How do I make a good confession if I don’t go that often? And what do I do if I know the priest? — Green Bay.
Take it from a priest: Any confession is a good confession!
The best things you can do before you go to confession are to pray to the Holy Spirit to guide you, enlighten you and help you to know your sins. Also, read through an examination of conscience and make note of what you should confess. You can find an examination of conscience if you do an internet search for “Catholic examination of conscience.”
As far as the mechanics of confession: when you enter the confessional, you can say and make the Sign of the Cross. Then say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been ‘so-and-so weeks/months/years’ since my last confession.
These are my sins.” Then confess your sins — both kind and number, to the best of your ability — and when finished, you can say, “For these and all of my sins, I am sorry.”
The priest may then offer some encouragement and advice. Following this, he will assign a penance and ask if you are able to do it. Then the priest will ask you to make an Act of Contrition.
Often a version of this is printed or posted in the confessional. Or, if you don’t have one memorized, you can bring one and read it aloud. After your Act of Contrition, the priest will absolve your sins. You can make the Sign of the Cross as he pronounces the words, “… in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Per the rubrics of the Order of Penance, the priest will then say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” and you can respond, “His mercy endures forever.” The priest then offers a dismissal. You can thank him and exit the confessional. Be sure to do your penance and thank God for the gift of his mercy.
Because priests do not remember specific sins or penitents, it is fine to go to confession to a priest who you know. It is one of the gifts and mysteries of the priesthood that priests’ memories tend to be suspended while hearing confessions and wiped clean afterward. If you would rather not confess to a priest you know, you confess to a priest who you do not know. Also, church law states that a confessional with a “fixed grate” (screen) must be available, such that the identity of the penitent is prevented from being known by the priest.
Confession is a beautiful sacrament in which we repent of our sins, renounce the bad spirits that tempt us and receive God’s mercy, healing and love. Confession is nothing to fear, and while there is no time limit, a good confession doesn’t have to take much longer than five minutes. The season of Lent is a great time to go to confession.
We should always remember the second Precept of the Church: “You shall confess your sins at least once per year.” If we are serious about growing in holiness and becoming a saint, it is wise to confess our sins even more often than that.
May God bless you for your interest in confession! Fr. Sladek is administrator of St. Mark Parish, Redgranite, and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Poy Sippi, as well as priest celebrant and priest moderator of St. Paul Parish, Plainfield.
Have questions about Catholic church practices, send them to The Compass, attn. FAQS, PO Box 23825, Green Bay, WI 54305, or email [email protected]