When you first examine the Church’s precept of confession, you may tend to wonder at it a little bit, just as you do, perhaps, at the precept of Holy Communion. Once a year seems a foolishly rare reception of these wonderful sacraments. On further examination, though, you discover that this law isn’t too bad an idea at that, both spiritually and psychologically, and we can begin to give the Church a little credit for some sense. First of all, the yearly precept is precept, but the desire of Christ and His Church is that you go far beyond the precept of yearly confession and Communion.
The really big reason for this precept of yearly confession, however, is that the Church knows there are people who have so little grasp of what their Faith is all about that they need this sort of moral pushing around. These people go by the “principle” that if a thing isn’t commanded, it shouldn’t be done. Of course they don’t follow this “principle” in other matters – nobody ever orders them to eat between meals or take a drink now and then, for instance.
It is possible, too, that this precept may have brought some lost souls back to Christ and His Church. The person who has been away from the sacraments for many years often feels scared and embarrassed, a state that sets up an obstacle to his return. But with this precept in mind he will often be more at ease if he feels that there are a number of people going to confession during the Easter Season who, like him, might have been away for more than a week or two.
– Joseph T. McGloin, SJ, Burn a Little! (or, what’s LOVE all about?) (1961)