Confession (aka Penance, Reconciliation)


A Sacrament of Initiation

One of the sacraments of initiation in the Catholic Church is the sacrament of confession. Before the practice of the individual confession we now have, people used to perform public acts of confession. However, in the history of the Catholic Church, the Irish monks started to make confession individually to a priest in the monastery. This started the tradition of making confession individually. And thus, confessionals were built in such a way as to help those who wish to go to confession to enter into an atmosphere of individual silence and recollection and thereby reconcile himself with God by confessing his sins to the priest.

With the advent of Vatican II, the sacrament of confession and reconciliation was restored to its original social dimension. Thus, they restored liturgies which helped people prepare themselves spiritually to be aware of their sins, feel sorrow for them, and eventually ask forgiveness from the Lord. The priest gives a general absolution in these cases. However, for sins that are grievous and serious, the Catholic is required to seek the confessional and confess individually his sins to the priest. And there are sins that are not automatically absolved.

Making Good Confessions

Although the act of going to confession may place us in a state of grace, that is not always the case. Going to confession is not a matter of just saying a list of the sins we have committed. Rather, it involves real sorrow for one’s sins and the intention to restore oneself and be reconciled with the Lord and with the Church. If this would be the attitude we take in going to confession, then we will make a good confession. Making a good confession is very necessary if we would really want to be purified from our sins and be placed in a state of grace before God. We must be careful to avoid those occasions when we are tempted to confess our sins just for the sake of making a confession and for doing an obligation without really putting it to heart. Only when we dispose ourselves to make a good confession do we really grow deeper in our trust for God and in our desire to grow in holiness together with the Church. So the preparatory thing to do before going to confession is to pray that we may be really be sorry for our sins and pray for a genuine sorrow for them so that when we confess our sins we may be placed rightly in a humble state before God and His Church.

What Basic Steps Must I Make in Going to Confession?

If one has not gone to confession for a long time, then here is a simple guide to help us in doing so:

  • Make an examination of conscience. Examine your relationships – with the Church, with your family, with your co-workers, and with yourself. Or we can purchase a guide to help us examine ourselves before going to confession. One may also find something online in relation to this. We can use the search engines.
  • Let us approach the confessional in a continued attitude of prayer and humility and wait for our turn as we line up for the priest in the confessional.
  • Inside the confessional, we can begin with: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was last __________. These are the sins I currently committed against the Lord: __________.”It is impossible to remember everything that we have prepared when making the examination of conscience. Usually the ones we remember are the more serious sins and the ones we have forgotten are the less serious ones. So let us not worry if we are not able to confess everything we have promised to confess when we have have made the personal examination of conscience.
  • Let us wait for the spiritual words of the priest and the penance he will give for our confession. Then when we receive his absolution, let us thank God that He has restored us to Himself through the Sacrament of Confession and go back to our pew to perform the acts of penance given to us by the priest.

How Many Times Must I Confess?

Although a Catholic is required to confess only at least once a year, an ideal number of going to confession is to approach the sacrament at least once a month. This ensures our relationship with God will be always in good standing and so also with our relationship with the Church. If once a month is not possible given our professional working schedule, then at least more than once a year would be good. Advent and Lent is also a good time to go to confession more frequently. Let us not wait until we have committed a grievous and a very serious sin before going to confession. Sometimes, confessing even little or venial sins is very good to the soul. It is very good because the resulting grace of God that will be given will not only be for ourselves but for the benefit of the Christian community. If the light of Christ is in our mind, our heart, our soul and in our entire being, then imagine how our other Christian brothers and sisters will be inspired by our very witness. They will be drawn and inspired by our spirit because we have received God’s pardon and mercy.

So, confession is not really an individual or a journey meant for us alone. It involves also the entire Catholic Church. By our going to confession, we strengthen not only ourselves by receiving God’s mercy but we in turn strengthen the institution of the sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation by our practice of reconciling ourselves with God and with our brothers and sisters.

Dennis-Emmanuel Cabrera – December 26, 2004

Catholic Internet Mission: Proclaiming the Gospel Online Free Contents and Articles for Republishing Online