† How To Go To Confession
Before You Go…
Examine your conscience, that is, reflect on what sins you have committed. To guide you, just Google “examination of conscience” and you’ll find many resources to help you. It’s even alright to make a list to bring with you to confession if that helps.
- Introduction. When you come before the priest, begin by making the Sign of the Cross (praying the words out loud), and continue by saying, “Bless me, Father, I have sinned. It has been (how long) since my last confession. These are my sins…”
- Confession. List the sins you have committed that came to mind when doing your examination of conscience. Don’t be too general (like, “I haven’t been a good person”), but a lot of detail is not necessary either (you don’t need to tell the whole story of how a sin came about). If you’re not sure if something is a sin, just ask the priest. This isn’t counseling, so unless you ask, the priest likely won’t give you advice. He’ll just move on to…
- Penance. The priest will suggest something for you to do or pray as a response to God’s mercy. You’ll have to remember what this is and do it after the confession is over, so pay attention.
- Contrition. The priest will then ask you to pray your “Act of Contrition,” demonstrating your sorrow for your sins. This needs to be prayed out loud for the priest to hear, but need not adhere exactly to one formula. Here are two examples (choose the one that suits you best)
ACT OF CONTRITION
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against You whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy.
O 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, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
5. Absolution. Don’t get up to leave after that prayer, because the best part is yet to come: the priest will extend his hands in your direction and he will pray the Prayer of Absolution: “God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and 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 grant 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. Amen.” You respond: Amen.
6. Conclusion. The priest will then likely say something like, “God has freed you from your sin. Go in Peace.” To which you can respond: “Thanks be to God.”
After You Leave… Don’t forget to do your penance. If it is saying certain prayers, it’s best to do it right away in the church before you forget.
†Why Do Catholics Confess to a Priest?
The first two chapters of Baruch tell us how the Jewish exiles in ancient Babylon repented of the sins that had led to their humiliation by their enemies. These penitents confessed their sins to God and to the priests back in Jerusalem, asking the priest to intercede for them: “Pray for us also to the Lord, our God, for we have sinned against the Lord” (Baruch 1:13).
Thus, the practice of confessing sins to God as represented by a priest, and having the priest respond with a prayer for divine mercy, has ancient precedents among God’s people (Lv 19:20-22). In Catholic practice, however, the priest not only prays for the penitent but also imposes a penance and speaks on God’s behalf for words of forgiveness (absolution).
This sacrament of Reconciliation, as it is called, is firmly grounded both in Scripture and in early, constant Christian Tradition. The priestly authority to represent God as an ambassador of his mercy was granted by Jesus to St. Peter and the other apostles – and by extension, to the priests they and their successors ordained: “Whatever you bind [That is, forgive in God’s name] on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19 & Mt 18:18). “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23).
In the early Church, confession of grave sin was often made to the whole Christian assembly as well as the priests. Certain instructions in the Letter of James are suggestive of this early practice. When sick, believers were to call the presbyters (priests). The priests were then to anoint them with oil and pray for them. In confessing their sins, the sick could be healed and forgiven (Jas 5:13-16).
Catholics are obligated to repent of all mortal, or grave, sins (contrition) and to confess them to a priest in order to be absolved. The penitent performs the assigned penance to repair the harm caused by sin and to reestablish habits that lead to holiness. The absolution imparted by the priest is not a mere expression of hope, but a sacramental, objective reality.
The New Cathholic Answer Bible © Copyright 2005