“The minister to whom confession is made is the delegate of Christ, Who is the Judge of the living and the dead.” -St. Thomas Aquinas
As Roman Catholics we are also sacramental people; that is, we relate to our God through the ancient signs and symbols that are the Sacraments of the Church, one of them being the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is one of the sacraments of healing offered by the Church. What it seeks to heal is our fundamental brokenness that occurs through sin. As mature Christians we are all acutely aware of the sin of the world; it confronts us every day.
Here is some guidance on how to partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
How to Confess to the Priest
The priest will often begin with the Sign of the Cross or a greeting and blessing.
May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace. — Rite of Penance no. 93
Before going to confession, take some time to prepare. Begin with prayer, and reflect on your life since your last confession. How have you – in your thoughts, words, and actions – neglected to live Christ’s commands to “love the Lord, your God, with all of your soul, and with all your mind.” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37,39)? As a help with this “examination of conscience,” you might review the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes.
Here are some helpful questions you can ask yourself prior to going to Confession:
Examination of Conscience for Married Persons
Examination of Conscience for Single Persons
Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching
The priest will welcome you; he may say a short blessing or read a Scripture passage.
The Sign of the Cross
Together, you and the priest will make the Sign of the Cross, You may then begin your confession with these or similar words: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [ give days, months, or years] since my last confession.
Confess all your sins to the priest. If you are unsure what to say, ask the priest for help. When you are finished, conclude with these or similar words: “I am sorry for these and all of my sins.”
The priest will propose an act of penance. The penance might be a prayer, a work of mercy, or an act of charity. He might also counsel you on how to better live a Christian life.
Act of Contrition
After the priest has conferred your penance, pray an Act of Contrition, expressing sorrow for your sins and resolving to sin no more. A suggested Act of Contrition is:
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 Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy. (Rite of Penance, no. 45)
However, there are different versions of the Act of Contrition that are also acceptable to say.
The priest will extend his hands over your heads and pronounce the words of absolution. You respond, “Amen.”
The priest will usually praise the mercy of God and will invite you to do the same. For example, the priest may say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” and your response would be, “His mercy endures for ever” (Rite of Penance, no 47).
The priest will conclude the sacrament, often saying, “Go in peace.”
If it has been a while since your last confession, remember, “Do not fear” (IS, 41:10). The priest will help guide you.