Lent, of course, is a penitential season preparing us for Easter. It’s part of our tradition that Catholics make a Confession during Lent. Here are some tips on how to do so.
First, offer a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for the grace to make a good Confession.
“Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful; enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.”
Next, reflect on those times since your last Confession that you have either acted in a way contrary to God’s will (sins of commission) or failed to act according to God’s will and desire for you (sins of omission):
in your thoughts
in your words
in what you have done
and in what you have failed to do.
Next, consider those times when God has been especially present in your life and give Him thanks:
in your relationships with loved ones and others
in your work
in the service you offer to the Church
in an unexpected surprise.
When you enter the Confessional, ask Father for his blessing and tell him how long it’s been since your last Confession:
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been _______________ since my last Confession.
Then tell Father all of your sins of commission and omission that you can recall.
There’s no reason to hold anything back. Like a physician who can only address those physical ailments of which he’s aware, the priest can only absolve those sins which are confessed. While it’s true that only mortal sins must be confessed, there are good spiritual reasons to confess even venial sins. The grace obtained from the sacrament is intended to strengthen you against all sin, and even venial sins offend God. If you confess behind a screen, there’s no reason to think the priest has any idea of who you are. Even if you confess face-to-face, the priest isn’t concerned about learning how horrible you are, but is overjoyed that you would come to the sacrament for healing and forgiveness. Of course, he is bound by the sacramental seal to never reveal what he’s heard in the Confessional, even on pain of imprisonment or worse. The seal is inviolable. Priests have gone to jail and even suffered martyrdom rather than break the seal of Confession.
Occasionally, when I go into the Confessional, I’ll forget one or more of the sins I intended to confess. Sometimes I’ll remember it during the Confession, but usually it’s well after I’ve left. If this happens to you, don’t worry about it. If you’ve genuinely forgotten, the sin is still forgiven. Sometimes, I’ll include the following words at the end of my Confession: “I ask forgiveness for any sins I may have forgotten and for anything I may have done or failed to do that offended God or hurt others without my realizing it.”
Allow Father to offer is advice or reflections.
Listen attentively to his words. He will often have insight into a particular pattern of sin and be able to help you in your struggle to overcome this pattern.
Father will give you a penance to perform.
The purpose of the penance is to remove any temporal punishment attached to your sins, and to build up again the Church that has been burdened by your sins. It’s best to perform the penance as soon as possible, before you leave the church building. If, for some reason, you fail to perform the penance, your sins are still forgiven. You are still burdened, however, with the temporal punishment attached to your sin. You should mention that you failed to perform your penance the next time you go to Confession.
Father will absolve you of your sins.
The priest represents Christ, he is alter Christus, “another Christ.” When he speaks the beautiful words of absolution, it is Christ Himself Who is speaking. This is what makes the sacraments so special and unique in the life of the Christian. Of course, we can ask for God’s grace under any ordinary circumstance. But, in each sacrament, we have confidence that God’s grace is poured out and received, because of the promise of Jesus. When the priest absolves you from your sins, it is Christ Himself doing so.
Before you leave the Confessional, Father will ask you to pray an Act of Contrition.
The Act of Contrition is a prayer expressing sorrow for and hatred of your sins and offering a promise to, with the help of God’s grace, avoid sin and the near occasion of sin.
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.”
Finally, after performing your penance, leave the church building with confidence that your sins are forgiven and that you are washed clean from the stain of sin.
The Lord tells us that as far as the east is from the west he throws our sins away (Psalm 103:12) and that He chooses to remember our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 8:12). This is very interesting, because God is not only the Creator of all that is, but the Sustainer of all that is. In other words, God is constantly at the work of keeping Creation in existence. Because God is eternal, should He forget us, should He forget to sustain all of Creation, it would be as if nothing had ever existed in the first place. So, when God says He chooses to remember our sins no more, that is, He chooses to forget them, that means that, not only are our sins forgiven, but it’s as if they never existed in the first place! We can have confidence, then, that there is no record of our past transgressions kept on some list in the Kingdom. The only record of our transgressions is the one we hold onto in our hearts. Let’s follow the example of our good and gracious Lord and let those past transgressions go where God has sent them: into non-existence.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.