In this sacrament – also known as ‘going to confession’ – we are invited to share the peace and joy that comes with letting go of our sins, hearing that we are forgiven and beginning anew in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Spend a few minutes before your confession: Pray for God’s help and guidance; examine your conscience; remember any sins you have committed (write them down if it helps); pray for God’s forgiveness. But don’t spend forever trying to remember every little sin (this can become an obsession that is called ‘scruples’) – ten minutes is probably a good amount of time; an hour is too long.
It is our duty to mention in confession all our serious (or ‘mortal’) sins; and we are encouraged to mention some of our other smaller (or ‘venial’) sins and everyday faults, but we don’t need to list every minor failure. Remember that all our venial sins are forgiven and forgotten whenever we pray for God’s forgiveness, and whenever we receive Holy Communion.
(An Examination of Conscience is simply a list of some of the ways that we can love God and our neighbour, and some of the ways we can fail to love through sin. Reflecting on an Examination of Conscience helps us to be honest with ourselves and honest with God. It is not meant to be a burden. It helps us to examine our lives, and to make a good confession, so that we can be at peace with Christ and with one another. The important thing, of course, is to love, and to live our Catholic faith with our whole heart. But now and then it is useful to spell out what this really means, and to make sure that we are not kidding ourselves. It's probably not to be used every day, or even at every confession – we do not need to go through a checklist every time. It is for us to look at every now and then. It is based around the Ten Commandments. As we reflect on it, we can ask the Lord to shine his light into our hearts. Some things will not apply to us; but if something in particular touches our conscience, then we can bring it to confession.
Above all, let us remember God’s mercy and his love for us. His love never fails or changes. He loves us passionately, with infinite kindness and tenderness. The only reason we remember our sins is so that we can turn to him and receive his forgiveness, and learn to love him in a new and deeper way.)
If you are not sure what to say or do, don’t worry – tell the priest, and ask him to help you as you begin. Begin by saying: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then add: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is [state the length of time] since my last confession”. Then tell him very briefly what your ‘state of life’ is, to help him understand your situation; e.g. “I am at school studying for A-levels” or “I am a wife and mother”. Now confess your sins. Be simple and straightforward. Just put into words what you have done wrong since you last went to confession. Don’t make excuses; but if it helps, say a little bit about what happened and why. When you have finished, say: “I am sorry for all these sins and the sins of my past life”.
The priest might then talk to you and give you some advice. He will give you a penance to do (a prayer or action that expresses your sorrow and your desire to put things right and live a new life). The priest will then ask you to make an Act of Contrition. Say one you know, or use the following one: “O my God, because you are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you; and I promise that with the help of your grace, I will not sin again. Amen.”
The priest then says the prayer of absolution, which is the moment when God forgives your sins. He may add some other prayers as well. After this, the priest assigns you a small devotional or practical task for you to complete as a sign of your repentance.
If it is possible now, do your penance in the church before you leave; e.g. if you have been asked to say a certain prayer, kneel down and say it now. Pray for a moment in thanksgiving for the forgiveness you have received in this sacrament; and pray for God’s help to live a new life.
You might feel relieved and peaceful and full of joy. Or you might feel dry and empty. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we have been forgiven and been given new life. The Lord has touched us – even if we do not feel it. That knowledge should give us a kind of inner peace and joy, even if we don’t feel it.
If you forgot to mention something small, don’t get all worried. As long as we make an honest examination of conscience and do not deliberately conceal anything from the priest, we can trust in God’s forgiveness. If we remember, later on, any mortal sins from earlier in our life, we can bring them to our next confession.
Confessions at the moment must be made via prior appointment.