The following pastoral aid was compiled by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and is an excerpt from a larger document. A PDF of the entire document is available online, published exclusively by Our Sunday Visitor, here.
The initiative “24 Hours for the Lord,” a day focused entirely on confession and adoration, will be held March 4-5 in Rome and around the world. This guide offers suggestions for parishes that would like to participate in the event to experience the greatest possible fruitfulness during this special Jubilee of Mercy.
Why Should I Go to Confession?
This is a big question. Here is an answer that Pope Benedict XVI gave in 2011:
“I would say two things. The first: naturally, if you kneel down and with true love for God pray that God forgives you, he forgives you. It has always been the teaching of the Church that [when] one, with true repentance — that is, not only in order to avoid punishment, difficulty, but for love of the good, for love of God — asks for forgiveness, he is pardoned by God. This is the first part. If I honestly know that I have done evil, and if love for goodness, a desire for goodness, is reborn within me, [and if there is] repentance for not having responded to this love, and I ask forgiveness of God, who is the Good, he gives it to me. But there is a second element: sin is not only a ‘personal,’ individual thing between myself and God. Sin always has a social dimension, a
horizontal one. With my personal sin, even if perhaps no one knows it, I have damaged the communion of the Church, I have sullied the communion of the Church, I have sullied humanity. And therefore this social, horizontal dimension of sin requires that it be absolved also at the level of the human community, of the community of the Church, almost physically. Thus, this second dimension of sin, which is not only against God but concerns the community, too, demands the sacrament, and the sacrament is the great gift in which through confession, we can free ourselves from this thing and we can really receive forgiveness in the sense of a full readmission to the community of the living Church, of the Body of Christ. And so, in this sense, the necessary absolution by the priest, the sacrament, is not an imposition — let us say — on the limits of God’s goodness, but, on the contrary, it is an expression of the goodness of God because it shows me also concretely, in the communion of the Church, I have received pardon and can start anew.
“Thus, I would say, hold on to these two dimensions: the vertical one, with God, and the horizontal one, with the community of the Church and humanity. The absolution of the priest, sacramental absolution, is necessary to really absolve me of this link with evil and to fully reintegrate me into the will of God, into the vision of God, into his Church and to give me sacramental, almost bodily, certitude: God forgives me, he receives me into the community of his children. I think that we must learn how to understand the Sacrament of Penance in this sense: as a possibility of finding again, almost physically, the goodness of the Lord, the certainty of reconciliation.”
|Questions on the Sacrament of Confession
(From the Compendium of the Catholic Church)
296. What is the name of this sacrament?
It is called the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of Forgiveness, the Sacrament of Confession, and the Sacrament of Conversion.
297. Why is there a Sacrament of Reconciliation after baptism?
Since the new life of grace received in baptism does not abolish the weakness of human nature nor the inclination to sin (that is, concupiscence), Christ instituted this sacrament for the conversion of the baptized who have been separated from him by sin.
298. When did he institute this sacrament?
The risen Lord instituted this sacrament on the evening of Easter when he showed himself to his apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).
299. Do the baptized have need of conversion?
The call of Christ to conversion continues to resound in the lives of the baptized. Conversion is a continuing obligation for the whole Church. She is holy but includes sinners in her midst.
302. What are the essential elements of the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
The essential elements are two: the acts of the penitent who comes to repentance through the action of the Holy Spirit, and the absolution of the priest who in the name of Christ grants forgiveness and determines the ways of making satisfaction.
304. Which sins must be confessed?
All grave sins not yet confessed, which a careful examination of conscience brings to mind, must be brought to the Sacrament of Penance. The confession of serious sins is the only ordinary way to obtain forgiveness.
305. When is a person obliged to confess mortal sins?
Each of the faithful who has reached the age of discretion is bound to confess his or her mortal sins at least once a year and always before receiving holy Communion.
309. Is a confessor bound to secrecy?
Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to people, every confessor, without any exception and under very severe penalties, is bound to maintain “the sacramental seal,” which means absolute secrecy about the sins revealed to him in confession.
310. What are the effects of this sacrament?
The effects of the Sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living.
