The Sacrament of Confession


Confession (sometimes called penance or reconciliation) is one of the most well known parts of Catholic life.  It is the Sacrament given to us by Jesus so that we can have our sins forgiven and be reconciled with God and the Church.


We read in John's Gospel that "“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ 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 20:21-23).


Read on to find out more about the sacrament, how to prepare for it and what to say when you come to the confessional.


Do I have to go?
As a Catholic you do have to go to confession regularly. After the resurrection, Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to his apostles and their successors. Our sins hurt others and ourselves and they offend God. He wants to forgive us and heal us so much.


Why can’t I just tell God that I’m sorry myself?

Probably because Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that we’re usually too easy on ourselves. We prefer not to think about our sins and we find it difficult to make a sincere apology. Speaking to a priest and naming our sins means that we really do take responsibility for them - and then we can leave them behind and get closure.


But there are also times when we’re too hard on ourselves. Sometimes we find it hard to forgive ourselves and we carry round shame and regret. Confessing to the priest means that we actually get to hear someone speak aloud and tell us that we’re forgiven. Don’t underestimate how much we need to hear those words!


Why do I have to tell a priest?

As we read in the passage from John 20, Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to Peter and the apostles, and that power is still carried out by the bishops (who are the successors of the apostles) and their priests. When we speak to the priest in confession we are really speaking to Jesus.


We still might feel embarrassed about going to a priest, especially if we know him. But we shouldn’t be. Priests have to go to confession themselves, and if you think you’re embarrassed then imagine what its like for him going to his friend or colleague! Priests understand our embarrassment and we should always remember that they will never tell anyone what they hear. In fact most priests will tell you that they just don’t remember the details of the confessions they hear afterwards - that forgetfulness is a gift of the Holy Spirit.


But you don’t understand: my sins are really serious/embarrassing!

Then God will be even happier to forgive them and the priest will admire your courage! Anyway, it’s an old trick of the devil to make us think that our sins are particularly bad. First he tempts us to sin by suggesting that it’s ok and everyone does it. After we’ve sinned the devil changes tack and tempts us to think our sins are so bad that we shouldn’t even try to get God’s forgiveness. Don’t fall for his trick - God always forgives us!


How often should I go to confession?

The Church gives us the bare minimum as a guideline - at least once a year (during Easter time) and anytime we deliberately commit a serious sin (sometimes called a mortal sin). If we’ve committed a serious sin we need to go to confession before we can receive Holy Communion again. If we die without having repented for a serious sin then our soul is in danger.


However we shouldn’t be thinking only in terms of the bare minimum. Confession is a chance for a one-on- one conversation with God. He loves us, he wants to bless us, he will always forgive us and he will help us do better. It’s a sacrament that we should use regularly. Pope Francis recently said he goes every two weeks. Once a month would certainly be an excellent habit to build up.




Making a Good Confession


Before you go into confession spend some time in prayer.  Ask God to help you to make a good confession.  It is always a good idea to do an examination of conscience to help you remember your sins.  The following examination is based on the ten commandments:


Have I failed to put God first in my life?

Have I prayed every day?

Am I grateful to God for his blessings?

Have I gone to Mass on Sundays and holy days (when it was possible)?

Do I come in good time?  Do I stay to the end?

Do I show love and respect to the Blessed Sacrament - (keeping quiet in the church, genuflecting etc.)?

Do I keep the one hour fast before receiving Holy Communion?

Have I gone to confession regularly?

Have I held back any sins in confession?

Did I do penance during Lent or other times of the year?

Have I used the name of God or Jesus as if it was a swear word?

Have I been disrespectful of religion or holy things?

Have I defended the Catholic Church when it is unfairly attacked?

Do I support the Church with my time and my talents (if it was possible)?

Do I make a fair contribution to the Church financially?

Am I interested in my faith?  Do I ever read about it?  Go to talks or courses?


Have I loved and respected my parents?

Have I loved and cherished my spouse?

Do I show love and kindness to my children?

Do I bring up my children in the faith?

Have I taken family or friends for granted?

Do I help others willingly, reluctantly or not at all?

Have I been ungrateful, angry or bad tempered with loved ones?

Have I been part of a feud or held a grudge?

Do I still pray for my loved ones who have died?


Have I been violent to others?

Have I spoken to others aggressively?

Have I spoken badly about someone to other people?

Have I gossiped?

Have I defended people against lies or gossip?

Have I been sectarian, racist, sexist, or homophobic in my attitudes, words or actions?

Have I been prepared to forgive people who have upset me?

Have I said sorry to people I have upset?

Have I been unfaithful to my spouse?

Have I married outside of the Church?

Have I been involved in an abortion?

Have I used artificial contraception?

Have I had sex outside of Christian marriage?

Have I sinned through lust by myself?

Have I looked at pornography or inappropriate material on TV or computer?

Have I stolen anything?  Did I return it, or make it up?

Do I do a honest day’s work?

Do I pay an honest day’s wage?

Do I give a fair amount of money to charity?

Have I cared too much about possessions?

Have I overeaten?

Have I been drunk or abused alcohol?

Have I taken drugs?

Have I gambled too much?

Have I set a good example to others, especially young people?

Have I been jealous of other people?

Have I been envious of what other people own?

Have I been involved in the occult?  Astrology, tarot cards, ouija boards, psychics?



When you go to confession:


1 Begin with “Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It is (……) since my last confession.”


2 Tell your sins.  Don’t be embarrassed or worry about what the priest thinks.  He is happy that you are going to the sacrament!


3 When you are finished telling your sins say “for these and any sins I have forgotten, I am sorry”.


4 The priest will say a few words of prayer or advice.


5 He will then give you your penance.


6 Then he will ask you to pray an Act of Sorrow or Contrition.  There are different versions of this prayer.  Use the one you prefer or this one:


O my God, I thank you for loving me,

I am sorry for all my sins,

For not loving others and not loving you.

Help me to live like Jesus

And not sin again.  Amen.


7 The priest will pray the words of absolution and your sins are forgiven.


8 Before you leave the church pray the penance that the priest gave you.