By Clemens Pater
Any Lenten resolution should include a determination to deepen our love for the Sacrament of Penance, Confession, or Reconciliation. This is a Sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ, to be used frequently in our life. It is the normal means for the forgiveness of our sins. The Church requires that we come to confess our mortal sins – according to the kind or species of sin and the number of the times we have fallen. Frequent reception of Confession is also an important means for growing in holiness. It imparts a sacramental grace that can assist us to grow in the virtues.
Because of a marriage situation outside the Church, a Catholic may be obstructed from receiving the Sacraments. But otherwise the requirements for Catholics going to Confession are simple: we must be a sinner; we must have sorrow for our offenses; and we must be open to the amendment of our life.
Prepare. We ready ourselves to receive the Sacrament by calling to mind the sins we have committed since our last worthy Confession. Begin by briefly asking God the Holy Spirit to help you know your sins. Pray for the grace of sorrow for your offenses against God and neighbor. There are many worthwhile pamphlets and aids that provide an “examination of conscience.” They might review the Ten Commandments; the Precepts of the Church; the Seven Capital or “deadly” Sins.
While this proximate examination for Confession is necessary and helpful, the best long-term help for making good Confessions, is a daily examination of conscience. Every day, perhaps at bed time, we should reflect on the day to see where we have failed in obedience to God’s law and in charity to our neighbor. Asking the help of the Holy Spirit, we can review the events of our day, or perhaps reflect on a list of our own personal weaknesses. We need only spend a few minutes to briefly accuse ourselves of these sinful acts and omissions, and to pray the Act of Contrition. The daily Examination of Conscience is perhaps the best help to make good Confessions.
Confess and Receive Absolution. Jesus entrusted the holy work of forgiving sins – on behalf of God and the Church – to the ordained priest. The Church ritually established this in the Sacrament of Confession. We must acknowledge our particular sins with honesty and completeness, as best we recall. We express our sorrow through some prayer of sorrow, an “act of contrition.”
In the most absolute secrecy, the priest sits in the place of Jesus, the Divine Physician, who hears our acknowledgement of sins and sorrow for them, and in Christ’s name and, through the ministry of the Church, offers the prayer of Absolution, granting “pardon and peace.”
The priest, exercising the sacrament of Holy Orders, and with the “faculties” or jurisdiction of the bishop, applies the “power of the keys” to bind and loose. Jesus entrusted this grace-filled power to Peter, first of the Apostles, when he established the Church. The Successor of Peter extends it as He sees fit within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. With the absolution our sins are forgiven.
This is the real moment of mercy. We need not presume that we have been forgiven. We have that reassurance through the Church’s sacrament.
Assignment of a Penance. The priest imposes a “penance.” It could be a prayer or prayers, or he could ask us to fulfill some action of faith, hope, and/or charity - for the remission of the corporal punishment due to sin. The penance may be large or small. In light of the damage our sins may have caused, it may seem only a small token or sign of our turning back again to God. We are obliged to fulfill our assigned Penance.
Resolution of Repentance. True sorrow for our sins, and Sacramental forgiveness in confession, does not always take away the tendency or inclination we have to selfishness and sin. We often have built up bad habits, or vices, that make it difficult to change quickly. It is important to leave Confession with a good determination and, if possible, a strategy for avoiding a certain sin, or for strengthening our resolution to build up the habits of holiness in our life.
Jesus knew that we would need this Sacrament frequently. Lent may be a particularly important moment of grace to come to Confession. It is a wonderful thing when families come to church together so that each one can use this Sacrament. Putting your trust in Him and in His grace and mercy, resolve to use Confession frequently – once a month or more - as a vehicle to strengthen and fortify your resolve to love Our Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; to love our neighbor for His sake.
From PAENITEMINI, the Apostolic Constitution on Penance, by Blessed Pope Paul VI, February 17, 1966
“…Since the Church is closely linked to Christ, the penitence of the individual Christian also has an intimate relationship of its own with the whole ecclesial community. In fact, not only does he receive in the bosom of the Church through baptism the fundamental gift of ‘metanoia,’ but this gift is restored and reinvigorated, through the sacrament of penance, in those members of the Body of Christ who have fallen into sin. ‘Those who approach the sacrament of penance receive from the mercy of God forgiveness for offenses committed against Him and at the same time become reconciled with the Church on which they have inflicted a wound by sinning, and the Church cooperates in their conversion with charity, example and prayer.’ And in the Church, finally, the little acts of penitence imposed each time in the sacrament become a form of participation in a special way in the infinite expiation of Christ to join to the sacramental satisfaction itself every other action he performs, his every suffering and sorrow.”
