“We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)

  • The Sacrament of Penance (also called Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is God’s gift to His people to assure us of the forgiveness of our sins committed after Baptism.
  • After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles in the Upper Room, saying:
“Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.  Whose sins you retain are retained.”  John 20:22-23.
  • The sins spoken to the priest are spoken to Jesus, with the priest merely standing in for Him (thus, the priest acts in personae Christi).
  • The joy of confession is allowing God the Father to find us. As with the Prodigal Son parable (see Luke 15), the Father will run to greet us and welcome us home as His sons and daughters.  He eagerly awaits our return and freely offers His pardon and peace.
  • This healing Sacrament strengthens us and removes all the sins that have prevented us from seeking God with our whole heart.
  • In confession we also receive grace to combat those sins we confess and break our habits of vice more easily. This is why frequent confession is such a wonderful aid in our quest live up to the words of Jesus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
  • Catholics who have reached the use of reason (usually around the age of 6½ or 7) are required by the second precept of the Church to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year. Children who have reached the use of reason must receive the Sacrament before making their First Holy Communion. Please see the Catechism/CCD page for more information.

The Four Steps of Confession:

  •  Contrition: Contrition requires knowledge of our sins, a sincere sorrow for having offended God and a firm resolve to not repeat those sins we have committed. There can be no forgiveness of sin without contrition, i.e., you must be truly sorry.

The following examinations of conscience from the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Charlotte, NC, may assist you in your preparation:

  • Confession: Confession is the moment when we confess our sins to the priest who is before us in the person of Christ. The Church teaches that all mortal sins must be told in confession in kind and number of occurrences. Those persons conscious of unconfessed mortal sin must receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving  Holy Communion. For a sin to be mortal, it must meet three conditions:
    • Grave matter: Does it involve breaking one of the 10 Commandments, committing one of the Sins that Cry out to Heaven, or failing to uphold the 6 Precepts of the Church?
    • Full knowledge: Did you know or should you have known that the act was sinful?
    • Deliberate consent: Was your consent to this act sufficiently deliberate so as to be a choice? Were conditions present that influenced your ability to choose?

Confession of venial sins or smaller, everyday faults, is also strongly recommended. Confessing venial sins helps us fight  weaknesses that can lead us to sin and aids our spiritual progress.

If you are uncertain about the seriousness of an action you have committed or neglected to commit, tell the priest about your uncertainty. He can guide you.

  • Absolution: Absolution is the beautiful moment of forgiveness. The priest, in the person of Christ and through the Church, imparts this forgiveness saying, “I absolve you from your sin.”
  •  Penance: In the moment of penance our desire to make amends for our sins is expressed in a token way, such as reciting a prayer like the Hail Mary or Our Father.

The Rite of Confession:

  • The priest says a greeting.
  • The penitent makes the sign of the cross and then says, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been __days/months/years since my last confession.”
  • The penitent then says, “My sins are…” and tells the priest his/her sins. All mortal sins must be confessed in kind and number of times the sin was committed. If unsure or uneasy, the penitent can let the priest know and ask for his help.
  • When all remembered sins have been confessed, the penitent says, “For these and all my sins I am sorry.”
  • The priest will offer some advice and then assign a penance.
  • The priest will then ask the penitent to say an Act of Contrition. There are many different versions of the Act of Contrition. The simplest is: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
  • After the penitent completes the Act of Contrition, the priest gives the penitent absolution. He says a prayer that ends, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As the priest says these words, the penitent makes the sign of the cross.
  • The priest will then say a dismissal, such as: “The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.”
  • The penitent responds, “Thanks be to God.” The penitent then leaves the confessional and does his/her assigned penance as soon as possible.

For more information on  confession, go to: The Light is ON For You from the Diocese of Arlington and the Archdiocese of Washington and The Light is On For You from the Archdiocese of Boston.


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