“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”
Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1422
As a result of Original Sin, human nature is weakened. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, takes away Original Sin, and turns us back toward God. The consequences of this weakness and the inclination to evil persist, and we often commit personal or actual sin.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the most unique and beautiful aspects of Catholicism. Jesus Christ, in His abundant love and mercy, established the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that we as sinners can obtain forgiveness for our sins and reconcile with God and the Church. The sacrament “washes us clean,” and renews us in Christ.
What is Reconciliation?
Reconciliation (also known as confession or Penance) was instituted by Jesus Christ in his love and mercy to offer sinners forgiveness for offenses committed against God. At the same time, sinners reconcile with the Church, because it is wounded by our sins. Every sin hurts ourself, other people, and God. In Reconciliation, we acknowledge our sins before God and his Church. We express our sorrow in a meaningful way, receive the forgiveness of Christ and his Church, make reparation for what we have done, and resolve to do better in the future.
The forgiveness of sins involves four parts:
How to Confess
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
Before you go to confession, recall your sins. Prayerfully ask yourself what you have done with full knowledge and full consent against God’s and the Church’s commandments. Pray for God’s help, tell God how truly sorry you are for your sins, and make a firm resolution to not sin again. Use the Examination of Conscience questions to help review your sins.
- Do I pray to God every day? Have I thanked God for his gifts to me?
- Did I put my faith in danger through readings contrary to Catholic teachings or involvement in non-Catholic sects? Did I engage in superstitious practices: palm reading or fortune-telling?
- Did I take the name of God in vain? Did I curse or take a false oath?
- Did I miss Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation through my own fault? Am I attentive at Mass? Did I keep fast and abstinence on the prescribed days?
- Did I disobey my parents and lawful superiors in important matters?
Did I hate or quarrel with anyone, or desire revenge? Did I refuse to forgive? Was I disrespectful?
- Did I get drunk? Did I take illicit drugs?
- Did I consent to, recommend, advise, or actively take part in an abortion?
- Did I willfully look at pornography, entertain impure thoughts, or engage in impure conversations or actions? Did I use artificial means to prevent conception?
- Was I unfaithful to my spouse? Did I engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?
- Did I steal or damage another’s property? Have I been honest and just in my business relations?
- Have I been responsive to the needs of the poor and respected the dignity of others?
- Did I tell lies? Did I sin by calumny, or detraction, of others? Did I judge others rashly in serious matters?
- Have I envied other people?
THE RITE OF RECONCILIATION
Before you go to confession, recall your sins. Prayerfully ask yourself what you have done with full knowledge and full consent against God’s and the Church’s commandments. Pray for God’s help, tell God how truly sorry you are for your sins, and make a firm resolution not to sin again. Use the Examination of Conscience questions to help review your sins.
- The priest gives you a blessing or greeting. He may share a brief Scripture passage.
- Make the Sign of the Cross and say, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned. My last confession was [give the number of weeks, months, or years].”
- Confess all of your sins to the priest. The priest will help you to make a good confession. If you are unsure about how to confess or you feel uneasy, just ask him to help you. Answer his questions without hiding anything out of fear or shame. Place your trust in God, a merciful Father who wants to forgive you.
- Following your confession of sins, say, “I am sorry for these and all of my sins.”
- The priest assigns you a penance and offers advice to help you be a better Catholic.
- Say an Act of Contrition, below, expressing your sorrow for your sins. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, then absolves you from your sins.
THE ACT OF CONTRITION
God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation frees us from our sins and challenges us to have the same kind of compassion and forgiveness for those who sin against us. We are liberated to be forgivers. We obtain new insight into the words of the Prayer of St. Francis: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”
The Sacrament of Penance is God’s gift to us so that any sin committed after Baptism can be forgiven. In confession we have the opportunity to repent and recover the grace of friendship with God. It is a holy moment in which we place ourselves in his presence and honestly acknowledge our sins, especially mortal sins. With absolution, we are reconciled to God and the Church. The Sacrament helps us stay close to the truth that we cannot live without God. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). – from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults