Going to confession…three words that can strike up such fear and apprehension. We go to church, go to fish fries, go to Holy Days, do our best during Lent, but how often do we go to confession? What is it about going to confession that strikes up those feelings – is it the personal interaction with our pastor? Is it reluctance to examine our own conscience? Or is it the challenge of having to admit – out loud, to another – that we have done something wrong…or maybe not quite right?
Regardless of the reason, the rate at which we all go to confession is pretty low. America Magazine reported in 2007 that only 12% of Catholics go to confession more than once per year. Ouch. Is this because we have become numb to the sins going on around us and see it as “normal”? Or do we really believe we, ourselves, have not sinned?
Confession is truly one of the beautiful gifts we can receive as Catholics. Just as Jesus gave his apostles the ability to forgive sins (John 20:23, Matthew 16:19), we, too, can receive this forgiveness from Jesus through our priests today.
A bit of history: Penance is derived from the Latin word poenitentia, which – at its root – means “the desire to be forgiven”. This is so beautiful, as who among us doesn’t have the desire – the need – to be forgiven for the wrongs we’ve done? One of the greatest feelings is when you apologize to a friend, “I’m sorry”, and they smile with an, “It’s ok.”. You have been forgiven.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been, don’t worry. Below is a guide for what you can expect – or, you can download the app! (Just remember…you need to see a priest to get absolution.)
- BEFORE CONFESSION
- Take time to really examine your own conscience. Find a quiet place where you can spend honest quality time looking at your actions. There are many great guides, like this one, available to assist.
- Write down what you want to say. Sometimes, writing it out can help during the one-on-one with the priest…especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been to Confession.
- AT CONFESSION
- Depending on the setup at your church, you may find yourself face-to-face with a priest or behind a screen.
- Upon sitting/kneeling down, begin with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has been … since my last confession.”
- The priest may read a scripture, or indicate for you to continue.
- Begin your confession. If you’ve written down some thoughts during your earlier meditation, don’t be ashamed to bring it out and read. Start with the mortal sins…those that are the most grave and serious.
- Once you’re done, apologize to God. Tell him, “I’m sorry for all my sins.”
- The priest will give you a penance. (A penance is given to lessen the temporal punishment of sins that are forgiven.)
- Say the Act of Contrition. Don’t worry if you don’t know it! There are many versions you can print out before going, or there may be a sample prayer card at the time of your confession you can use. What matters is that you pray, asking God for forgiveness for what you’ve done.
- Receive absolution from the priest, who gives this gift through Christ. Such a gift!
- Make the Sign of the Cross, and gather your things to leave.
- AFTER CONFESSION
- Do your assigned penance.
- Thank God for forgiving you (if only we all forgave the way God does!) and know that you are forgiven. There is nothing you need to do to “accept” God’s forgiveness and regain His love…it is unconditional.
- Make a promise with yourself to not do what you confessed again. This is so important! Think thoroughly on this…figure out what you need to do to make sure you’re not in the same position again.
Copyright 2013 Jen Frost