Practicing Catholic IX: How to Go to Confession

Especially as we approach Holy Week and Easter, some people make it a practice to seek forgiveness for their sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called “Penance” or “Confession.”) Here’s a refresher course:

  1. Love God and neighbor every day;
  2. Ask for forgiveness for wrongdoing in simple and everyday ways–from people you wrong, and from God–as soon as you become aware that you need to;
  3. Use the Eucharist each Sunday as the ordinary way to ask for forgiveness and healing for sin;
  4. For serious wrongs, or for “taking stock” a few times a year, seek God’s healing in confession (check the Bulletin for times, or call for an appointment);
  5. Don’t be anxious about “how to do it,” or what the priest might say; ask the priest for help if you need it; we’re happy to lead you, step-by-step (and we’ve heard everything, and are unshockable; we’re there to help and guide, representing the forgiving Christ);
  6. Take some time in the church beforehand to think about God’s love, and to prepare what you want to say;
  7. Be direct and brief in mentioning sin; neither of us needs explanations, and God already knows;
  8. Use the beatitudes, the great commandments, the virtues, the capital sins, or the ten commandments as a guide for reflection; stay focused on God, not on your own sin;
  9. You can enter a reconciliation room if the green light over the door is on; if the red light is on, wait;
  10. As you enter, you can kneel (and the priest can hear you but not see you), or walk to the chair and sit facing the priest; we don’t care;
  11. As you enter, close the door behind you so your privacy will be respected (priests are, of course, never allowed to say what we hear–for any reason);
  12. Begin with the sign of the cross; we’re at prayer;
  13. The priest will greet you; relax; and he may read a verse or two of Scripture to recall God’s healing presence;
  14. Say how long it’s been, so the priest gets a sense of scale in what you’re about to say;
  15. Mention any serious sin, and anything else you want to;
  16. The priest may chat a bit about what might be helpful to you; treat this as a normal conversation;
  17. He’ll suggest a “penance,” as a way to express a change of heart; feel free to discuss this if you’d care to;
  18. Pray for healing and in thanksgiving when the priest invites you to; use your own words, or the “act of contrition,” or the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner”);
  19. Listen silently as he prays the prayer of absolution;
  20. He’ll conclude by saying, “Go in peace” or the like; say good-bye, and leave (leave the door open for the next person, to show that the room is free);
  21. Perform your penance thankfully, keeping focused on God’s goodness;
  22. (Return to #1, and repeat.)

Until next week, Peace