The minister to whom confession is made is the delegate of Christ, Who is the Judge of the living and the dead.
This page, dedicated to the Sacrament of Penance, was written at the start of Lent 2005. It has since been updated to include newer information that points to the critical need for a widespread return to the sacrament.
The Sacrament of Penance isn't only for the Lenten Season or for those times when we have fallen into grave mortal sin. It is a sacrament that can be approached with frequency to help us as we humbly persevere on the path towards personal sanctity.
We hope you will find this page helpful, whether you are a Catholic who avoids confession, fears it or has forgotten it, and even if you suffer from scrupulosity.
When a Catholic comes from confession, he does truly, by definition, step out into that dawn of his own beginning... in that brief ritual God has really remade him in His own image. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.
- G. K. Chesterton
The Sacrament of Penance can be a dismaying and even frightening proposition for some Catholics. If you have been away from the Church for many years, and consequently believe that the roof will fall in or that Father will faint of horror once you get started, rest assured. It won't happen. As one elderly confessor said to me, not long ago, "This room is full of sins." You can be fairly certain that Father has heard it all many times before you entered the confessional.
Perhaps you are uncertain of how to go about the process of confession. You've forgotten the prayers. Don't let that stop you. Tell Father. He will help you. And just to add a little confidence, we've also provided some resources on How to Confess and even a "sample" confession.
You may be among the Catholics who think that Confession is an old fashioned institution, that it's not necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the saying goes, Confession is good for the soul. If you have fallen into mortal sin, it is necessary to work out your salvation here on earth. If you have only venial sins, while they can be forgiven by other means, only the Sacrament of Confession, administered by Christ Himself, can bring grace and new life to the soul.
The message of Sacramental Confession is so important that Pope Benedict XVI in a pre-Lenten audience with Confessors, urged them to preach the necessity for all Catholics - and to seek the sacrament themselves. He repeated that admonition urging the faithful to "invoke the Virgin Mary, whom God preserved from every stain of sin, that she help us to avoid sin and to have frequent recourse to the sacrament of confession, the sacrament of forgiveness, whose value and importance for our Christian life needs to be rediscovered today."
The Sacrament of Penance at Fisheaters is an excellent starting point for the reluctant and presents in the most accessible terms some compelling reasons to seek Reconciliation. The site also provides a practical guide to the examination of conscience and a sample confession, so you can see how it goes.
"Three conditions are necessary for Penance: contrition, which is sorrow for sin, together with a purpose of amendment; confession of sins without any omission; and satisfaction by means of good works." ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." ~ Saint Augustine
"We cannot preach forgiveness and reconciliation to others if we are not personally penetrated by it."
~ Pope Benedict XVI
Lenten Message to Priests
The flip side of those who avoid confession completely or who don't think it's necessary are those who suffer from scrupulosity. Sometimes older people may be troubled about past sins, others agonize about problems of obedience and purity, and many worry about sin where there is no sin. The Redemptorist Fathers offer an excellent section on their website to minister to those afflicted with scrupulosity. While the Fathers refer to this spiritual condition as a religious form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, many confessors advise that it is a torment of the devil who seeks to create unrest in the soul and doubt in God's Mercy and the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.
2. Wait our turn in line patiently;
3. Come at the time confessions are scheduled,
not a few minutes before they are to end;
4. Speak distinctly but never so loudly that we
might be overheard;
5. State our sins clearly and briefly without
6. Confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
7. Listen carefully to the advice the priest
8. Confess our own sins and not someone
9. Carefully listen to and remember the
penance and be sure to understand it;
10. Use a regular formula for confession so that
it is familiar and comfortable;
11. Never be afraid to say something
"embarrassing"... just say it;
12. Never worry that the priest thinks we are
jerks…. he is usually impressed by our
13. Never fear that the priest will not keep our
confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
14. Never confess "tendencies" or "struggles"...
15. Never leave the confessional before the
priest has finished giving absolution;
16. Memorize an Act of Contrition;
17. Answer the priest’s questions briefly if he
asks for a clarification;
18. Ask questions if we can’t understand what
he means when he tells us something;
19. Keep in mind that sometimes priests can
have bad days just like we do;
20. Remember that priests must go to
confession too … they know what we are
Padre Pio Hearing Confession
Finding a Good Confessor
Next to assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there is nothing more sublime than the graces granted through the ministrations of a good confessor.
