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How do I make a good confession?

Elements of a good Confession

First things first: Go. Do not worry too much about the quality of your confession. Getting yourself to go is a feat like the Himalayas (climbing them that is). Just get up and go. Here is what you should do when you get there:

  1. Check the day and the hour for Confession at your parish or at the parish of your choice. Say Confession is from 3:30 to 4:30 P.M. on Saturday (fairly typical hours).
  2. One hour before Confession (or the night before if you are busy), sit down, make the sign of the Cross, say one Our Father and one Hail Mary, and then ask the Holy Spirit to help you prepare for a good Confession. Tell Him that you love Him and that you truly want to grow in the love of God.
  3. Go through the ten commandments slowly and ask yourself this question: Since my last Confession how often have I violated this commandment? If this can help, jot on a piece of paper the number of the commandment and the number of times you violated it. Do not worry too much whether these violations were mortal or venial -- we're not going to split hair with God. Here are the ten commandments.
    1. You shall not have another God but Me.
    2. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
    3. You shall keep the Lord's day holy.
    4. You shall honor your mother and father.
    5. You shall not kill (murder).
    6. You shall not commit adultery.
    7. You shall not steal.
    8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
    10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

  4. Now this examination of conscience, as it is properly called, should ordinarily last no more than 15 minutes. If you have not gone to Confession in a long, long time, it may take you longer in which case you may consider meeting the priest one-on-one for an hour or so to do a general Confession. Having done your examination of conscience, you are half-way there. Now, at the time for Confession, go to Church. Just get up and go.
  5. Stand in line and wait your turn. If this is the first time you're going or it is the first time after a long absence, chances are that you may be a little stressed... OK, you are a nervous wreck. Remember what the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has on its front cover: Don't panic and don't run away. You've gotten that far you will not chicken out now.
  6. When your turn comes, go inside and if there is a kneeler, kneel. Do not sit or stand. Kneeling is a beautiful posture of the body that helps us express sorrow.
  7. Say the following
    1. Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been x weeks, months, years since my last Confession.
    2. The priest should encourage you to continue.
    3. Now say the sins you have committed and the frequency. For instance you may say, "I have used the name of the Lord in vain x times." Do not badger the priest with stories(my cousin Charlie threw his beer on my dog who panicked and ran after my mother-in-law but before he could bite her, she took my gun and shot him, and I said J.... but you know Father, it was a very stressful time, my Dog, Sumatra, was given me by my uncle Philip as a graduation gift and...) The priest does not need to know all this, and you may become a near occasion of sin for all those poor souls waiting their turn to go to Confession.
    4. Finally add, "for all these sins and for all those sins that I do not remember, particularly the sins of omission, I ask God to forgive me and to give me the grace not to repeat them again."
    5. The priest is next supposed to ask you to say your act of contrition. I have been to a number of Confessions where the priests have gotten into the habit of not asking you to say it.  This is unfortunate for, after all, this act of contrition is your way of saying that: (a) you are guilty as charged, and (b) you are sorry for the sins you have committed, and (c) you do not want to repeat these sins again. Here is the act of contrition in case you've forgotten it. I suggest you learn it by heart.  Until you do, take a written copy with you to Confession.
      Act of ContritionO my God,I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
      I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.
    6. The Priest will then give you the absolution. Note that the priest must say the words of absolution:
      The Absolution God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

    7. Note the word absolve in the absolution. It comes from absolvere Latin for (ab solve) that is to free (from sin). Some priests have gotten in the unfortunate habit of saying "I forgive you"  instead of "I absolve you". Now it may be that they are using forgive to mean absolve, but it is problematic. When Christ says "your sins are forgiven" then of course the penitent Christ is speaking to is absolved from all sins but when we say to someone "I forgive you" we generally mean  that we are asking God not to hold an injustice that this person has committed towards us against them: effectively this is a pray, therefore "I forgive you" tends to be ambiguous: is the priest absolving us or asking for forgiveness on our behalf?

      To absolve is to remove the sin. Clearly, every one has the power of forgiveness but no one has the power of absolution -- only Christ. So when the priest says "I absolve you," we understand with absolute certainty that Christ has taken away our sins since the priest is speaking in Persona Christi, that is as standing for Christ. It is Christ who is absolving your sins. So if you hear a priest say "I forgive you," I would recommend you go to Confession anew with another priest because you cannot, just there and then, interrogate the priest on his intentions.
    8. Finally, the priest will give you a penance, usually in the form of a prayer. What is this penance for? Well, since every sin is injustice committed against God, it is deserving of a penance. Sometimes you might think to yourself, Father is awfully nice, he gave me only 2 Hail Maries to say for that pig I stole. Well, just don't worry about that for now but do your penance. If you do not do your penance, you will have to repeat your entire Confession. The Church is good with us because she gives us some slack, but I would recommend that you do your penance either right away in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament or, if you cannot do it immediately, then do it that night during your prayer.

That's it. You have been to Confession. As you frequent this sacrament, your love for its benefits will grow and your love of Christ will grow accordingly.


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