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Local Confession Times / Confession: Why and How?

Why do Catholics say their sins out loud to another person? How does God forgive our sins through a priest, who is himself a sinner?
If we haven't gone to confession since we were kids, is it possible to start over? Learn the answers to these questions and more below!

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.
— Prayer of Absolution

Why Go to Confession?

In confession we bring everything we wish we had never done, and Christ's merciful love wipes these things from our soul as if we had never done them: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us" (Psalm 103:12).

We all know that there are things we have done that we are ashamed of, whether it is easy to admit to ourselves or not. It may be that these are the very things which keep us from going to confession, because it seems impossible to say them out loud to another person. Yet this shame that we feel is the very reason Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Confession or Penance). He knew that no matter how "spiritual" of a person we are, we are still human, and it makes all the difference in the world to us to hear another human voice say to us, "Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace." If I say these things out loud, and the priest does not reject me, I know in a concrete way that God does not reject me, that I truly am forgiven. This is why the early Christians encouraged, "Confess your sins to one another, so that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

Yet when we say our sins to the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are not merely saying them to another human being. In the Gospel, Jesus gives his apostles the power to forgive sins in his name (Matthew 9:6, John 20:21-23). This power is passed on to priests through the grace of their ordination; it is as though the apostles were ministering to us today, offering us forgiveness promised by Jesus! When you say your sins to the priest, he stands in the place of Christ. This is why he says, "I absolve you from all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." It is Christ absolving sins through the priest as his instrument. Jesus uses the priest's voice to speak his forgiveness because he wants you to be absolutely confident that your sins are wiped away by his merciful love.

What if I haven't been to confession in years?

Nothing you do could make God happier than to come to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially if you have been away from the sacrament for a long time. God is like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The son has rejected his father's love and wasted his life. Deciding to return home, he hopes his father will accept him as a servant. But the father is overcome with joy at his beloved son's return: "While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him" (15:20). If you have been away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God is not looking on you with judgment or criticism. Rather, he is waiting and watching for your return so that he can embrace you with his merciful love.

If you haven't been to confession in a long time, it is good to tell the priest this as you begin your confession. It is also important to do a good Examination of Conscience before you enter the confessional, so that you can be sure to name all the serious sins that are weighing on your soul. If you need courage, pray to Mary, Mother of Mercy, and ask her to walk you through this experience.

Don’t be afraid of confession. When someone is in line for confession he feels all these things - even shame - but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves (feeling) free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy... The sacrament of reconciliation is a sacrament of healing. When I go to confession, it’s for healing: healing the soul, healing the heart because of something that I did to make it unwell.
— Pope Francis

How Do I go to confession?

  1. Examine your conscience (you can use the Examination of Conscience below) before you enter the confessional.
  2. Once you go in, the priest may start with a prayer.
  3. Begin by saying, “Father forgive me, it has been _______ weeks/months/years since my last confession.”
  4. Confess your sins to the priest. Make certain that you confess all your mortal (serious) sins and the number of them. It is good to begin with your most serious sins.
  5. You may close your confession by saying something like, “For these and all my sins I am sorry.”
  6. The priest may give you some counsel. Then he will give you your penance (usually a prayer or an act of charity) and ask you to pray an act of contrition.
  7. Pray the Act of Contrition:

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.

8. The priest will give you absolution.

9. Leave the confessional and do your penance.


Examination of Conscience

I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.

  • Do I speak with God every day in prayer?
  • Have I received communion in the state of mortal sin?

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

  • Have I used God´s name carelessly?
  • Have I been angry with God?

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 day of rest?

Honor your father and your mother.

  • Do I honor my parents?
  • Have I neglected my duties to my family?
  • Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?

You shall not kill.

  • Have I been angry or resentful?
  • Have I abused alcohol or drugs?
  • Have I physically harmed anyone?
  • Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion?
  • Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization, for myself or others?
  • Have I engaged in sins against human life such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
  • Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?

You shall not commit adultery.

  • Have I been faithful to my marriage vows?
  • Have I engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage?
  • Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
  • Have I been guilty of masturbation?
  • Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words, and actions?
  • Have I engaged in homosexual activity?

You shall not steal.

  • Have I stolen what is not mine?
  • Do I waste time at work, school, or home?
  • Do I gamble excessively?
  • Do I seek to share what I have with the poor? 

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  • Have I lied? Have I gossiped, or spoken badly of others behind their back?
  • Have I cheated or plagiarized in a class?
  • Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
  • Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?

You shall not desire your neighbor´s wife.

  • Have I consented to impure thoughts?
  • Have I caused them by reading impure books or using pornography?

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?