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Confession 101: Receive the Lord’s Mercy 

The Church gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be reconciled with God. As sinful beings, our communion with the Lord and his Church is severed each time we fall into a sinful act. By confessing our sins to a priest, who acts in persona Christi as the mediator between us and the Father, that communion is restored.  

One common misconception about confession is that it is shameful or guilt-ridden. This is not the way to approach this most beautiful of sacraments. If there is one word that best describes confession, it is mercy. Jesus wants us to come to him and lay bare our souls for him to heal. By his grace alone, our communion with him can be restored; we cannot do it on our own. This is why Jesus gave us the sacrament of reconciliation. 

If you haven’t been to confession for some time, take this as an invitation from the Lord to return to his loving embrace. He delights in you and wants you to know how loved you are. Here is a simple primer for confession for your use, including the new Order of Penance that the priest says to give absolution. Go and receive the Lord’s mercy. 

Examination of Conscience

Confession begins with an examination of conscience. This is simply a chance to reflect on those sins that may be weighing heavily on our souls. The examination of conscience below is based on the Ten Commandments, but there are many kinds available to suit your needs.

I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
Have I treated people, events, or things as more important than God?

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Have my words, actively or passively, put down God, the Church, or people? 

Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Do I go to Mass every Sunday (or Saturday Vigil) and on Holy Days of Obligation? Do I avoid, when possible, work that impedes worship to God, joy for the Lord’s Day, and proper relaxation of mind and body? Do I look for ways to spend time with family or in service on Sunday?  

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Honor your father and your mother.
Do I show my parents due respect? Do I seek to maintain good communication with my parents where possible? Do I criticize them for lacking skills I think they should have?  

You shall not kill.
Have I harmed another through physical, verbal, or emotional means, including gossip or manipulation of any kind?  

You shall not commit adultery.
Have I respected the physical and sexual dignity of others and of myself?  

You shall not steal.
Have I taken or wasted time or resources that belonged to another?  

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Have I gossiped, told lies, or embellished stories at the expense of another?  

You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse.
Have I honored my spouse with my full affection and exclusive love?  

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
Am I content with my own means and needs, or do I compare myself to others unnecessarily? 

Christ’s Two Commandments
How well do we love God and others? Do we love as Christ calls us to? In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ gives us Two Commandments: “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments’” (Mt 22:37-40).  

Not sure what love is? St. Paul describes it for us in his Letter to the Corinthians. Is this how you love God and others? “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quicktempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:4-8). 

(Source: USCCB) 

Once you enter the confessional with the priest, you begin with Sign of the Cross. The penitent then greets the priest the words: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was (weeks, months, years) ago.” Then, you simply confess the sins that the Lord puts on your heart. 

Act of Contrition

After you confess your sins, the hard part is over! Now you can simply open your heart to receive what the Lord wants to give you. The priest will give you a penance to do; typically, this takes the form of saying prayers such as the Hail Mary or Our Father in penitence for your sins, but it is ultimately up to the priest’s discretion, depending on the sins you confess. Remember, confession is not meant to be shameful; it is a cleanse for your soul. After the priest gives your penance, he will ask you to make an act of contrition. This can simply be a prayer from your heart, asking the Lord to forgive you for your sins, or you can recite one of the many acts of contrition that are available, such as the following:

Father of mercy, like the prodigal son I return to you and say: “I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your child.” 

Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: “Lord, remember me in your kingdom.” 

Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: “Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light.” 

New Order of Penance

After you make your act of contrition, the priest will pray the prayer of absolution. The following is the new translation that you will hear the priest say:

God, the Father of mercies,
through the Death and Resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God grant you pardon and peace.
And I absolve you from your sins,
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the priest will leave you with the words, “Go in peace.” You may not feel any different, but your sins have been forgiven, and you have been restored to communion with the Lord. As you leave the confessional, you can do your penance in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and it’s also a chance to spend a few moments in prayer in thanksgiving for the Lord and his abundant mercy, which he gives us freely in the sacrament of reconciliation. Thanks be to God! 

Aaron Lambert
Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the former Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.

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