In this installment, all that has been shown as essential to receiving the sacrament of penance will be applied in some practical tips of what to do and what not to do in going to confession.
We have considered how there are three essential acts of the person going to confession (that is, the penitent): 1 - to express contrition or sorrow for their sins with the intent to avoid sin in the future; 2 - to confess their sins in kind and number; and 3 - to make satisfaction or “do the assigned penance” as a means of making an act to repay the harm done by sinning (even though we could never fully repay by our own effort). These actions are most effective when the person has prepared to receive the sacrament by making an examination of their conscience, enabling them to make a complete or “integral” confession without leaving any sins intentionally unconfessed. Aware of these acts in making a good confession, here then are some practical tips for making a good confession:
As you begin your confession, state the length of time that has passed since your last confession and tell the priest your “state in life.” Stating the timeframe within which your confessed sins have been committed and your state in life (such as, “I am married;” or “I am single,” etc.) enables the priest to more effectively counsel you and assign a fitting penance.
Confess your own sins (not those of another).
State your sins clearly in “kind” and “number;” that is, say what the sin committed is and to the best of your memory how many times you did it – for example: “I disobeyed my parents five times.”
Confess your sins – not the stories of your sins. Sometimes (maybe out of being nervous) penitents will spend time explaining “why” they committed the sin. Such explanation is almost always not necessary nor helpful for the grace of forgiveness. If the priest needs more detail (for the sake of discerning the seriousness of the offense), he will ask for clarification. Priests do not ask “why did you do that?” as if to look for excuses or to cause shame. There is really no reason to try to explain the situation (as to do so usually only serves to rationalize it or try to reduce severity of sins by finding excuses for them – none of which is needed for forgiveness).
End your confession by saying: “For these sins and all others that I do not remember, I am sorry,” as a manner of bringing a clear end to your confession of sin.
Don’t be afraid to ask the priest questions, especially if:
you are unsure of whether or not an act you committed was sinful;
you don’t understand his counsel; and particularly in assigning you a penance, you don’t clearly hear him or you don’t understand what he has assigned for you to do as penance.
Memorize an Act of Contrition. There are several acceptable versions, and having one memorized can help you to internalize its meaning. This way, when you are asked to pray it, you can do so fully and meaningfully.
Finally, seek to complete your penance immediately or soon after confession – especially while still in the church, so as to complete your satisfaction and thus to complete the third of the three acts necessary to receive the sacrament.
In conclusion, remember that this sacrament is primarily for receiving God’s forgiveness of our sins. It is meant to be both a moment of encounter with God’s infinite mercy and of freedom from sin. Through this sacrament we are truly drawn closer to Christ who loves us and desires to show us mercy. Never fear this beautiful sacrament!