Confession / Sacrament of Reconciliation

Confession is one of the least understood of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. In reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, and Catholics are encouraged to take advantage of it often.

Go to Examination of Conscience.

Confession (or Reconciliation) Is a Sacrament:
The Sacrament of Penance, commonly called Confession or Reconciliation, is one of the seven sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church. Catholics believe that all of the sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ Himself. Confession was instituted on Easter Sunday, when Christ first appeared to the apostles after His Resurrection. Breathing on them, He said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).

The Marks of the Sacrament:
Catholics also believe that the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace. In this case, the outward sign is the absolution, or forgiveness of sins, that the priest grants to the penitent (the person confessing his sins); the inward grace is the reconciliation of the penitent to God (which is why the sacrament is also sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation).

The Purpose of Confession:
That reconciling of man to God is the purpose of Confession. When we sin, we deprive ourselves of God’s grace. And by doing so, we make it even easier to sin again. The only way out of this downward cycle is to acknowledge our sins, to repent of them, and to ask God’s forgiveness. Then, in the Sacrament of Confession, grace can be restored to our souls, and we can once again resist sin.

What must I do?
Three things are required of a penitent in order to receive the sacrament worthily:

  1. He must be contrite—or, in other words, sorry for his sins.
  2. He must confess those sins fully, in kind and in number to a priest.
  3. He must be willing to do penance and make amends for his sins.

How Often Should I Go to Confession?
While Catholics are only required to go to Confession when they are aware that they have committed a mortal sin, the Church urges the faithful to take advantage of the sacrament often. A good rule of thumb is to go once per month. (The Church strongly recommends that, in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty to receive communion, we go to Confession even if we are aware only of venial sin.)   The Church especially urges the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Confession frequently during Lent, to help them in their spiritual preparation for Easter.

Why Is Confession Necessary?
Non-Catholics, and even many Catholics, often ask whether they can confess their sins directly to God, and whether God can forgive them without going through a priest. On the most basic level, of course, the answer is yes, and Catholics should make frequent acts of contrition, which are prayers in which we tell God that we are sorry for our sins and ask for His forgiveness.

But the question misses the point of the Sacrament of Confession. The sacrament, by its very nature, confers graces that help us to live a Christian life, which is why the Church requires us to receive it at least once per year. Moreover, it was instituted by Christ as the proper form for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore, we should not only be willing to receive the sacrament, but we should embrace it as a gift from a loving God.

How to go to Confession:
First you must take a look at your life and make a good examination of conscience. This is simply reviewing your past thoughts, words and actions in light of God’s laws (Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church). This is an excellent examination of conscience which is helpful in leading you through this process.

The Ten Commandments:

I am the Lord, thy God; thou shall not have strange Gods before me.

  1. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
  2. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
  3. Honor thy father and mother.
  4. Thou shall not kill.
  5. Thou shall not commit adultery.
  6. Thou shall not steal
  7. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  8. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife.
  9. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's goods.

The Precepts of the Church:

The Precepts of the Church are set out as the very necessary minimum requirements that one is to follow to maintain a Catholic moral life.

  1. Attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and benefit from the Sabbath day of rest.
  2. Confess your sins at least once per year
  3. Receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter Season
  4. Observe established days of fasting and abstinence
  5. Help provide for the needs of the Church

The form for the Sacrament is as follows:

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been   (how long)   since my last confession.”   (Tell your sins)   “I am sorry for these sins and for any sins that I may have forgotten.”

Give advice. Assigns penance. Give absolution while you pray an Act of Contrition.

Act of Contrition – “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee; 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 Thee my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.”

“His mercy endures forever.”

“Go in peace.”

“Thank you Father.”

After going to Confession, you should stop and complete your penance.