For those who are just returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, finding the "right" confessor should not be a concern. Any Priest who has been granted the faculty to hear confessions may do so. You might consider asking other Catholics for advice, but every soul is different and the favorite confessor of one might not at all be right for you. Don't let that stop you. If you must "shop around" your best bet is to visit several Churches and look for one with a long line at the Confessional booth. Here you will likely find an excellent confessor.
Among Catholics who have found that frequent confession is a powerful spiritual aidthere sometimes arises a crisis when finding the right confessor seems nearly impossible. You're in good company.
St. Teresa of Avila prayed for years that the Lord might send her a wise and prudent confessor and suffered terribly until Our Lord sent one.
Saint Faustina also suffered for want of a confessor and found solace only when Our Lord spoke to her:
"When you go to Confession, know this, that I Myself am waiting for you in the confessional; I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in the soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy."
Most of us are not spiritual giants like these Saints and do not have the sublime experience of speaking directly with Our Lord. Our pain in this regard, is nonetheless very real, and often more acute when we have suffered the loss of a confessor. While the best course of action is to pray incessantly while abandoning ourselves to the Divine Will, we will of course have to take some action on our own. A new confessor is not likely to come knocking on our front door to introduce himself.
Father John A. Hardon, S.J. offers advice and guidance on selecting a confessor. His column is well worth reading.
One final piece of advice we have found useful. While it is unlikely that we will come across a Confessor like St. John Marie Vianney or Saint Pio, Opus Dei priests are generally exceptional confessors. Making the effort to find one is likely to bear great fruit.
The Value of Frequent Confession
Although frequent confession, has fallen out of fashion, except, perhaps, among the scrupulous, there are many reasons why we should make it a habit.
To begin, our self-knowledge is increased and with that weapon, we can begin to correct bad habits. Our conscience is strengthened. We begin to gain healthy self-control and more closely align our wills to God's.
To parents: Please encourage your child to seek confession regularly. Calm his or her fears by letting him know that it's not Father who is in the Confessional, but Our Lord Himself. Children often worry that "Father will tell." Assure them that Father is bound to secrecy. No one will ever know but God. And once our sins are confessed, God forgets them, too.
Parents of Teens: Every parent of a teen knows the lure of sinfulness that seems to permeate popular culture today. Sadly modern religious education no longer emphasizes the nature and consequences of mortal sin, so that many pernicious activities are not even thought of as sin.
As a parent, you have the obligation to ensure that your child knows the differences between mortal and venial sin. While some may disagree with me, I firmly believe that should you discover that your child has fallen into grave (mortal) sin, you should insist that he or she goes to confession immediately - even if it means skipping a soccer game or other social activity.
Pride/Humility – Humility is the virtue that counters pride. As pride leads to other sin, true humility clears a path for holiness. Pride is a sin based on undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self worth. Conversely, the virtue of humility is about modest behavior, selflessness and the giving of respect
Greed/Generosity – Liberality, or generosity, is the virtue that is counter to greed – the sin of immoderate desire for earthly goods. The virtue of liberality is focused not merely on the appropriate concern regarding one's earthly goods, but also on generosity and a willingness to give, freely and without request for commendation
Lust/Chastity – Chastity is the counter-virtue to the sin of lust. Chastity embraces moral wholesomeness and purity, and in both thought and action treats God's gift of sexuality with due reverence and respect
Anger/Meekness – Meekness, or patience, is the virtue that counters the sin of unjust anger, also called wrath or rage. Where the sin of wrath is about quick temper and unnecessary vengeance, the virtue of meekness focuses on patiently seeking appropriate resolution to conflicts, and on the ability to forgive and show mercy
Gluttony/Temperance – The virtue of temperance or abstinence counters the sin of gluttony. To be gluttonous is to overindulge. On the opposite hand, the virtue of temperance is centered on self-control and moderation
Envy/Kindness – Kindness, or love for one's neighbor, is the virtue which counters the sin of envy. Envy, in contradiction to God’s law of love, is manifest in a person's sorrow and distress over the good fortune of another person. Conversely, kindness is manifest in the unprejudiced, compassionate and charitable concern for others
Sloth/Diligence – Diligence, or persistence, is the virtue which counters the sin of sloth. Sloth, as a capital sin, refers to laziness in matters of Faith and spiritual combat. Diligence manifests the appropriately zealous attitudes toward living and sharing the Faith
Prayer to Be Freed from the Seven Deadly Sins
O meek Savior and Prince of Peace, implant in me the virtues of gentleness and patience. Let me curb the fury of anger and restrain all resentment and impatience so as to overcome evil with good, attain your peace, and rejoice in your love.
