Have you been to Confession (aka the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation) lately? Would you like to go, or perhaps even feel that the Lord is asking you to go, but it’s been awhile? Well then, let’s review the basics so that you are fully equipped to respond to this godly inspiration.
Especially at this time of year, the most common form of the Sacrament of Penance is the Rite for the Reconciliation of Individual Penitents.
Many localities also offer communal penance services, typically before Christmas and Easter. These services streamline the process so as to accommodate a larger number of penitents, but they still involve individual confession of sins and individual absolution. And at any rate, Christmas is still more than two months away, so there is no reason to wait for the next round of communal services.
So what are the steps to going to Confession?
- The Holy Spirit inclines us to a renewed conversion of heart so that we desire reconciliation with God and with His Church. This leads us to seek out this special sacrament—perhaps by going to our parish church when Confessions are offered, or to contact a priest to arrange a mutually convenient day and time.
- Before going to Confession we should carefully examine our consciences so that we’re well disposed to receive this sacrament. Being well disposed for the sacrament means that we’re
- aware of our sins
- sorry for these sins
- resolved to avoid these sins in the future
- The celebration begins with the Sign of the Cross. The penitent then says, in these or similar words, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been X weeks/months/years since my last Confession. These are my sins . . .”
- At this point the penitent begins to tell the priest his or her sins. A few points are in order here.
- First, the penitent should disclose to the priest all the sins that he or she can remember, especially any and all serious, or “mortal,” sins.
- Second, the penitent should do so confidently, aware that the priest is acting in the person of Christ and is bound to absolute secrecy regarding the penitent’s sins.
- Third, it should be noted that there are two general settings for confessing one’s sins: Traditionally Confession takes place in the “confessional,” a small room where the priest and penitent are separated by a screen to ensure complete privacy and anonymity. It is also permissible, if both the priest and penitent agree, to administer and receive the Sacrament of Penance “face-to-face,” either in the confessional or elsewhere.
- The priest proposes the performance of certain acts of ”satisfaction” or “penance” to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ.
- Usually at this point the priest asks the penitent to pray an Act of Contrition, helping the penitent if he or she doesn’t know one by heart. This prayer shows that the penitent has the necessary interior disposition of contrition or repentance so as to be open to the gift of God’s mercy.
- Upon the penitent’s acceptance of the penance and praying the Act of Contrition, the priest, by the authority that the Church has given him, absolves the sinner; that is, he grants God’s pardon for the sins.
- The penitent leaves the confessional and does the penance proposed by the priest.
For more information on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, check out nos. 1420-70 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.