Q. It has been a really long time since I have gone to confession. I am nervous that I am not going to remember what to do when I get there. Also, because of my situation, may I go to confession during the regular hours, or do I need to make an appointment?
A. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are always on the road to deeper conversion. Every day we try to conform ourselves in a greater way to the person of Christ. Jesus won for us our salvation through his Paschal Mystery: his suffering, death and resurrection. We receive the fruits of the Paschal Mystery for the first time through Baptism. However, conversion is an ongoing process. We don’t always accept God’s love perfectly. Sometimes, we might even outright reject God’s love through mortal sin. Thus, we all need the sacrament of penance or confession.
During his public ministry, Jesus forgave the sins of individuals through a real, human encounter with them. Jesus, of course, is divine and so he has the authority to forgive sins. The leading men of Jesus’ times were often critical of his claim of authority to forgive sin. This is one of the reasons that his forgiveness of sins was accompanied by a miracle of physical healing. For instance, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus saw the faith of a paralytic man, and because of his faith he tells him that his sins are forgiven. But, knowing that in their minds the scribes and Pharisees considered Christ’s forgiveness of sins to be blasphemy, he proved his authority through a miracle. He told the paralytic to pick up his mat and walk, and the paralytic was healed (Lk 5:17-26).
When penitents approach the sacrament of confession today, they confess their sins to a priest who has the authority to forgive sins, not through his personal holiness, but by virtue of his ordination, which changes the very being of a priest to be able to act in the person of Christ through the administration of the sacraments. Thus, the sacrament of confession remains a real encounter with Jesus through the priest. Our spiritual lives benefit when we hear the words of Jesus through the priest, “I absolve you of your sins.”
It is understandable that you are nervous to go to confession. That is normal. When we approach this sacrament of mercy, we are admitting sins that we are not proud of, or perhaps bad habits that plague and embarrass us. However, the Lord wants us to be free from our sins. He wants us to know that his mercy and love—not our sins to which we are attached—bring us peace and happiness. In a private revelation, Jesus told St. Faustina about his great desire to bestow his mercy, saying: “My heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners… I desire to bestow my graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them.”
Don’t worry about forgetting what to do in the confessional. The priest will assist you, especially if you ask for help. However, do prepare for your confession. Remember to examine your conscience ahead of time. Usually there are examination of conscience sheets or pamphlets that can be found in the back of the church, or they can be obtained online. To receive absolution of our sins we must confess our sins with humility, be contrite of heart, and practice satisfaction (penance).
If we are aware of any mortal sins, sins that are of a serious matter, done with sufficient reflection and full consent of our will, they are to be confessed in kind and number.
Contrition means that we are truly sorry for our sins, and we are to have a sincere desire to avoid these sins in the future. Satisfaction is the penance that we perform after our confession. Our sins have a bad effect on the entire Body of Christ, the Church. While we can never completely undo our past sins, we do our penance in reparation for them.
If you are concerned with the length of your confession, you may make an appointment with a priest. You may keep your anonymity even in this manner by agreeing to meet the priest in the confessional.
However, no matter how long one might be away, you may go to confession during the normal times, for we remember that in making a good confession, one only needs to confess the essentials of the sin. After all, our Lord already knows our sins, we simply need to admit of them—not make excuses for them or mention the faults of others.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.