The How To Guide to Confession
How to go to Confession
(Insert token scary howling wind and foreboding crash of thunder here.) Confession scares people who have no idea what it is.
When I first began looking into Catholicism, confession seemed like some sort of arcane ritual where the priest decided he would be God and forgive sins or something like that. It all seemed magical in an occult and paranoia-inducing sense of the word. But it’s nothing scary, and nothing like that. I’ll go into the theology of confession a bit before we get to the ‘How To’.
Confession was not devised by the Church to secure power, nor is it a way for priests to play God. Christ works his saving grace through men to save, the equivalent would be an honest look at what evangelicals believe about the sinner’s prayer, and how it takes both a minister and the prayer for salvation to occur, at least in most theologies. The act of confession is a bit more modest though, and only states that God grants outwardly, through the words of the priest the inward grace of spiritual renewal, just like when we take communion the bread and wine as Christ confer to us the grace and spiritual renewal of eating and drinking the fruit of the Tree of life.
A common myth is that confession is automatic, and that regardless of whether someone is sorry, it works. That’s not true, because without real repentance, the act is invalid.
Some people have also argued that confession is too shameful, too heavy a burden, whereas I’d argue that those who argue this probably don’t have good community in their gatherings. To confess our sins is shameful, and indeed dreadful and harsh, but if we are prodigals, we must return to the Father’s house. You cannot enter into the house without passing through the gate which is Christ, and He has established that we should confess our sins and receive forgiveness on behalf of the Church. Jesus was indeed kind and loving, but he confronted people on their sins, and exacted from them a true repentance that seems almost inconceivable without some sort of public and private accountability for sins.
If you have further questions or want to discuss this, please leave a comment, I’d love to answer some questions.
Anyways, here’s the long and the short of confession:
1. You always have the option to go to confession anonymously, that is, behind a screen or face to face. I like going face to face, it hurts more, but it’s worth it to tell the truth when looking at someone. It makes me feel like i am looking at myself honestly when I do this.
2. After the priest greets you in the name of Christ, make the sign of the cross. He may choose to recite a reading from Scripture (I have never had this happen, usually he just waits for me to begin), after which you say: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (state how long) since my last confession. These are my sins.”
The whole point of this is to come back into the family. In Brazilian culture we are strongly Catholic and so even when I greet my parents or grandparents, I do not greet them with ‘Hello,’ I greet them with “Bless me, (Father, Mother, Grandpa, Grandma…etc.),” so this was not an issue for me. I understood immediately the desire to ask for a blessing, especially when one has done wrong.
3. Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. And keep it short. If you’re in confession at the common time, other people want to confess their sins too, and you should be as brief and exact as possible. If you have some time you might even want to discuss the circumstances and the root causes of your sins and ask the priest for advice or direction. However, do not expect a counseling session, save that for your own schedule when you can meet the priest one-on-one at a time outside scheduled parish confession.
4. Listen to the advice the priest gives you and accept the penance from him. Then make an Act of Contrition for your sins. There are others, but that’s the standard one, and usually there are prayer cards with this prayer on them in the confessional for first timers and people who forget.
5. The priest will then dismiss you with the words of praise: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. You respond: “For His mercy endures forever.” (This is a scriptural reference, for those of you who thought that Catholics don’t like scripture.) The priest will then conclude with:”The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.” And you respond by saying: “Thanks be to God.”
6. This is the part where you might feel a burden lifted, or spiritually aware, and open to the possibilities God has for you, it’s a very good feeling. However, remember the purpose of this sacrament is to return us to proper community and to bring us back into God’s family to properly celebrate the mass with the priest and the faithful.
7. Spend some time with Our Lord, either in Church, in prayer, in the chapel, or at a side altar thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible, and remember that this gift of confession is so that we may be prodigals no more.