How to Make a Good Confession
Reconciliation (also known as Confession or Penance) is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ in his love and mercy to offer sinners forgiveness for offenses committed against God. In Reconciliation, we acknowledge our sins before God and his Church. We express our sorrow in a meaningful way, receive the forgiveness of Christ and his Church, make reparation for what we have done, and resolve to do better in the future.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation contains the following elements:
- Contrition: Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again."
- Confession: The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.
- Absolution: The priest speaks the words by which “God, the Father of Mercies” reconciles a sinner to himself through the merits of the Cross.
- Satisfaction: An important part of our healing is the “penance” the priest imposes in reparation for our sins.
Confession is not difficult, but it does require preparation.
Before we enter the Confessional, we should begin with prayer, placing ourselves in the presence of God, our loving Father. We seek healing and forgiveness through repentance and a resolve to sin no more.
Then we review our lives since our last confession, searching our thoughts, words and actions for that which did not conform to God’s command to love Him and one another through His laws and the laws of His Church. This is called an examination of conscience.
- Begin with a prayer asking for God’s help.
- Review your life with the help of some questions, which are based on the Ten Commandments (see below).
- Tell God how truly sorry you are for your sins.
- Make a firm resolution not to sin again.
Here are a few samples examinations for those in different states in life:
"Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction."
The Sacrament of Reconcilation may be face-to-face or anonymous, with a screen between you and the priest. Choose the option that is the most comfortable for you. When you enter the confessional:
- Begin your confession: The priest will give you a blessing or greeting. He may also share a brief Scripture passage. Make the Sign of the Cross and say, "Bless me Father for I have sinned, It has been [X days, weeks, years] since my last confession."
- Confess your sins: Confess all of your Mortal sins to the priest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know." (St. Jerome)
Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful.
If you are unsure about how to confess or you feel uneasy: Just ask the priest to help you. Always take comfort in the fact that this is what Father became a priest to do - to make us friends with God again. Answer Father's questions without hiding anything out of fear or shame. (God already knows what you've done - who cares if the priest knows?) Place your trust in God, a merciful Father who loves you and wants to forgive you.
- After you have confessed all of your sins: Say "I am sorry for these and all of my sins." The priest will then offer you advice to help you be a better Catholic, such as how to better work with the graces that God is giving you in your life, or ways to combat your weaknesses or habitual sin. He will then assign a penance.
- Say an Act of Contrition: Expressing your sorrow for your sins.
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
- The priest, acting in the person of Christ, then absolves you from your sins.
The formula of absolution expresses the essential elements of this sacrament - the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. When the priest absolves you, he will say these words:
God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation." Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God. (Lk 15:32)
Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."
The penance the confessor imposes:
- Must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good.
- Must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed.
- Can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear.
In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin.
In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and "does not come into judgment."
This page contains multiple excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 4, VII - The Acts of the Penitent and Article V, IX - The Effects of This Sacrament