It has many names - the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament ofPenance, or the Sacrament of Confession - but it's all the same sacrament. Confession.
Are you waiting in church right now to confess your sins to a priest? Are you panicking because it's been awhile and you forgot what to do? This Guide to Confession will walk you through the whole process:
- How to examine your conscience before Confession
- What to do during Confession, how to start Confession, what to say during Confession, an example Act of Contrition to pray, plus
- What to do after Confession
Also, Catholic Hack: the Priest is always happy to walk you through the process. I know you may not want to seem like a novice, but do not worry about asking for help.
If you are looking for a Biblical basis for Confessioninstead, I have also prepared this article to help you.
According to the Catholic Canon, here's the definition of the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
In the Sacrament of Penance, the Faithful who confess their sins to a Priest, are sorry for those sins and have a purpose of amendment, receive from God, through the absolution given by that Priest, forgiveness of sins they have committed after Baptism, and at the same time they are reconciled with the Church, which by sinning they wounded. (Canon 959)
The following Complete Guide to Catholic Confession is also found in The Catholic ManBook (follow link to purchase on Amazon).
How to Make a Good Confession?
Here is a good introductory video to making a good confession. Father Mike Schmitz always does a great job.
Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Confession: Script for Confession
First step, do not be afraid!
What to do BEFORE Confession? Examination of Conscience using the Ten Commandments and 7 Deadly Sins
Perform a thorough Examination of Conscience, using either or both of the two guides found below: (1) Examination of Conscience Based on the Ten Commandments and (2) Examination of Conscience Based on the Seven Deadly Sins.
Here is also a thorough breakdown of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Holy Virtues, if you would like to read more about this.
What to do DURING Confession: How do you start a confession? What sins do you confess? What is the Act of Contrition to say?
- You may kneel at the screen or sit to talk face-to-face with the priest. It is your choice.
- Make the sign of the cross, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
- State how long it has been since your last Confession: “My last confession was _______ weeks (months, years) ago.”
- Listen to the Priest: The priest may read a passage from Holy Scripture, offer a prayer, encouragement, etc.
- Recite your sins: Say the sins that you remember. Perhaps start with the ones that are most difficult to say. To make a good confession, the faithful must confess all mortal sins, according to kind and number.
- Catch-all phrase at end of recitation: After confessing all the sins you remember since your last good confession, you may conclude by saying, “I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life.”
- Listen to the Priest. He will assign you some penance. Doing the penance will diminish the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.
- Act of Contrition: When invited by the priest, express some prayer of sorrow or Act of Contrition such as the one included below.
What to do AFTER Confession?
Perform your penance immediately after Confession, as soon as possible, or as directed by the Priest.
Catholic Confession Guide: Act of Contrition
Here's an example Act of Contrition to use during Confession:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and fear the pains of hell, but most of all, because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and worthy of all my love. I firmly intend with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. AMEN.
Examination of Conscience Based on the Ten Commandments
[This Guide to Confession was prepared by Father John Trigilio]
Examine your conscience and review your sins according to the Ten Commandments, as provided below:
I. “I am the Lord, thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.”
Have I sinned against Religion by seriously believing in New Age, Scientology, Astrology, Horoscopes, Fortune-telling, Superstition or engaging in the Occult? Did I endanger my Catholic Faith or cause scandal by associating with anti-Catholic groups & associations (e.g., the Freemasons)? Have fame, fortune, money, career, pleasure, etc. replaced God as my highest priority? Have I neglected my daily prayers?
II. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
Have I committed blasphemy by using the name of God and Jesus Christ to swear rather than to praise? Have I committed sacrilege by showing disrespect to holy objects (crucifix, rosary) or contempt for religious persons (bishop, priests, deacons, women religious) or for sacred places (in Church). Have I committed sacrilege by going to Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without first going to confession e.g., after missing Mass on Sunday or a Holy day? Did I violate the one-hour fast before Communion? Did I break the laws of fast and abstinence during Lent? Did I neglect my Easter duty to receive Holy Communion at least once? Have I neglected to support the Church and the poor by sharing my time, talent and treasure?
III. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
Did I miss Mass on any Sunday or Holyday of Obligation? (Bad weather and being sick do not count) Have I shown disrespect by leaving Mass early, not paying attention or not joining in the prayers? Did I do unnecessary work on Sunday which could have been done the day before? Have I been stingy in my support for the Church? Do I give of my time & talent?
