A question I often see in social media posts as well as in conversations I have with non-Catholics is centered around why we go to confession. In this post, we will explore:
- What is Confession?
- When was it started?
- Who started it?
- Why is it necessary?
- How is a good confession made?
What is Confession?
Confession, or most commonly called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an ongoing process that Catholics follow to recognize their sins and shortcomings by performing an examination of conscious, confess those sins to a priest, receive absolution, recite the Act of Contrition, and perform a penance. The end result is that God has forgiven the sins of the contrite through the priest. The contrite strives to not commit the same sins over and over again because the sins separate him or her from God.
The contrite can go to their parish’s regularly scheduled confession time, or he or she can schedule a time aside from the regular hours to meet with the priest. Confessions can only be heard by an ordained priest. They are almost always conducted in privacy by use of a confessional. The contrite can also choose to sit in front of the priest if they so desire.
Types of Sins
There are two types of sins that a contrite must confess. Venial sins are “forgivable sins” that do not constitute the more severe mortal sins. Venial sins do not result in a complete separation from God, but do require cleansing through Purgatory prior to entry into Heaven. Mortal sins, committed with full knowledge, are severe enough to separate the individual from God and the gift of Heaven. Murder, idolatry, and adultery are all mortal sins.
When was Confession Started and Who Started It?
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation on the first Easter Sunday evening when he appeared to the Apostles. He also charges the same to the Apostles at the time of his ascension into Heaven.
John 20:21-23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, the are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.
Jesus handed down the ministry of reconciliation as he wanted this to continue after He ascended into Heaven. Only twice in scripture do we see God “breathe” into human beings. The first time it happened was in the book of Genesis when God breathed life into the man and woman that He created. The second time is when Jesus Christ breathes into the Apostles (His priests). He commanded that his priests on Earth, through the breath of life, forgive sinners who were genuinely sorry for the sins they committed against God.
Why is Confession Necessary?
Confession is not about what we did, but is about what God does! The Sacrament of Reconciliation is God’s loving kindness in action! We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.
God offers his peace and forgiveness to those who ask for it. Forgiveness is granted if the contrite are genuinely sorry and promise to change their actions to be more Christ-like. Saying the sins out loud verbally acknowledges our shortcomings. The absolution we receive from the priest (forgiving the Sins through God) assures us that we are forgiven because of God’s loving grace and kindness. The penance we perform after receiving absolution from the peace is simply the act of doing a good dead to make up for doing something wrong. As a dad, I make my kids do a good deed when they make mistakes to make up for what they did. As sinners, God gives us the same commandment to perform the penance to reestablish the relationship He so desires of each of us.
How to Make a Good Confession?
Just like we need to prepare ourselves (physically and spiritually) to attend Mass, so must we prepare our hearts and minds for Confession. We can’t just go confess our sins without some prep work.
Perform an Examination of Conscious.
What did I do that offended God or my neighbor? How many times did I do it? Most often, Catholics look at the Ten Commandments as guidance to what constitutes a sin that must be confessed. Be truly sorry before you go to confession. After all, confession is the decisive rejection of the sins you have committed and the desire to do better and avoid the occasion of sin in the future. If you aren’t sorry for your sins, you won’t be forgiven.
Confess all of your sins to the priest.
You will start your confession by making the sign of the cross, then state when your last confession was. The priest may, at this point, read from scripture. Confess your sins, starting with the most difficult, in kid and in number. When you are finished, say “I am sorry for these and all of the sins of my past life.”
If you get nervous and forget a sin that you intended to ask to be forgiven, you are still forgiven of that sin, but do confess it next time. Remembering a sin, but intentionally not confessing it, does not constitute a good confession. Again, the sacrament is not about what we did. Focus on what God’s mercy does for us! If you would rather stay anonymous during the confession that is perfectly acceptable. The priest has heard it all. There is nothing you could confess that is a surprise to him.
The priest will offer some advice and may read from scripture depending on the types of sins that you confessed.
Pray an Act of Contrition:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all of my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all of my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.
Ending the Confession
The priest will make the sign of the cross with you.
Do your penance
The priest will assign you penance. Complete the penance as quickly as possible.
Interested in learning more about what Catholics believe? Check out my other posts on the faith!
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Common Misconceptions of the Catholic Church
We are Called to Love
What is the Rosary?
Daddy, Are There Ghosts?