THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE is one of the seven Sacraments given to the Church by our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the years, this Sacrament has been known by many names. Each of these names expresses an aspect of the graces that comes forth through this Sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
· It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion; it is the first step in turning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.
· It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it ritualizes the Christian sinner’s personal and communal steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
· It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this Sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a “confession” – acknowledgement and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
· It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since through the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”
· It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: “Heaven is filled with joy when even one sinner turns back to God.” He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go first and be reconciled to your brother or sister.”
How to prepare to make a good confession: Begin your preparation with prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to see those things that you have done which have offended our Lord and other people. What are those things that you neglected to do that you should have done? Prayerfully meditate on the Ten Commandments. Reflect on a written examination of conscience. (See below.)
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE: Many of these sins are spiritually quite serious and the Eucharist is forbidden or should not be received until a good confession is made to a priest. A mortal sin involves a serious matter, there is sufficient reflection and it is committed with full consent of the will.
1st Commandment: I am the Lord Your God. You shall not have strange gods before Me.
Do I give God time every day in prayer?
Do I seek to love Him with my whole heart?
Have I ever deliberately told a lie?
2nd Commandment: You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.
“You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.”
Have I used God’s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
Have I been angry with God?
Have I wished evil upon another person?
3rd Commandment: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays?
Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
Do I think of Sunday as Jesus’ day?
4th Commandment: Honor your Father and your Mother.
Do I honor and obey my parents?
Do I try to bring peace into my life at home by being kind?
Do I take care of my older relatives; treat them with love and respect?
Do I care for my brothers & sisters?
5th Commandment: You shall not kill.
Have I physically harmed anyone?
Have I abused alcohol or drugs?
Have I been angry or resentful?
Have I let hatred for someone settle in my heart?
Have I physically harmed or been harmed by anyone?
6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.
Have I engaged in impure actions with others or myself?
Have I respected all members of the opposite sex, or have I thought of other people as objects?
Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words and actions?
Am I careful to dress modestly so as to not lead others into sin?
7th Commandment: You shall not steal.
Have I stolen what is not mine?
Have I returned or made amends for what I have stolen?
Do I waste time at school, at work, or at home?
Do I seek to share what I have with the poor?
8th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Have I lied?
Have I gossiped?
Have I spoken behind someone else’s back?
Am I critical, negative or unfairly mean towards others?
Do I keep the secrets others have shared with me?
9th Commandment: You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.
Have I consented to impure thoughts?
Have I allowed impure thoughts by impure reading, movies, conversations or curiosity?
Have I looked at pornography or used the internet in an improper manner?
Do I seek to control my imagination?
Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
10th Commandment: 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?
Are material possessions more important than people in my life?
Do I trust that God will provide everything I need?
After examining your conscience and telling God of your sorrow, go into the confessional. You may kneel at the screen or sit to talk face-to-face with the priest. Do not be afraid.
Begin your confession with the sign of the cross, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. My last confession was _________ weeks (months, years) ago.”
The priest may read a passage from holy Scripture.
Say the sins that you remember. Start with the one(s) that is most difficult to say. In order to make a good confession the faithful must confess all mortal sins. After confessing all the sins you remember since your last good confession, you may conclude by saying, “I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life.”
Listen to the words of the priest. He will assign you some penance. When invited, express some prayer of sorrow or Act of Contrition such one of these:
An Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.
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. Amen.
At the End of Confession
Listen to the words of absolution; it is Jesus’ forgiveness to you through His priest. As you listen to the words of forgiveness, believe that you are forgiven and make the sign of the cross with the priest.
Give thanks to God for forgiving you. Do your assigned Penance.
Finally be resolved to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation often. We Catholics are fortunate to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is the ordinary way for us to have our sins forgiven. This sacrament is a powerful help to get rid of our weaknesses, grow in holiness, and lead a balanced and virtuous life.