Confession St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
© St. Joseph’s Catholic Church 2017
"Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When He had said this, He breathed on them; and He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." - John 20:19-23
Examination of Conscience Before we get to the church, we mentally review our sins and determine what needs to be confessed. There are various methods of doing this, but one good way is to consider your Duties to God, Church, family, society and to yourself to see where you've failed to honor them. A detailed way of doing this is provided in the "What to Confess: a guide to Examination of Conscience" section at the bottom of the page. A Catholic is required to go to Confession once a year and also at any time of the year he has mortal sin on his soul (is "not in a state of grace"), especially if he desires to receive the Holy Eucharist. But weekly -- at least monthly - Confessions are encouraged. The Sacrament is normally offered before every Mass (Sunday & weekday). You can also call your priest to set up an appointment for the Sacrament (for "just reason" only, you have the option of receiving the Sacrament face to face, outside of the Confessional, but this is not standard and should not be treated as though it is). Most Traditional Catholic Churches have confession before all Masses. What Penance is: it is the Sacramental pardoning of the eternal effects of our sins for which we are truly contrite. It is effected by Christ, Who paid their eternal wages with His passion and Crucifixion, through His priests using proper form. Through the Sacrament, Christ gives us not only forgiveness, but grace to remain steadfast. What Penance is not: psychotherapy. While the priest may give you some direction and advice in the Confessional, if you have general problems or spiritual issues you want to discuss, you should set an appointment to talk with him. This is especially true at a Confession before Mass where people are in line behind you and time is short. Contrition Contrition is "willful regret" for one's sins. It isn't a matter of one's feelings of guilt, but of conviction of the evil of sin and the resolution to sin no more. In other words, contrition is rooted in the will, not in the emotions. For example, some people are more emotional than others: some get a case of the "scruples" and feel shame or guilt over any little thing, whether it's sin or not; others can commit murder and never "wallow" in guilt but are still truly contrite. The one is not necessarily more "holy" or making a better Confession than the other. What matters is their conviction -- their will to offend God no more, and their resolution to make reparations as far as possible, do their penance, and patiently bear the temporal effects of their sins. Without contrition, Confession is not valid. "Imperfect Contrition" (also called "attrition") is regret out of fear of God's just punishments for sin; "Perfect Contrition" is regret for having offended God. We must always strive for the latter, which always absolves sin in itself if it is coupled with the will to also receive the Sacrament. One of the keys to confession is the desire to be rid of all of one's sins. If this is your will, if this is your desire, if you are willing to confess all of your sins and do your penance and resolve to sin no more, then your sins will be forgiven - all of them, even those you may have truly forgotten about. But don't kid yourself, either, and think you can skip mentioning this sin or that one because you're embarrassed. Don't lie to yourself, to your priest, or to God, by omission. Confessing Your Sins to God through His Priests The Sacrament of Penance is typically offered before Masses and by appointment. When you get to the church at the time the Sacrament is offered, you may or may not find a line of people lined up in a pew outside the Confessional. Just take your place in line, keeping a wide berth of the Confessional itself if it is occupied by a fellow penitent (it is very rude to be near the Confessional when someone else is using it!). Our confessionals have a white light shining above the priests door when a priest is available in the Confessional, and a red light shining above the peoples doors when someone is in the Confessional with him, receiving the Sacrament. When it's your turn, enter the Confessional and kneel. When the priest is ready for you, make the Sign of the Cross and say, in a whisper, but loud enough so he can hear you: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been ( N days, weeks, months, years ) since my last Confession. I accuse myself of the following sins. You then name the sins you need to confess, indicating, in the case of mortal sins, how many times you've committed them. If you're unsure of exact numbers -- but only if you are unsure -- tell him "about how many" times you've committed the sin. Ex., "I've lied to my mother twice, I stole a candy bar from work once, etc." Don't go into a lot of detail, don't name other people who may have sinned with you, but do tell him what he needs to know in order to understand relevant circumstances of the particular sins -- that is, circumstances that might mitigate your culpability or make you more culpable. For example, telling him about stealing a loaf of bread because you were starving will elicit a different penance and spiritual direction. If you are unsure as to whether a particular act was a sin, tell him. As you speak, he may stop you to ask you questions for clarification. When you are finished, indicate so by saying something like the following traditional words:     For these and all the sins of my past life, I am truly sorry. Penance Now the priest will give you penance to help you pay for the temporal effects of your sins. He might ask you to say certain prayers, he may ask you to do certain good works, etc. If there is restitution to be made, he might ask you to do so. Whatever he asks you to do, accomplish it as soon as possible after leaving the Confessional. Act of Contrition Now you will make an Act of Contrition to express your sorrow at having offended God and resolving to sin no more. The traditional way of doing this is to recite aloud the prayer called "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 art 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. If you have a hard time memorizing, you can take the Examination cards found in the pew into the confessional with you, as they have the Act of Contrition on them -- but you should try to memorize the Act of Contrition and teach it to your children. Absolution As you make your Act of Contrition, the priest gives you absolution (so don't be confused if the priest starts whispering in Latin as you pray): Christ, through His priest, grants you absolution in a form that includes the words below. Without the words in italics (the very form of the Sacrament), the Sacrament is not valid: Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.     English translation: May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Thereupon, I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. He will pray a prayer for you: Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita Beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris vel mail sustinueris sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae et praemium vitae aeternae.     English translation: May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints obtain for you that whatever good you do or whatever evil you bear might merit for you the remission of your sins, the increase of grace and the reward of everlasting life. The Sacrament is now complete. The priest will dismiss you, perhaps with a final blessing. Thank him, bless yourself, and leave the Confessional. Carrying out your Penance As soon as possible, carry out the penance you were given. Do all you can to avoid near occasions of sin, to bear patiently the temporal effects of the sins you've committed, to make restitution to anyone you've harmed. You may add penances of your own devising to the one(s) the priest gave you. But, no matter what, savor the sweet knowledge that you are forgiven. Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world! He has said the word, and you have been healed! Notes and Tidbits on Confession "General Absolution" in which a priest "absolves" an entire group of their sins is highly illicit unless it is a serious emergency (you're all on the Titanic, you're a group of soldiers getting ready to go into battle, etc.) If, for serious and just reason, you need to make a Confession to a priest outside of a Confessional, it is traditional to kneel and carry on as above. The priest might lay his stole on your shoulder as you confess. One other way the grace of the Sacrament of Penance may be received As indicated above, perfect contrition absolves sin in itself. Thus, if one is trapped on a desert island without a priest, one needn't fear being damned if unable to confess in the normal way. We are bound by the Sacraments; God is not, and has many ways of pouring out His grace to us! Perfect contrition, though, includes the desire to obey God and not offend Him further - and God wants us to confess our sins to a priest. Therefore, if one can, one must go to Confession if there is a mortal sin to confess, or at least once a year. If one is unable to confess in the normal way, but would confess in the normal way if it were possible, then merciful God provides.