IV. Honor thy Father and Mother.
Parents: Have I set a bad example for my children by casually miss-ing Mass, neglecting prayer, or ignore my responsibility to provide a Catholic education by either sending my children to parochial school or to C.C.D. (Religious Education Program)? Do I show little or no interest in my children’s faith and practice of it? Have I showed disrespect for those in authority, government or church? Have I not expressed my moral values to them?
Children: Have I been disobedient and/or disrespectful to my par-ents or guardians? Did I neglect to help them with household chores? Have I caused them unnecessary worry and anxiety by my attitude, behavior, moods, etc.?
V. Thou shalt not kill.
Did I consent, recommend, advise, approve, support or have an abortion? Did I realize that there is an excommunication for anyone who procures an abortion? Did I actively or passively cooperate with an act of euthanasia whereby ordinary means were stopped or means taken to directly end the life of an elderly or sick person? Have I committed an act of violence or abuse (physical, sexual, emotional or verbal)? Have I endangered the lives of others by reckless driving or by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Do I show contempt for my body by neglecting to take care of my own health? Have I been mean or unjust to anyone? Have I held a grudge or sought revenge against someone who wronged me? Do I point out others’ faults and mistakes while ignoring my own? Do I complain more than I compliment? Am I ungrateful for what other people do for me? Do I tear people down rather than encourage them? Am I prejudiced against people because of their color, language or ethnic-religious background?
VI. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
IX. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
Did I have any sex before or outside of marriage? Do I view pornographic material (magazines, videos, internet, hot-lines)? Have I gone to massage parlors or adult book stores? Did I commit the sins of masturbation and/or artificial contraception? Have I not avoided the occasions of sin (persons or places) which would tempt me to be unfaithful to my spouse or to my own chastity? Do I encourage and entertain impure thoughts and desires? Do I tell or listen to dirty jokes? Have I committed fornication or adultery?
VII. Thou shalt not steal.
X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
Have I stolen any object, committed any shoplifting or cheated anyone of their money? Did I knowingly deceive someone in business or commit fraud? Have I shown disrespect or even contempt for other people’s property? Have I done any acts of vandalism? Am I greedy or envious of another’s goods? Do I let financial and material concerns or the desire for comfort override my duty to God, to Church, to my family or my own spiritual well-being?
VIII. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Have I told a lie in order to deceive someone? Have I told the truth with the purpose and intention of ruining someone’s repu-tation (sin of detraction)? Have I told a lie or spread rumors which may ruin someone’s reputation (sin of calumny or slander)? Did I commit perjury by false swearing an oath on the Bible? Am I a busybody or do I love to spread gossip and secrets about others? Do I love to hear bad news about my enemies?
Examination of Conscience Based on the Seven Deadly Sins
Here’s a helpful mneumonic device for the Seven Deadly Sins:
PLAGGES (like “Plagues”) - Pride, Lust, Anger, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Pride is the mother of all sin (ST II-II q162).
Have I refused to admit my own weaknesses? Have I dwelt on the failings of others? Have I judged others, in my thoughts or words? Have I ranked myself better than others? Have I borne hatred or disdain for another? Have I refused to learn from others? Have I been irritable with others? Have I been critical of others? Have I been slow to listen to others and quick to speak over them? Have I been stubborn? Refused to admit I was wrong? Have I refused to accept that another person had a better idea? Have I been arro-gant? Have I held others in contempt? Have I reacted negatively when questioned?
Pusillanimity, also called Timidity or Cowardice – the opposite of pride (Note: Pusillanimity is the opposite vice from Pride. Humility is the opposite virtue from Pride):
Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me? Have I shied away from my duties or doing or saying what is right because of fear of how others will respond? Have I failed to give witness to my faith in Christ in public?
Vanity, which is an expression of pride, is excessive concern about what others think of me, not just what they think of my appearance (ST II-II q132).
Have I been overly concerned about what others think of me? Have I allowed this to motivate my actions? Have I failed to follow God’s will because of a fear of what others might think of me? Have I lied or exaggerated to make myself look good? Have I wasted undue time and money on clothes and appearance? Have I been content with my lowly position, or have I resented the role that Christ asks of me? Do I constantly take selfies or spend time primping and correcting my hair, clothing or other aspects of my appearance?
Lust disordered desire for sexual pleasure, isolated from its procreative and unitive purpose (ST II-II q.153; CCC 2351).
