How to prepare, what to say and penance

So what's involved in Confession and how do you prepare properly? This article gives you the steps - before, during, after - and helps you to use the Sacrament to get closer to God.

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So what’s involved in Confession and how do you prepare properly? This article gives you the steps – before, during, after – and helps you to use the Sacrament to get closer to God. 

Before Confession

Spend a few minutes before your confession: Pray for God’s help and guidance; examine your conscience; remember any sins you have committed (write them down if it helps); pray for God’s forgiveness.

But don’t spend forever trying to remember every little sin (this can become an obsession that is called ‘scruples’) – ten minutes is probably a good amount of time; an hour is too long.

It is our duty to mention in confession all our serious (or ‘mortal’) sins; and we are encouraged to mention some of our other smaller (or ‘venial’) sins and everyday faults, but we don’t need to list every minor failure. Remember that all our venial sins are forgiven and forgotten whenever we pray for God’s forgiveness, and whenever we receive Holy Communion.

If you are not sure what to say or do, don’t worry – tell the priest, and ask him to help you as you begin.

Here you will find an examination of conscience which may help you to prepare for Confession.

During Confession

Begin by saying: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then add: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is [state the length of time] since my last confession”. Then tell him very briefly what you are doing in life, to help him understand your situation; e.g. “I am a wife and mother”.

Now confess your sins. Be simple and straightforward. Just put into words what you have done wrong since you last went to confession. Don’t make excuses; but if it helps, say a little bit about what happened and why. When you have finished, say: “I am sorry for all these sins and the sins of my past life”.

The priest might then talk to you and give you some advice. He will give you a penance to do (a prayer or action that expresses your sorrow and your desire to live a new life).

The priest will then ask you to make an Act of Contrition. Say one you know, or use the following one: “O my God, because you are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you; and I promise that with the help of your grace, I will not sin again. Amen.”

The priest then says the prayer of absolution, which is the moment when God forgives your sins. He may add some other prayers as well.

After Confession

If it is possible now, do your penance in the church before you leave; e.g. if you have been asked to say a certain prayer, kneel down and say it now.

Pray for a moment in thanksgiving for the forgiveness you have received in this sacrament; and pray for God’s help to live a new life.

You might feel relieved and peaceful and full of joy. Or you might feel nothing at all. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we have been forgiven and been given new life. The Lord has touched us – even if we do not feel it. That knowledge should give us a kind of inner peace and joy, even if we don’t feel it.

If you forgot to mention something small, don’t get all worried. In confession the Lord forgives all the sins that we intended to mention (as long as we did not deliberately conceal anything).

Text by Fr Stephen Wang, adapted from the booklet “A Way of Life for Young Catholics”, published by the Catholic Truth Society.

Resources about the Sacrament of Reconciliation have been collated by the Home Mission Desk, Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis, CBCEW.