Act of Contrition

"O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee. I detest all my sins, Because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell. But most of all because I have offended thee, my God who art all good and deserving of my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more, to do penance, and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen."

Before Confession

Find out when confession is held. Most parishes offer reconciliation services by the week, but some churches may have them daily. If your parish does not offer a service that fits your schedule, call your priest and you can make a private appointment. You can schedule a private session with the priest if you think your confession may last a bit longer (over 15 minutes). This is a good idea if you have left the Church, committed a grave sin, or have not confessed in a long time.

Be truly sorry for your sins. The idea of penance and confession is to feel truly remorseful -- the act of contrition. You must clearly reject the sin you have committed and resolve not to commit it again. To show God that your sorrow is genuine and authentic is to be truly sorry and profess a refusal to commit the behaviors again. This does not mean that you can never sin again; we humans do it every day. You are simply resolving to try to avoid the near occasions that lead you to sin -- this still counts as repentance. If you want it, God will help you resist temptation, as long as you have the intention to improve yourself as well.

Make an examination of conscience. Think about what you have done wrong, and why it is wrong. Consider the pain you put God through in committing that sin, and that because of that sin Jesus suffered all the more on the cross. For this you should express sorrow, and being truly sorry is a necessary component of a good Confession.

  • Consider asking yourself these questions when making your examination of conscience:
    • When did I last go to confession? Was it an honest and thorough confession?
    • Did I make any special promise to God last time? Did I keep my promise?
    • Have I committed any grave or mortal sin since my last confession?
    • Have I followed the Ten Commandments?
    • Have I ever doubted my faith

Search the Holy Scriptures. A good place to start is the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Here are a few reminders of how God reaches out to us in loving forgiveness:

  • "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9.
  • How has it been made possible for sins to be forgiven? "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 2:1,2.
  • To whom should sins be confessed, and why? "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight." Ps. 51:4.
    • See Genesis 39:9.

Pray often before a Confession. You want to be honest and repentant. Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide you and help you remember and feel true contrition for your sins. Perhaps something like: "Come Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind that I may clearly know my sins, touch my heart that I may be sorry for them, and better my life. Amen."

  • Try to identify the causes of your sins: Do you have questionable inclinations? Is it a matter of personal weakness? Or just bad habits? Try to eliminate at least one of these causes. This'll be easiest to do by either getting rid of one negative thing in your life or honing in on the most positive.

During Confession

Wait your turn until you can enter the confessional. When it's time, choose either a face-to-face confession or an anonymous confession. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, simply kneel down in front of the curtain separating you from the priest and the priest will begin the confession. If you'd like a face-to-face confession, you need only to walk around the curtain and sit in the chair opposite the priest. He'll be expecting you.

  • Remember that confessions are absolutely confidential -- the priest will never (and can never) share your sins with anyone else. He is instructed to keep the seal of the confessional regardless of circumstance -- even under pain of death. Do not let your worries affect your confession.

Begin your confession. The priest will begin the Confession with the prayer of the Sign of the Cross. Follow his lead. There are a few variants, but the Latin Rite is the most common.

  • In the Latin Rite: Make the sign of the cross, saying, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned" and tell him how long it has been since your last confession.(It is not necessary to remember how many times, only the the frequency of important sins.)
  • In the Byzantine Rite: Kneel facing the Icon of Christ, the priest will be seated at your side and may place his epitrachelion on your head. He may also wait to do this until the Prayer of Absolution. Do not be concerned either way.
  • In other Eastern Churches: Forms may vary.
  • Regardless of the variant, tell him your sins (including how many times you committed them). Go in order from the most serious to the least. Do not leave out any mortal sins that you can remember. You don't have to go into explicit detail of your sins unless the priest feels it is necessary -- and in that situation, he'll ask.

After Your Confession

Listen to the priest. He will often offer you counsel on how you can avoid sin in the future. Afterward, he will ask you to make an Act of Contrition. This must be performed sincerely, truly meaning what you say. If you don't know the words, write them down or ask the priest to help you.

  • At the end of your session, he will probably recommend penance (to be performed as soon as possible). At the end of the absolution he will say, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”[1] If he makes the Sign of the Cross, follow suit. He will then dismiss you, saying something to the effect of “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Reply, “Thanks be to God,” give the priest a smile, and exit the confessional.

Complete your penance. Return to the church and assume your prior seat. When you begin your penance, give thanks to God for forgiving you. If you recall some serious sin you forgot to tell, know that it has been forgiven with the others, but be sure to confess it in your next confession.

  • If the priest gave you penance that consists of some prayers to be recited, say them quietly and devoutly. Kneel in the pew, hands clasped and head down, until you have completed your penance and have adequately reflected on your experience. Resolve to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation often.

Leave feeling better and living in the light of God's forgiveness. Rise joyful and confident for the Lord loves you and has been merciful. Live for Him every minute of your life, and let everybody see how wonderful it is serving the Lord.

  • Stay mindful. Don't use confession as a reason to excuse sins. Rejoice that you are forgiven and live as God intended you to to minimize the need for confession.