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How to Go to Confession

There are four main steps to make a good confession.
by Sonia Baldwin, consecrated wom | Source: Mater Ecclesiae College

And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23)

Have you ever been ill and needed a doctor? Or maybe you just wanted a regular check-up to see how things were going. Confession is much like visiting a doctor but in confession, you are visiting the doctor of your soul. There is no one who knows us better than the one who created us and if there is a disease or malady to be found within us, he is the one who will find it and cure us. Unlike human medicine, this doctor can cure any illness of the soul and has remedies for every disease. And like all doctors, he does prescribe medicines, some which don’t taste so good but all of which help us to get better.

How can I visit this doctor and what will the medicines be? Well, confession is much simpler than an ordinary doctor and best of all, it will cost you nothing because this doctor has already paid the cost of the medicines by His death upon the cross.

Thanks to the love and mercy of God, there is no sin too great to be forgiven; there will never be a sinner who is rejected. Every person who repents will be received with pardon and love by Jesus Christ. (John Paul II)

There are four simple steps to get you through.

1. Examining your conscience

First it helps to examine your conscience. This means going over your life since your last confession and thinking about what you did wrong or what you didn’t do that you know you should have done. The Ten Commandments are a great place to start. Go through each commandment one at a time and think of ways that you may have not lived it well in your daily life. There are many good confession guides that do this but if you are having trouble finding one, then the Catechism of the Catholic Church goes through each commandment in depth and you could use that as a guide to help you prepare confession.

2. Penitential rite

Next comes the penitential rite. What does this mean? Well, you are the penitent and the rite is going to confession with the priest. Most Catholic churches have some set times for confession. You can call the parish and ask or just check their bulletin or notice boards. Most priests should be available at any time for confession if you just ask them.
The first most important thing before actually entering the confessional is a real sorrow for the sins you have committed against God, detestation for those sins and the resolve to not sin again. This is called contrition. This resolve does not guarantee that you will not make the same mistake again, but what is important is that your heart is in the right place and that you are trying not to keep falling into the same sins.

On entering the confessional it is customary to kneel before the priest (or sit if needed). Kneeling is a sign of sorrow for sin and also submission before God who is represented by the presence of the priest. Remember, it is not the priest you are telling your sins to, but Christ. He is the one who has the power to forgive you and through the priest He imparts His forgiveness and mercy.

Most confessionals have a guide inside or if not, then just ask the priest what to do if you are unsure. The priest will begin with a prayer or some scriptural reading and then you may begin the confession. Tell him how long it has been since your last confession and then tell him of your sins as you reflected beforehand.

3. Act of contrition 

Once you are finished the priest will give you some advice, he will give you a penance (some prayer or work that you need to fulfill in reparation for your sins) and then he will ask you to make an act of contrition. This can be a simple prayer (see below) or you can ask the priest to direct you in some prayer.

4. Absolution 

After this the priest will pray the prayer of absolution (see below) over you where in the name of Christ he imparts Christ’s forgiveness for your sins. He will then say some final words of blessing and then you may leave.

Remember, only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and exercises this divine power: "Your sins are forgiven." Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.

Extra Information

Catechism on Confession:

Other articles on Confession:

An 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.

Absolution (what the priest says)
V. 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 give 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.
R. Amen.


1st – Love the Lord Your God above all else

Have I forgotten to pray to God every day?
Have I allowed myself to doubt something about my faith that the Church teaches me? Have I ever allowed myself to deny these truths in my thoughts or before other people?
Have I lost confidence in the mercy of God when seeing my own sins? Have I taken advantage of his mercy by thinking that it does not matter if I sin because, in the end, he will always forgive me?
Have I rebelled against God in my thoughts or in my actions when some kind of difficulty has come my way? Do I believe in good luck charms or superstitions? Do I believe in magic or spirits?