Have I maintained custody of my eyes or have I allowed them to wander?: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28) Have I viewed other people as mere sexual objects rather than as persons to be loved and served? Have I viewed pornography or related sexual or sexualized material on internet? or TV? or Social Media? Have I engaged in romantic fiction leading to sexual fantasy? Have I entertained impure thoughts? Have I engaged in masturbation, alone, or with another?
Anger/Wrath is undue desire for vengeance, i.e. undue in cause or in amount (ST II-II q158).
Have I harbored resentment, grudges, and hatred in my thoughts? Have I nurtured imaginary angry conversations? Have I been slow to forgive? Have I lost my temper?
Impatience, as an associated vice to Anger:
How have I carried my cross without complaint or self-pity? Have I been impatient with people, family, events, sufferings, sicknesses?
Covetousness/Avarice is the excessive love of possessing things (ST II-II q118).
Have I been overly concerned about my own comfort and well-being? Have I been resentful of my lack of money or resources? Have I been generous in giving? Have I given with a cheerful heart? Have I avoided sacrificial giving? Do I only give what is easy to give? Have I cheated, stolen, or failed to pay my bills on time? Have I used people for my own ends and advantage? Have I wasted money on things I don’t absolutely need?
Gluttony is the inordinate or excessive desire for, focus on, attach-ment to, or use of food or other material goods (ST II-II q148).
Have I consumed more than I need to – more than my body needs to maintain a healthy weight? Have I consumed food or drink that is damaging to my body to satisfy my tastes or appetites? Have I spent time engaging with food (or other material things) or fantasizing about food (or other material things) that should be spent elsewhere?
Have I spent excessive money on food? Have I consumed alcohol excessively? Have I driven after drinking? Have I eaten greedily with little consideration for those at table with me? Have I failed to give money to help the hungry? Have I failed to practice fasting and self-denial, especially on Fridays? Have I failed to abstain from meat on Fridays? Have I always fasted an hour before receiving Holy Communion at Mass? Do I spend excessive energy and expense seeking to ensure my food or environment is perfectly to my desires (temperature, texture, atmosphere)? Do I spent excessive energy and expense seeking comfort?
Envy/Jealousy is sadness at the happiness of another (ST II-II q36).
Have I envied or been jealous of the abilities, talents, ideas, good-looks, intelligence, clothes, possessions, money, friends, family, of others?
Have I judged others in my thoughts? Have I damaged the reputa-tion of another person by my words, attitude, or looks, reactions, responses? Have I repeated accusations that might not be true? Have I exaggerated? Have I failed to defend the reputation of others? Have I failed to keep secrets? Do I despise others of different race, class or culture?
Have I lied, exaggerated, or distorted the truth?
Sloth/Apathy is laziness, especially in the things of God (ST II-II q35). Sloth is a sorrow in the face of spiritual good. It makes you lethargic and want to do nothing, and/or it drives you to neglect spiritual goods.
Have I sought God above all else, or have I put other priorities ahead of him, e.g. friendships, ambition, comfort and ease? Have I got so caught up in the things of this world that I’ve forgotten God? Have I risked losing my faith/piety by bad company, bad reading, cowardice, or pride? Have I trusted God, especially in times of difficulty? Have I attended Mass each and every Sunday? Have I neglected to say my daily prayers? Have I entertained distractions in prayer, or failed to give God due concentration in prayer or in the Mass? (Note: Not giving God the effort He deserves in prayer is a sin, but it is not the same thing as involuntary weakness in mental distractions.) Have I made a prayerful preparation before Mass and a good thanksgiving after Mass? Have I received Holy Communion while in a state of serious sin? Have I neglected to seek Confession before Holy Communion? Have I taken the Lord’s name in vain? Or used other foul language?
Have I been lazy in helping others? Have I been attentive to the needs of my neighbor, the needs of my extended or immediate family? Has my conversation been focused on my own pleasure, or on others? Has my humor been insensitive to others?
Have I been more focused on myself than on the needs of others? Have I spent time with my family? How have I manifested my con-cern for them? Have I been forgiving and tolerant of them? Have I scandalized them by a bad or lazy example?
Punctuality and Self-Discipline:
Have I wasted other people’s time or dishonored them by being late or have I failed to keep my commitments regarding being on time? Have I sinned against God and the congregation by being late for Mass? Have I gone to sleep on time? Have I made good use of my time, or have I wasted time needlessly, e.g. cell phone, TV, gaming, or internet? Have I planned good use of relaxation and recreation, knowing that I need to rest well in order to serve well?