Matthew Kelly calls Confession the First Pillar of Catholic Spirituality.
The process of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is very simple and deeply healing. Yes, I know it’s scary to think of stepping into a confessional and telling a priest your sins. But it really is quite easy and you’ll walk away feeling a lightness of spirit you may not have believed was possible.
Today I’m not going to talk about the process of preparing for confession, the examination of conscience. I will just assume, that like me, it may have been many years since you’ve gone to confession and that you KNOW what you need to confess… the acts taken or not taken that hurt yourself or someone else, the things you have done or said that you know were contrary to living a life of loving kindness.
So, you know what you want to confess, how do you do it?
First, find out when the Sacrament is celebrated at your church, or call the priest and make an appointment.
The priest will (should) warmly greet you and you may both make the Sign of the Cross. Most of us are used to the formula of ”In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. My last confession was _________ weeks (months, years) ago.” You don’t have to start that way…. but it is helpful for the priest to know “where you are” in your spiritual journey, especially if it has been many years since your last confession.
The priest may read from Scripture and then it’s time for you to confess your sins and express your sorrow for having sinned.
After you’ve confessed, the priest will assign you a penance (prayers to say, acts to make amends, etc.). In my experience, the priests have been very gentle with me and the penance I’ve been assigned was simple and easy to do… no self-flagellation required.
Next you say an Act of Contrition (I can never remember the more complex one, so I use the one my children learned at their first Reconciliation).
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In His Name, my God, have mercy.
The priest then prays the Prayer of Absolution. For me, this is the most beautiful part of the Sacrament. During the Sacrament, the priest is acting in the person of Christ. Through his words, sins are washed away. Trust in God that you are washed clean of the sins you have confessed and that there is no longer a need to hang onto guilt or shame or pain related to those sins. It’s a beautiful thing.
“Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 ”If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” John 20:22-23