O Model of humility, divest me of all pride and arrogance. Let me acknowledge my weakness and sinfulness, so that I may bear mockery and contempt for your sake and esteem myself as lowly in your sight.
O Teacher of abstinence, help me to serve you rather than our appetites. Keep me from gluttony - the inordinate love of food and drink and let me hunger and thirst for your justice.
O Lover of purity, remove all lust from my heart, so that I may serve you with a pure mind and a chaste body.
O Father of the poor, help me to avoid all covetousness for earthly goods and give me a love for heavenly things. Inspire me to give to the needy, just as you gave your life that I might inherit eternal treasures.
O Exemplar of love, keep me from all envy and ill-will. Let the grace of your love dwell in me that I may rejoice in the happiness of others and bewail their adversities.
O zealous Lover of souls, keep me from all sloth of mind or body. Inspire me with zeal for your glory, so that I may do all things for you and in you
How To Stop Sinning! By the late Father Kilian McGowan, C.P.
Used with permission, from the Passionist Priests
Our quest for God in this life may be summed up into two basic movements of the human spirit: First-to live unto God, and secondly-to die unto sin. Our perfection as Christians consists in a wholehearted and practical love of God; and sin is the only real obstacle to this perfection.
The Catechism tells us that sin is a thought, desire, word, deed or omission against the law of God. This cold language unfortunately fails to dramatize the betrayal of God's love that is found in mortal sin. For mortal sin is far more than a transgression of God's law; it is a rejection of God Himself. It does much more than gravely damage the soul cast in God's likeness; it actually evicts the Adorable Trinity from its residence in the human heart. It is wholesale disaster for the follower of Christ.
I believe that every sincere Christian instinctively realizes this, even though he may not be able to spell out the theological effects of mortal sin. It's not surprising, therefore, that we priests are often asked this question: "Father, why is it that no matter how much I resolve not to commit serious sin, I keep falling back into the same old sin?'
First, let's take a look at the very key world "resolve". What is a sincere resolution? It's not a half-hearted hope to do better. It's not a wishy-washy intention to do God's will. It's a firm determination!! Note those two words: FIRM and DETERMINATION. A firm determination is a demanding leader that is resolved to use every possible means to achieve victory. Here the victory is to be won by total warfare against that enemy we call "sin."
The first weapon is PRAYER. Not just morning and night prayers, or rosaries and novenas. But prayer with or without words-at ALL times and in ALL our needs. Our Lord warned us to pray without ceasing and to pray least we fall into temptation.
Under this leading may we include the thought of the Presence of God-one of the greatest bulwarks against temptation; and meditation on the life and suffering of our Blessed Lord. Many saints have said that it is impossible to meditate daily on the Passion of Jesus and still hold onto a habit of serious sin. One or the other must go!
A second means is the SACRAMENTS. Each sacrament produces a certain spiritual effect in your soul. The sacrament of Penance not only destroys sin in the soul of a well-disposed penitent; it actually and really weakens the tendencies that lead one into sin. Because it attacks the disease of sin at its source, we can quickly see how this spiritual therapy must be used to maintain or regain spiritual health.
To explain how the Eucharist helps in this warfare against sin would take volumes. Suffice to say that it heals the scars of sin, infuses new spiritual energy into the campaign, and recalls the wandering inclinations of our heart and soul to God. It does all this in a very direct way-by bringing the Savior Himself into our hearts. Of all remedies, this obviously will ever be the greatest, because It gives you ALL that God has to offer.
Now, you may pray often-you may receive the sacraments frequently-even daily, but still that is not enough. You must also avoid the OCCASIONS OF SIN. This is the third means. Without this you have no firm determination to avoid sin. Occasions are, of course, those persons, places and things which you know from past experience have been the cause of your spiritual downfall. Don't kid yourself into believing that you can still love God and hang onto these occasions of sin!
We have seen briefly what sin does to us. To see what it did to God, take up your crucifix. That's the price our Lord was willing to pay to deliver you from the slavery of sin. What are you willing to do to avoid that slavery and to show a grateful love? We should start with a firm determination to avoid mortal sin. But before you do-if you haven't already-ask our Blessed Savior for the firmness and determination.