Preparing for Confession
According to Pope Francis in a homily given at Santa Marta on Oct. 9, 2015, “The evil one ... always tries to deceive, to lead us and make us choose the wrong path. ... When the evil one succeeds in anesthetizing the conscience ... in quieting the conscience ... then he can claim a true victory, for he has become the master of that conscience.”
The pope goes on in this homily to enunciate the solution: “Discernment is necessary. ... A Christian cannot rest easy, assuming that everything is fine. He must discern things and really look at where they come from, what their root is. Where does this come from? ... The Church counsels us to always make an examination of conscience ... .”
Pope Francis summarizes the questions to ask ourselves:
• Do I turn to God only in my need?
• Do I attend Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation?
• Do I begin and end the day with prayer?
• Have I taken the name of God, the Blessed Virgin, or the saints in vain?
• Have I been ashamed to say that I am a Christian?
• What am I doing to grow spiritually? How do I grow spiritually? When?
• Do I resist God’s will?
• Do I insist that he does things my way?
About my neighbor
• Do I know how to forgive, to share, and to help my neighbor?
• Have I slandered, stolen from, or scorned the poor and defenseless?
• Am I envious, hot-tempered, or prejudiced?
• Do I care for the poor and the sick?
• Am I embarrassed by my brother’s body or my sister’s flesh?
• Am I honest and fair with everyone, or do I foster a “throw-away culture”?
• Have I led others to do evil?
• Do I observe the spousal and family morality taught in the Gospel?
• How do I fulfill my responsibility for my children’s education?
• Do I honor and respect my parents?
• Have I rejected a newly conceived life?
• Have I extinguished the gift of life?
• Have I helped others to do that?
• Do I respect the environment?
• Am I a believer who is somewhat worldly and only somewhat believing?
• Do I over-indulge in eating, drinking, smoking and being entertained?
• Am I overly concerned about my physical well-being and my possessions?
• How I do use my time?
• Am I lazy?
• Do I desire to be served?
• Do I love and safeguard purity in my heart, thoughts and deeds?
• Do I plot vengeance or harbor resentments?
• Am I gentle and humble? A peace-maker?
(See Pope Francis’ booklet, “Safeguard Your Heart,” distributed after the Angelus on Feb. 22, 2015.)
Now I can examine myself about the concrete actions that mercy requires and by which we will be judged:
• Have I given food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty?
• Have I welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked?
• Have I set aside time and had the courage to visit the sick and the imprisoned?
• Have I helped anyone be released from doubts that make them fearful and that are often the source of loneliness?
• Have I participated in overcoming ignorance by supporting education, especially for the young?
• Have I told those who live in sin about the need for conversion?
• Have I been a neighbor to someone who is lonely and afflicted?
• Have I forgiven those who offend me and resisted every kind of resentment and hate?
• Have I been patient with others based on the example of God who is so patient with us?
• Have I commended my brothers and sisters to prayer?
(See Misericordiae Vultus, No. 15)
Now I am ready and eager to entrust everything to God’s loving kindness and that of my brothers and sisters. I will therefore willingly accept the penance the priest gives me. I want to be given a concrete task through which I can express my desire for conversion and reparation.
How to confess
Auxiliary Bishop Peter J. Byrne of New York blesses a woman after confession Dec. 9 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. CNS
At the time you present yourself as a penitent, the priest cordially receives you, speaking words of encouragement to you. He makes the merciful Lord present.
Together with the priest, you make the sign of the cross and say,
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The priest helps you to prepare yourself to trust in God with these or similar words:
“May God, who has enlightened every heart,
help you to know your sins
and trust in his mercy.”
The priest, according to the occasion, reads or recites from memory a text from sacred Scripture that speaks about the mercy of God and invites the person to convert. For example,
“Now after John was arrested,
Jesus came into Galilee,
preaching the Gospel of God, and saying,
‘The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent, and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15).
At this point, you confess your sins. If necessary, the priest will help you, asking you questions and giving suitable advice. He will propose a suitable act of penance and then invite you, finally, to demonstrate your commitment to conversion by reciting an act of contrition or some other similar formula. For example,
“Be mindful of your compassion, O Lord, and of your merciful love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions;
according to your mercy remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” (Ps 25:6-7)
Now the priest will stand and lay his hands on your head, saying,
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the 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.”
