The sacrament of Confession is the outward manifestation of God’s mercy. Also called Penance or Reconciliation, the sacrament lavishly benefits the one who seeks it, costs nothing and takes little time. Yet many Catholics do not often go. Why?
For some it is embarrassment or some other fear, others may not know how or have forgotten, or they simply do not think of it. There is also the fact of a diminished sense of sin the past several decades. Yet sin is an unavoidable and universal reality, as are its inevitable negative consequences. One of the tasks of the New Evangelization, then, is to be that light to others which helps them to recognize the right path and to point them to the beacon of God’s love and mercy found in the Church.
Neither fear nor uncertainty should hold anyone back. The confessional is not a place of condemnation, but healing and relief, and it is completely confidential. You can also always tell the priest you are unsure how to proceed. He is happy to help, and “how to” guides are available in parishes and online at TheLightisON.org.
The basic components of the Rite of Penance, which otherwise is fairly informal, are contrition, a good confession, absolution and satisfaction. Before going, perhaps at home, it is a good practice to make a prayerful examination of conscience to identify any sins one may have committed. Then, entering the confessional, although not required, people traditionally begin with a Sign of the Cross and say, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” disclosing how long it has been since their last confession. To be a “good confession,” we must fully confess to the priest in the person of Christ all mortal sins of which we are aware, but are encouraged also to confess venial sins since in our human condition we cannot always rightly distinguish venial from mortal sin and also to better strengthen our spiritual life and relationship with God. The priest may then offer some spiritual guidance and ask that we say an Act of Contrition, followed by giving absolution. To complete it all, we do the penance assigned to us.
As the ordinary means given us by Jesus for reconciliation, we are obliged to seek the sacrament of Confession, and the only sin not forgiven is the one not confessed and for which forgiveness is not sought. However, if one has the intent and desire for Confession, but should die first, perhaps in a fatal car accident on the way to church or you are in a place where no priests are available, perfect contrition will suffice as an extraordinary means of obtaining reconciliation.
Pope Francis emphasizes that “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father” (Misericordia et Misera, 12). That we can be so lovingly freed from our spiritual burdens and restored to new life is Good News for each of us and the whole world.