Here's a simple step-by-step guide for those who have forgotten how to confess, and a convenient refresher for those who do it regularly. If you are anxious or unsure of what to do at confession, take this guide with you or tell the priest and he will make it easier for you.
Preparing for reconcilation
IN THE SACRAMENT of reconciliation (confession), we encounter Jesus Christ, who after rising from the dead breathed the Holy Spirit on his Apostles – the first priests – and gave them the power to forgive sins in his name (Jn 20:23). The heart of Christ burns with love for us and he wants us to experience his immense and unfathomable mercy by confessing our sins and receiving his forgiveness. This sacrament gives us the consolation of God's pardon and strengthens our relationship with Christ and his church.
Prayer to Our Lady before confession
"Mary, Mother of Jesus and my Mother, your Son died on a cross for me. Help me to confess my sins humbly and with trust in the mercy of God, that I may receive his pardon and peace."
Recognizing sin and growing in holiness
As followers of Jesus, we need to examine our lives and recognize our sinful thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions so that we can bring them to God for forgiveness. Such an examination of conscience should be done regularly, always with trust in God's mercy and love and in the power of the sacrament of reconciliation. We all sin, but we do not all acknowledge our sins. It takes honesty and courage to reflect upon our refusals of God's grace and our rejections of his law of love.
Contemporary society is often blind to the reality of sin and sometimes even presents sinful behaviours or lifestyles as positive goods to be sought and desired. In his encyclical “Reconciliation and Penance” (1984), Pope John Paul II suggests that the defining sin of modern times is the “loss of the sense of sin” and reminds us of St. John's warning: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).
Sin is the deliberate violation of God's law. Although sin promises illusory goods or happiness, it results in harm to the sinner, who is always the primary victim of sin. The church teaches that there are two kinds of sin: mortal and venial.
Mortal sin is a deliberate and free choice of something known to be seriously wrong that destroys our friendship with God and separates us from him (cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17). All of the following three conditions must be met for a sin to be mortal: (1) it must be something serious; (2) it must be done with sufficient knowledge of its gravity; and (3) it must be done with sufficient freedom of the will.
Venial sin is a minor offence against God's law that hurts our relationship with God but does not destroy it.
The sacrament of reconciliation is the ordinary way to have our sins forgiven. It is an encounter with the mercy of the living God, who meets us where we are in our weakness and our sins, and it powerfully deepens our psychological and spiritual growth. The source of many graces, it should be celebrated regularly and whenever the need is felt.
Monthly confession is a healthy and effective means of growing closer to God and leading a balanced, Christ-centred lifestyle.
We need contrition, or sorrow for our sins, to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and contrition must include a fi rm purpose to amend our life and avoid the near occasions of sin – that is, the situations, persons, places, and things that lead us to sin.
Sorrow for sin is very different from sadness or self-hatred. As we draw closer to God, our sense of sin and sorrow for sin become deeper, as do our joy, peace of heart and purity of conscience.
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. Amen.