Guide to Confession
To prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we must examine our souls and recall those times in which we have failed to love God or our neighbor. But not just recall - we must be sorry for those selfish actions and desire reconciliation.
To help with this process, one should do an "Examination of Conscience" before entering the Confessional. A few sample ones can be found at the following links:
Examination of Conscience for Children
Examination of Conscience for Young Adults
Examination of Conscience for Single People
Examination of Conscience for Married Persons
A few practical notes:
(1) We only need to confess those sins which we have committed since our last Confession.
(2) If we have committed any grave sins, i.e. sins of a very serious nature such as adultery, missing Mass on Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation without a legitimate reason, or abortion, then we must confess these, stating the specific sin and number of times committed. Less serious sins can also be confessed, especially if they are burdening us, but it is not required to confess all sins of this nature.
(1) Go to your local Catholic parish when priests are hearing confessions. Wait until your turn and enter the confessional.
(2) Most parishes have confessionals in which you choose whether to confess face-to-face with the priest or behind a screen for privacy. Choose one and wait for the priest to begin with a short prayer.
(3) Begin your confession with the Sign of the Cross and by telling the priest how long it has been since your last confession: "Forgive me Father for I have sinned it has been [blank] days/weeks/months/years since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following sins."
(4) Tell the priest your sins. Be sure to mention any grave sins and number of times committed; if no grave sins have been committed, mention any venial (less serious) sins that have been committed. There is no need to go into detail about a sin unless the priest asks - simply name the sin and how many times you have committed it since your last confession.
(5) After you have finished confessing your sins, state your sorrow for your sins: "For these and all my sins, I am heartily sorry". Note that sorrow for sin is required for a valid confession.
(6) The priest will most likely talk to you briefly about one or another of your sins, giving advice to help you overcome it in the future.
(7) The priest will next give you your penance. Usually this entails saying some prayers or performing some act of charity. Be sure to listen and remember what your penance is - you'll need to do it at the first opportunity after you leave the confessional.
(8) Next, the priest will ask you to make an Act of Contrition. This is when we express our profound regret at having offended our loving God by our sinful actions. There are numerous Acts of Contrition, but here is one:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the occasions of sin. Amen.
(9) Finally, the priest will say the prayer of Absolution, thus forgiving you of your sins by the power of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful blessing!
(10) Be sure to thank the priest and do your penance as soon as possible.
(1) Do the penance the priest assigns to you, preferably in the church if possible.
(2) Resolve not to sin again. The beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that not only does it forgive you of your sins, but it gives you grace to avoid sin in the future! Resolve to cooperate with this grace so that you avoid falling into the same sinful patterns as the past.
(3) Plan to go to Confession regularly. None of us are perfect, so we need God's help to overcome our faults. Use the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a means to grow more like Christ. A common bit of advice from spiritual directors is to try to go to Confession at least monthly.