Although my intention in presenting this page is not to sell books, but to urge my readers to return to deepen their love for the Sacrament of Penance, it is clear that so much is missing in terms of catechesis on the subject. Were it not, our Holy Father would not trouble himself to urge that we "rediscover" the sacrament.
As a point in case, my husband is a convert to Catholicism. On his journey he experienced a somewhat insipid RCIA program that hardly touched on Confession at all. He is now involved in RCIA programs at two parishes and is often saddened by the "God loves me. God forgives me. God understands me and He knows I'm sorry. So there's really no need to go to confession" attitude that is pervasive in many parishes.
At our former parish, it was rare to see a penitent in line for confession. There was usually only one man who confessed weekly (two, before one died) and at best there was a "crowd" of three. And never children. Why? The need for the sacrament was rarely, if ever, mentioned from the pulpit.
Conversely, in another parish we frequented, the sacrament of penance was spoken of often. The children in the religious education program were regularly brought to church to receive the sacrament and their parents were encouraged to join them.
At funeral wakes, that pastor would speak frankly to those gathered in grief, "Tomorrow, you will be at the funeral mass of your loved one. Many of you will want to receive Communion, but perhaps you've been away from the Church for a while." He would then offer to hear confessions in the next room, and told all that he would stay as long as he necessary.
In that parish, the lines for confession were always long and often extra priests were often needed.
In my own journey, I've come to realize how invaluable the sacrament is to spiritual progress. In discussions with clergy and fellow Christians, I've learned that it is not unusual to discover, much to our horror, the "ripple effect" of sin. A single act at first may seem to be "just" an alienation of ourselves from God, but as we move closer to Our Lord, we come to understand how those single acts affect others, and wound the Body of Christ profoundly.
In all of these cases, there is clearly a need to learn more and to deepen our understanding of the Sacrament. Whether you are someone who has been away for a long time, someone who avails himself of the sacrament on rare occasions, or even if you are a frequent penitent, we can all use the guidance of those who understand the nuances of each circumstance and who want to draw us closer to Jesus in His Mercy.
Below I have listed several titles that you might find useful. There are a few books that I have personally found to be invaluable:
Frequent Confession - Its Place in the Spiritual Life by Benedict Baur
How to Profit from Your Faults by Joseph Tissot.
Sin and Its Consequences by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning
The Sinner's Guide by Ven. Louis of Grenada
Together the counsel in these volumes provide the shield and the battle axe to get at the root of our sinful natures and to begin to make real progress.
The titles in the highlighted boxes are volumes with which I am personally familiar and recommend highly. You might find that others appeal to your situation in life right now. Most are quite inexpensive, as little as $1.00! Nonetheless, here are some Discount Codes to save more: Get 15% off by entering newemail at check out. If you purchase more than $50, enter card38 to receive a $10 gift card. Your purchases at our partner site are urgently needed to help us continue to pay for university tuition for a young man's studies for the Priesthood. Thank you in advance.
Books to Help the Penitent's Journey
Frequent Confession "To win the battles of the soul, the best strategy often is to bide one's time and apply the suitable remedy with patience and perseverance." So wrote Blessed Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei who tirelessly urged the practice of frequent confession for spiritual advancement. The book is divided into two parts. The first shows the purpose and practice of confession from the aspect of confessor penitent. The second examines the many area where confession applies.
Why We Need Confession In recent decades, the sacrament of confession has withstood attacks against its validity and usefulness and is emerging in our own time as an even more important aid to Christian living. Shaw gives the reasons why, and provides concise rational explanations for what many have realized through their own experience: there is no substitute for divine forgiveness. Excellent for those who want to go deeper in their appreciation for this sacrament or for those trying to help their friends understand the need for confession
How to Profit from Your Faults Practical guidance for turning imperfections to one's advantage. Joseph Tissot wrote this book to help readers gain a proper sense of themselves and an accurate perspective on their own failings. Drawing on the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales and other great saints, as well as a rich understanding and broad experience of human nature, Tissot offers practical guidance for the interior struggle
Confession: A Little Book for the Reluctant by a popular 19th century French priest. Over 30 common objections to going to Confession answered with kindness, wit and wisdom. Allays fears and gives courage in approaching the Sacrament which will unlock the Gates of Heaven for many. Includes How to go to Confession. Pocket size
Confession Its Fruitful Practice Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration A practical pocket sized book explains in detail how to make a good Confession: the examination of conscience; contrition and its necessary qualities; purpose of amendment and its necessary qualities; avoiding the near occasion of sin; the actual Confession of sins to the priest; and the penance given by the priest
Manual for the PenitentThe penitent will find prayers of preparation, a form of examination of conscience, a rite for reconciliation of individual penitents, a communal rite with individual confession and absolution, and prayers of thanksgiving for reconciliation.
