How to go to Confession

Maybe it’s been a long time since your last confession.
Maybe it’s your first confession.
Maybe you just can’t seem to remember that Act of Contrition.
Below is a simple guide to going to confession. Don’t let fear keep you from the Sacrament of Mercy.

printable confession guide

Before Going to Confession

Examination of Conscience

Before you go to confession make sure you take some time to prepare. This means making a thorough Examination of Conscience. If it helps you to remember, don’t hesitate to write down your sins. You should probably do this at home before you go to the church.

Prayer Before Going to Confession

When you arrive at the Church spend a few minutes in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. You can pray extemporaneously (whatever you want to pray) or use one of the following prayers to give yourself the right disposition.

Receive my confession, O most loving and gracious Lord Jesus Christ, only hope for the salvation of my soul. Grant to me true contrition of soul, so that day and night I may by penance make satisfaction for my many sins. Savior of the world, O good Jesus, Who gave Yourself to the death of the Cross to save sinners, look upon me, most wretched of all sinners; have pity on me, and give me the light to know my sins, true sorrow for them, and a firm purpose of never committing them again.

O gracious Virgin Mary, Immaculate Mother of Jesus, I implore you to obtain for me by your powerful intercession these graces from your Divine Son.

St. Joseph, pray for me. Amen.

or

Come Holy Spirit into my soul. Enlighten my mind that I may know the sins I ought to confess, and grant me Your grace to confess them fully, humbly and with contrite heart. Help me to firmly resolve not to commit them again.O Blessed Virgin, Mother of my Redeemer, mirror of innocence and sanctity, and refuge of penitent sinners, intercede for me through the Passion of Your Son, that I may obtain the grace to make a good confession.

All you blessed Angels and Saints of God, pray for me, a most miserable sinner, that I may repent from my evil ways, that my heart may henceforth be forever united with yours in eternal love.
Amen.

or

O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, worthy of all my love, I humbly present myself before You. Look upon me with merciful eyes and help me to be reconciled to You by a good confession. But as I can do nothing if You do not help me, I implore You in Your tender mercy to enlighten me, that I may know all my sins and detest them with my whole heart.

O Jesus, ever flowing fountain of compassion, I approach You to cleanse me from all my sins. O Divine Physician heal my soul. O infinite Love, enkindle the flames of Your Love in my soul that it may love nothing but You. May this Confession bring about in me an entire change in my life so that I may be fully reconciled to You.

Mother of God, You are so charitable to sinners who desire repentance, assist me to make a good Confession. My Guardian Angel, help me to discover the sins I have committed. My Patron Saint and all you Saints of Heaven, pray for me that I may bring forth worthy fruits of repentance.
Amen.

Introduction

When you enter the Confessional (or Reconciliation Room) either kneel behind the screen (if you wish to be anonymous) or sit in the chair in front of the priest (for face-to-face confession).

Usually the priest will begin by saying: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, ✠ and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

He may also say something like this: “May God, who has enlightened every heart, help you to know your sins and trust in his mercy.”

To which you respond: “Amen.”

Then you say: “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been (how long) since my last confession, and these are my sins.”

Confession of Sins

Now, list the sins you have committed that came to mind when doing your examination of conscience.

Tips:

Be brief, concise, and frank about your sins. Don’t “beat around the bush.”
Just confess your sins.
Just tell the priest what you have done, don’t try to qualify it. There is virtue in just saying your sins, not trying to justify them.
Don’t be too general (e.g., “I haven’t been a good person”), but a lot of detail is not necessary either (you don’t need to tell the whole story of how a sin came about).
If you’re not sure if something is a sin, just ask the priest.
The priest may give you some advice, but this isn’t counseling. If you want more advice make an appointment next time, or seek out a spiritual director.

Penance

The priest will assign something for you to do or pray as a response to God’s mercy. You’ll have to remember what this is and do it after the confession is over. If you are unsure, or the priest is not clear about your penance, just ask him to clarify it for you.

For reconciliation to really be complete you need to do your penance. However, you can receive Holy Communion before you complete you penance, especially if it is something that cannot be done immediately after you leave the confessional. If you fail to do your penance by the next time you go to confession, you need to confess it.

Act of Contrition

After you have received your penance you need to express contrition (sorrow) for your sins. You can either do this from the heart or you can use one of the following formulas for your act of contrition. This prayer is prayed out loud.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and amend my life. Amen.

or

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.

or

My God, 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.

Absolution

After you have finished making your Act of Contrition the priest will pray the prayer of absolution over you. He will say the following:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, ✠ and of the Holy Spirit.”

As the priest makes the Sign of the Cross over you, you should make the Sign of the Cross on yourself.
When he is finished praying the Absolution, you respond: “Amen.”

Conclusion & Dismissal

To conclude the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest may say something like, “God has freed you from your sins. Go in Peace.”
To which you respond: “Thanks be to God.”

He may pray a longer prayer like:

“May the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, and whatever good you do and evil you endure be cause for the remission of your sins, the increase of grace, and the reward of everlasting life.”

To which you respond: “Amen.”

After Confession

Don’t forget to do your penance. If it is saying certain prayers, it’s best to do it right away in the church before you forget.
Pray for the priest, he needs it.
Do your best to stop sinning. Allow God’s grace and mercy to take root in you.
When you fall, and you will (even St. John Paul II went to confession weekly), go back to confession and begin the process of sanctification again.

“Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” – Jn 8:11