2nd – Do not use the Lord’s name in vain

Have I blasphemed? (speaking badly about God, Mary or the saints)
Have I taken the Lord’s name in vain? Disrespectfully?
When I was angry? Even in jest or with little respect?
Have I sworn to do something bad?
Have I made disrespectful jokes about prayer, the sacraments, or the Church?

3rd –Keep Holy the Lord ’s Day

Have I purposely missed mass on Sunday or on other holy days of obligation?
Have I let myself get distracted in mass or arrived late (after the gospel)?
Have I ever received communion knowing that I was in mortal sin?
Have I respected the fast one hour before receiving communion?
Have I ever omitted a grave sin in confession because I was embarrassed?
Have I fulfilled the penance from the last confession?

4th – Honor your Father and your Mother

Have I disobeyed my parents?
Has my pride or desire to be independent made me misinterpret what my parents were trying to tell me?
Have I upset my parents with my behavior?
Have I threatened them, or treated them badly in my words or actions, or have I wished something against them?
Do I study with responsibility or have I let myself be lazy?
Have I sacrificed my own personal interests, whims, time, to fulfill my duties to help and cooperate with what is needed at home?
How do I treat my brothers and sisters?

5th – You shall not Kill

Do I have any enemies, hatred or resentment against anyone? Have I ever let myself be led by my anger?
Have I stopped speaking to someone because I was annoyed with them? Have I refused to make amends with them?
Have I wished anything bad on my neighbor? Have I rejoiced when something went wrong for someone else?
Have I fought or hit anyone?
Have I been a cause of scandal for anyone with my behavior?
Have I put my life in danger or the lives of others while driving?
Have I made fun of other people or ridiculed them?
Do I ask for things from other people in a rude way, lacking charity?
Am I selfish with the things that I have and is it hard for me to give them to others?
Have I put my health in danger by drinking too much? Doing drugs? Not eating properly or doing excessive dieting?

6th and 9th – You shall not consent to impure acts or thoughts

Have I consented to impure thoughts or memories?
Have I had impure conversations with my friends? Did I begin them?
Have I looked at impure things? (TV, internet, movies, magazines or billboards)
Have I been to activities where I placed myself in a near occasion of sin? (certain dances, movies, concerts, impure literature or bad company?)
Have I done anything impure?
Have I let myself be led by curiosity and fall into the temptation to see pornography? (magazines, movies, internet, etc)?
Do I have any friendships that lead me into habitual sin?
Am I willing to leave them?

7th and 10th – You shall not steal or desire your neighbors goods

Have I stolen anything or money? Have I helped anyone else to steal?
Have I returned a stolen item if I could?
Have I misused other people’s things? Or tried to trick them into losing something?
When I see other people’s talents or material things, am I envious?
Do I use my talents, gifts and qualities that God has given me?

8th – You shall not bear false witness

Have I lied? Have I made reparation for any hurt I may have caused by lying? Have I criticized other people or spoken about their shortcomings?
Have I defended other people when they are being criticized unjustly?
Have I judged other people harshly? (thinking badly of then and without due cause?)
Have I revealed secrets about other people?
Have I spoken badly about others?
Have I cheated on exams or homework?

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Post a Comment
Published by: Siobhan
Date: 2011-02-05 15:16:21
I am so sorry to hear of your bad experience...that is terrible! However, one priest's bad behavior does not mean that the Catholic Church is "full of it," or that Christ is. God must work through imperfect people, including those in the Church. I am sure your experience is not typical, and I urge you to give it another try. God bless!

Published by: Rae
Date: 2010-09-19 21:11:42
You might want to be careful about what you promise. I've noticed a huge disconnect between the "official" church and the actual experience. "... There will never be a sinner who is rejected. Every person who repents will be received with pardon and love by Jesus Christ." Maybe you should have asked Father Jerk at the parish I went to when I was trying to return to the church. First I was told he was "too busy" to hear my confession (I went during a posted time that had been scheduled for confessions) and I should make an appointment. Then he used the appointment to rail at me about issues other people had that I hadn't even brought up. I'll never try it again. Either the Catholic church is full of it or Christ himself is.

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