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How to make a good confession

  • First, ask God to guide your preparation as you call to mind your sins. Sit down in church, or in another quiet, reflective place. Essentially, you're asking God to help you recognize those things that may be keeping you from loving God and receiving his love. You are looking for wounds that you have inflicted on yourself, loved ones or others around you. This is called an "Examination of Conscience" and there are many good ones out there, such as these ones on the U.S. Bishops' website.
  • Make a mental or written list of the things you want to bring up with the priest during your time in the confessional.
  • Be intentional. Identify a schedule of reconciliation times at your church or one near you and put confession on your calendar as you would any other meeting or appointment. If confession is being held from 3 to 4 p.m. arrive as close to 3 p.m. as possible and take your place in line.
  • When it's your turn, head into the confessional, deciding if you prefer to celebrate the sacrament anonymously (behind a screen or door) or face-to-face with the priest.
  • The priest will begin with the sign of the cross, saying out loud “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” He may recite a short prayer or read from Scripture. When he is through, you’ll say “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been such and such time since my last confession." Now is the time to share from the list you created earlier during your examination of conscience. Let the priest know when you're done.
  • You’ll need three things for this sacrament to work best: Knowledge of your sins; sorrow for your sins; and trust in God’s mercy.
  • After the priest has spoken to you, he'll offer you a penance - a way of "making up" for your sin, followed by an invitation for you to offer an act of contrition or prayer of sorrow or something similar.
  • Now, the priest will stretch out his hand and pray what is called the prayer of absolution. The key is when he says the last line, which is “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When that is finished, the priest will say any number of things to which you can respond, “Thanks be to God!”
  • You aren’t finished yet! After you leave the confessional, you’ve got a couple more things to do. First, be sure to thank God because, according to our catechism, you and Jesus just accomplished the following: You’ve reconciled with God and his Church and received his grace. You’ve allowed God to take away the punishments our sins merit, you’ve received the gift of consolation, and you’ve been given what you need to fight the good fight of faith!
  • Lastly, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gift of accepting the mercy that has been offered to you. Father Joe Krupp explains it this way:  In reconciliation, you are giving Jesus your sins. He is taking those sins with him to the Garden of Gethsemane and then to the cross. 
He is killing your sins, and that would be enough to give you joy all of your days. But he did even more. By rising from the dead, he shows us that all of our sin, all of our guilt were not strong enough to overcome his love.

(portions of the content above were excerpted from "How to go to confession" Parts 1 & 2 by Father Joe Krupp for FAITH Grand Rapids magazine.)

For more information, read "Making a good confession" by Father William Saunders on the CERC website.

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