever self-denial or effort may be required. (2) It should be universal. Negatively, it must exclude any present intention to sin mortally, and it should include, at least virtually, a positive intention to avoid any kind of mortal sin in the future. As regards the sins a penitent actually confesses, his purpose of amendment must therefore extend to all that are mortal. If he has no mortal sins to confess, his purpose of amendment should specifically embrace either all the venial sins he has confessed, or at least some one of them, or some sin of his past life contained in the matter of his confession. (3) It must be efficacious. This means that it must include the intention of using the means necessary to the avoidance of sine.g., prayer, vigilance, the shunning of the free occasions of sin. It also includes the determination to make necessary reparation for one's sins, if and when this is possible.

It must be remembered that the purpose of amendment is an act of the will, not of the mind, and it must not be confused with certainty on the part of the mind that one will succeed in implementing his proposal to reform. It is, indeed, compatible with strong doubt of mind. What is required for the purpose of amendment is not actual success, or the certain expectation of success, but a present act of will to turn away from sin. Failure to keep the resolution does not necessarily mean that a person was insincere when he made it, although frequent relapses, coupled with the neglect of obvious, necessary, and easy means may indicate that something is wanting in a penitent's purpose of amendment.

See Also: contrition; penance, sacrament of.

Bibliography: p. f. palmer, Sacraments of Healing and of Vocation (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1963). c. journet, The Meaning of Grace, tr. a. v. littledale (New York 1960). e. h. schillebeeckx, Christ: The Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York 1963). j. c. heenan, Priest and Penitent: A Discussion of Confession (London 1946).

[j. d. fearon]