You answer, “Amen.”
After absolution, the priest says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
You answer, “His mercy endures forever.”
Then the priest will dismiss you, saying, “The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.”
|A Psalm of Thanksgiving
The encounter with mercy will be joyful above all for those who are close to me. The Father summons the whole Church to celebrate (see Lk 15:9-10). I can conclude my thanksgiving with a psalm:
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless his
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with mercy and the
who satisfies you with good as long as
so that your youth is renewed like the
The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the
so great is his mercy toward those who
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions
As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the mercy of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting
upon those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
hearkening to the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places
of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
What Should I Do after Confession?
Live in the grace received in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a privileged occasion in which God grants his mercy. If people think they can merit salvation in some way, any attempt to attain it will generate the frustration of never being able “to do enough” (satis facere) to merit that grace.
The relationship between God and human beings is not based on a dynamic of people expiating their own sins. The confession of sin, even when repeated many times, does not make a person “worthy” of God’s love. Instead, it brings an awareness that the grace received through the sacrament is a gift that transforms the heart and is the path that leads to the forgiveness of sins. God waits for and welcomes even small steps by any person who comes back to him, and he does not wait for perfection to grant his benevolence. This allows human beings to abandon themselves to the Father’s embrace and to start over again. The celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not make people “sinless” but strengthens the desire to respond to God’s freely given love.
| Young adults pray at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. CNS
Renewed through the experience of the sacrament, life for believers now becomes an occasion for giving to others what they have received from God. Just as in a human relationship in which the beloved desires to return the goodness received from the lover, so, too, people experience that the freely given love they have received from God becomes the model and example for their lives. People who have received God’s forgiveness and mercy become aware that they will have peace only when they succeed in passing on to others what they themselves have been given. ...
The example of the conversion of Zacchaeus, who radically changed his life and restored more than what the law required, demonstrates that deep emotions arise in the heart of a person who has been forgiven, and these emotions often change a person’s way of living and orient him or her to follow Christ in a manner inspired by the Gospel (see Lk 19:1-10). People who have experienced this grace will sense the need to reorder their personal relationships — gradually or all at once — and to offer forgiveness to brothers and sisters and receive it from them. From this initial reconciliation a dynamic of interior renewal is released that affects relationships and even people’s understanding of the meaning of existence and of the world. Resisting this desire for change, which is an authentic movement of the heart inspired by the Holy Spirit, would mean blocking the gift of grace that transforms a person’s life and emotions. After confession, then, it is necessary to express the impulse toward love that permeates the soul and to respond to the Lord by rethinking the priorities of life and by loving the brothers and sisters who live next to us in a new way.
Accepting the loving forgiveness of the Father stirs people to come out of themselves, out of their comfort zone of affections and relationships, in order to place themselves in service to brothers and sisters who are afflicted by poverty, misery, sickness and sorrow. A deeper sensitivity develops with respect to the suffering of others, and charity becomes the response to the grace received, conforming actions and emotions to those of Christ Jesus (see Eph 5:1-2). Since sin breaks the communion with brothers and sisters, this sacrament reconciles people to the ecclesial community. The gift of the Spirit, which the Father lavishes on all his sons and daughters through Christ, communicates the power to bring about this deep communion for people on their path to perfect unity (see Jn 17:11-23). This thirst for unity is expressed in the Eucharistic ... feast of forgiven sinners who gather together to become one new reality in Christ Jesus.
The ecclesial community becomes the special place in which communion is preserved and experienced, making what is narrated in Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47 present and alive. The Church is the maternal womb in which the Word is heard, in which the Father is prayed to in a united way, and in which the bread of the Eucharist is shared. The Church is not a place of perfect people but of those on the path to perfection; it is not a place of holy people but of those who are clothed in God’s holiness through grace. The Church is the tent of God in the midst of his people — the people to whom the Lord Jesus assures his presence and his loving mercy. Reconciliation, then, culminates in a rediscovery of one’s parish community, the dwelling place of God’s presence among his people in which the assembly celebrates the mysteries of salvation in the course of the liturgical year, as believers await the glorious day in which our savior Jesus Christ will take his seat on his glorious throne (see Mt 25:31-46).