How to Make a Good Confession

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the normative means by which a Christian avails themselves of the mercy and grace of God for the forgiveness of sins.  The two effects of confession are the sacramental forgiveness of sin through the redemption of Jesus Christ, and an increase in grace that helps renew a Christian’s soul and increase their ability to resist temptation.  In an earlier article, I dealt with answering the question of why Catholics practice confession of sins to a priest.  If you need an answer to this question, click here for an answer.  In this article I will help instruct the reader on how to make a good confession.

 Requirements for Confession

 Under normal circumstances only a baptized Catholic can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  However, this restriction can be lifted in the case of grave circumstances (such as imminent death of a non-Catholic Christian).  For Catholics, three things are required for a valid sacramental confession.  First, the Catholic must examine his conscience honestly and thoroughly and must not withhold confession of any mortal sins (CCC 1456).  Second, the confessor must be contrite and repentant (CCC 1451). A contrite person will seek the Sacrament of Confession because he is sorry for his sins.   Love for God is the best motivation for seeking God’s forgiveness, but even if the confessor is not perfectly contrite (and seeks forgiveness out of simple fear of hell) the Sacrament of Reconciliation will still remain valid (CCC 1453).  However, if a person enters the Sacrament with the intention of committing the sin later, then this person is not sorry for his sins and the sin will not be forgiven.  Finally, the confessor must complete the penance assigned to him by the priest as soon as possible (CCC 1494). 

What to do in the Confessional

 1) Wait for your turn at the Confessional, and if you have not done so examine your conscience

Whether you examine your conscience at home or in the church, it is important that you honestly examine your actions since the last confession.  All mortal sins and the approximate number of times they were committed must be confessed for a valid confession.  Venial sins do not have to be confessed, but if you desire to do so you may.  If you believe your confession will last a great deal of time (in excess of fifteen minutes) it is advisable to schedule a private confession with the priest.  A private confession is a good idea for those who have either left the Church, committed a sin which requires possible counseling, or have not confessed in a long time.  If you want to know what a mortal sin is and need help examining your conscience, click here.

2) Enter the Confessional and choose either a face-to-face confession or anonymous confession

Since Vatican II, most parish churches allow the confessor to choose between a face-to-face or anonymous confession.  Usually, this is done by dividing the confessional room into two halves separated by a grill or curtain.  If you desire an anonymous confession simply kneel down in front of the curtain (the curtain will separate you from the priest) and the priest will begin the confession.  If you desire a face-to-face confession, simply walk around the curtain and sit in the chair opposite the priest.  Remember that you are about to confess your sins to Jesus Christ’s representative on earth.  You confess to Christ and the Church.  Your humility, honesty, and penitence should be tempered by this fact.  Also remember that confessions are absolutely confidential.  The priest will never share your sins with anyone else.  He is instructed to keep the seal of the confessional even under pain of death; so do not let your worries affect your confession.

3)  The priest will begin the Confession with the prayer of the Sign of the Cross

Make the sign of the cross and say, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned it has been [blank] days since my last confession.  I accuse myself of the following sins.”

Then tell the priest the mortal sins you have committed since your last confession.   You do not have to go into any explicit detail of your sins unless the priest feels it is necessary.  Simply tell him the sin and the number of times you did it.  If you feel it is necessary you can tell him the circumstances.   You may also ask him for advice regarding the sin. When you are finished, tell the priest you are sorry for your sins and ask Jesus to forgive those sins as well as any you may have forgotten to confess.

4) The priest will briefly discuss the effects of your sins and will offer advice and encouragement on leading a better Christian life.  He will give you a penance to perform (usually a prayer or good deed) and may ask you to say the Act of Contrition.  Finally, he will absolve you of your sins through a prayer.  At the end of his absolution he will say, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  Make the sign of the cross as he does this.  He will then dismiss you by saying some variation of “go in peace.”  Reply, “Thanks be to God” and exit the confessional.

5)  As soon as possible, complete your penance and rejoice in the fact that your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Rejoice and resolve to sin no more!

 Penitence, Punishment for Sin, and Indulgences

 Although sin can be freely forgiven by the loving redemption of God paid for by Christ’s sacrificial death, the punishment for sin is not removed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  A valid confession absolves us of all our sins (even those we may have forgotten over time), remits some of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sin (CCC 1496), and restores sanctifying grace in our souls.  Unfortunately, our past sins have consequences.  Not only do they weaken the will through repeated offenses, but they also demand just consequences.  The sin can be forgiven, but a just punishment still remains.  This punishment can be paid for in this life by offering up our worldly sorrows to God or by the use of indulgences.  Indulgences are, “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church, which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints (CCC 1471).”  Simply put, indulgences are the application of the merits of the saints to an individual sinner for remission of punishment.  Indulgences are procured by completing a prescribed prayer or good work given by the Church.  The Church lists these works and prayers in the Enchiridion of Indulgences.  In general, plenary indulgences require four things: a good work or prayer listed in the Enchiridion, a sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Pope.  Further information on indulgences can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Enchiridion.

Indulgences are a wonderful sacramental that we should avail ourselves of at all opportunities.  If we have not paid for the punishments of our sins by the end of our lifetime or have a lingering attachment to sin, we must expiate ourselves of attachment to sin in Purgatory (provided we die in the state of grace).  That is why a wise Christian will avail himself of every source of grace in this lifetime.

 --S.M. Miranda

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