May 19, 2010

Making a Good Confession

This is the first in what will be a series of posts on how to go to confession.

What is the Sacrament of Penance?

Penance (Confession, Reconciliation) is the sacrament in which the priest, in God’s name, forgives one’s sins committed after Baptism and reconciles one with God and the Church.

The priest has the authority to forgive sins (absolution) because Christ said to His Apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). That power has been passed on to their successors, the bishops and priests.

When Should I go to Confession?

A Catholic who has committed a mortal sin should go to confession as soon as possible, assuming he/she has contrition for any serious sins committed. It is a precept of the Church (ccc 2042) that “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.” However, if is highly recommended to go monthly to confession, even if one has committed only venial sins. The sacrament gives sanctifying grace (or increases it) and also sacramental grace to help avoid future sins.

Receiving the Sacrament of Penance

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following regarding proper receipt of the sacrament.

The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to made reparation and do works of reparation (ccc 1491).


To be forgiven, you must have repentance or contrition (sorrow) for your sins. That is, you must be sorry because you have offended the infinitely good God (perfect contrition) and/or because you dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell (imperfect contrition). Sufficient contrition for forgiveness means a) you wish you had not committed your sins, b) you sincerely intend not to commit those sins again, and c) you intend to stay away form any person, place, or thing that easily leads you to sin, as much as is possible.

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