Confession Guide for Adults
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before Me.
-Do I give God time every day in prayer?
-Do I seek to love Him with my whole heart?
-Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?
-Do I seek to surrender myself to God´s word as taught by the Church?
-Have I ever received communion in the state of mortal sin?
-Have I ever deliberately told a lie in Confession or have I withheld a mortal sin from the priest in Confession?
-Are there other "gods" in my life? Money, Security, Power, People, etc.?
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
-Have I used God´s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
-Have I been angry with God?
-Have I wished evil upon any other person?
-Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
-Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation?
-Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
-Do I do needless work on Sunday?
4. Honor your father and your mother.
-Do I honor and obey my parents?
-Have I neglected my duties to my spouse and children?
-Have I given my family good religious example?
-Do I try to bring peace into my home life?
-Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?
5. You shall not kill.
-Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion?
-Have I physically harmed anyone?
-Have I abused alcohol or drugs?
-Did I give scandal to anyone, thereby leading him or her into sin?
-Have I been angry or resentful?
-Have I harbored hatred in my heart?
-Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization?
-Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization?
-Have I engaged, in any way, in sins against humanlife such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
-Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?
6. You shall not commit adultery.
-Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
-Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
-Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
-Has each sexual act in my marriage been open to the transmission of new life?
-Have I been guilty of masturbation?
-Do I seek to control my thoughts and imaginations?
-Have I respected all members of the opposite sex, or have I thought of other people as mere objects?
-Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?
-Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words,actions?
-Am I careful to dress modestly?
7. You shall not steal.
-Have I stolen what is not mine?
-Have I returned or made restitution for what I have stolen?
-Do I waste time at work, school, and home?
-Do I gamble excessively, thereby denying my family of their needs?
-Do I pay my debts promptly?
-Do I seek to share what I have with the poor?
-Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs, for example creditors, insurance companies, big corporations?
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
-Have I lied? Have I gossiped?
-Do I speak badly of others behind their back?
-Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
-Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
-Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?
-Have I injured the reputation of others by slanders?
9. You shall not desire your neighbor's wife.
-Have I consented to impure thoughts?
-Have I caused them by impure reading, movies, television, conversation or curiosity?
-Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
-Have I behaved in an inappropriate way with members of the opposite sex: flirting, being superficial, etc.?
10. You shall not desire your neighbor's goods.
-Am I jealous of what other people have?
-Do I envy the families or possessions of others?
-Am I greedy or selfish?
-Are material possessions the purpose of my life?
A GUIDE TO CONFESSION
How to go to Confession:
1. You always have the option to go to confession anonymously, that is, behind a screen or face to face, if you so desire.
2. After the priest greets you in the name of Christ, make the sign of the cross. He may choose to recite a reading from Scripture, after which you say: "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (state how long) since my last confession. These are my sins."
3. Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. You might even want to discuss the circumstances and the root causes of your sins and ask the priest for advice or direction.
4. Listen to the advice the priest gives you and accept the penance from him. Then make an Act of Contrition for your sins.
5. The priest will then dismiss you with the words of praise: "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. You respond: "For His mercy endures forever." The priest will then conclude with:"The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace." And you respond by saying: "Thanks be to God."
6. Spend some time with Our Lord thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible.
PRAYER BEFORE CONFESSION
O most merciful God! Prostrate at Your feet, I implore Your forgiveness. I sincerely desire to leave all my evil ways and to confess my sins with all sincerity to You and to Your priest. I am a sinner, have mercy on me, O Lord. Give me a lively faith and a firm hope in the Passion of my Redeemer. Give me, for Your mercy's sake a sorrow for having offended so good a God. Mary, my mother, refuge of sinners, pray for me that I may make a good confession. Amen.
A Confession Guide for Adults from the National Catholic Register, a service of EWTN