How to Make an Examination of Conscience Receiving forgiveness in this sacrament is a real tangible way to experience God's power and love. God shows us His power in the forgiveness of sins. An examination of conscience helps us reorient our life toward God, who is love, and to correct the actions, habits, attitudes and motives that are contrary to the Gospel.
Lord Have Mercy - Scott Hahn Drawing on the history of ancient Israel, the Gospels, the writings of the early Church, and the lives of the saints, Hahn reveals the living, scriptural heart of the Church's teachings on penance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Sin and Its Consequences Cardinal Henry Edward Manning How venial sin leads to mortal, and sins of omission to sins of commission, why sin is worse than disease, etc. Consoling emphasis on how grace and penance bring pardon and healing
Unless You Do Penance 3 CD Set Fight for Your Life! Are there really spiritual advantages to be gained by fasting and almsgiving? Is penance and "chastising the flesh" truly necessary for growth in holiness or merely the last remaining symbols of an "outdated spirituality"? In a world where so many of us are willing to make sacrifices for the "corruptible crown" of physical beauty and material success is there still a place for spiritual exercise?
Why Go to Confession? Reconciliation and the Beauty of GodDo you find yourself asking why you have to go to Confession? Maybe you’ve asked why you have to tell your sins to a priest; and not directly to God? Perhaps you’ve wondered if sin even exists at all. Archbishop Bruno Forte addresses common questions and explains the value of confessing to a priest.
The Sinner's Guide - Ven. Louis of Grenada. St. Teresa of Avila credited this book with having converted over a million people in her time. This is the most persuasive book we know to encourage people to abandon sin and embrace repentance and virtue. The logic is relentless and effective. For mastery of subject, command of Scripture and total impact on the reader, no book surpasses The Sinner's Guide. Imprimatur
How to Make a Good Confession This down-to-earth practical guide shows you how to transform your confessions into profound experiences of God's love… and how to carry the grace of Confession into your daily life. Leatherette
The Untapped Power of the Sacrament of Penance When it comes to sin, no one’s an innocent bystander. But do we really need to bring those sins to a priest in the sacrament of penance? What do priests think of the sacrament? Are they bored in the confessional? Distracted? Shocked by what they hear? If you have abandoned the confessional out of fear or apathy or the conviction that you don’t have any “real” sins to confess—or if you are merely a once- or twice-a-year penitent—this book will put you back on track
Pure Faith - A Guidebook for Teens. This is an amazingly appealing and faithful book that is devoid of the pop psychology approach to faith that has lost so many souls in the post-conciliar years. An excellent section on confession. Read more
A Guidebook for Confession - Five Pack The sacrament of reconciliation and penance is one of the great helps to friendship with God and spiritual progress. Ways to prepare for confession -- a necessary step to making a good confession and avoiding the routine which can so easily creep into religious practice
Pardon and Peace A very positive and practical understanding of the immense value of the sacrament of confession for the modern Catholic. Fr Randolph helps the reader to see how the sacrament of confession meets the deepest needs of the penitent on the spiritual, emotional and psychological levels. Step by step we follow the different stages of the rite, looking at the various elements of the sacrament and what they mean for the average sinner in the box
My Confession Book A little classic from 1958 that has assisted many children with their First Confession as well as subsequent confessions. Boys and girls who use this book will receive wonderful help with making a careful examination of conscience in accord with the Ten Commandments, having true sorrow for their sins, making a firm purpose of Amendment, and remembering what to do and say in the confessional.
Guidebook for Confession for Children For use by a child's first teacher or parents, and prepared particularly for children as young as 6-7. Fully illustrated and simple in approach to make it interesting and easy reading for a child. It explains the meanings of sin, Confession, and Penance; and how to prepare oneself for a good confession
Jesus Gives Us Peace God loves us unconditionally, and is always willing to forgive us, and to help us follow Jesus by forgiving others. This lovely book will help prepare children—and their families— for their first experience of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Geared to children ages 7–11, a teaching aid for teachers of First Reconciliation and is a great library First Reconciliation recourse