Reconciliation: A Play-by-Play Guide
The Sacrament of Confession has a set, but flexible structure. Each priest will help direct the penitent through Confession. But, a rough outline may be helpful:
- The Sacrament of Confessions begins with the Sign of the Cross: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- The priest may say a short prayer at this point, ask you for an estimate of how long it’s been since your last Confession, or he may wait for you to mention the time it’s been since your last Confession. An exact number of days/weeks/months/years isn’t necessary. This is only here to help the priest know how to help throughout the celebration of the Sacrament.
- Now you simply state your sins and let the priest know of the seriousness of the sin/habit (often, seldom, etc.). For many, this is the toughest part of the Sacrament. It can be difficult to find your words (even if you’ve prepared), but the priest is there to help. This sacrament is about God’s mercy, not His condemnation.
- The priest may offer some words after you’ve finished naming your sins, or he may simply offer a penance. The penance is a prayer, deed, or reflection the priest asks the penitent to do in order to either enter back into Communion with the Trinity, move in a direction away from sin, or simply to help receive or extend God’s mercy to others.
- Now the penitent offers the “Act of Contrition”. This is a prayer to God the Father stating what your preparation and Confession already reveal: (1) that you are sorry for your sins, (2) that you love God, (3) that you will do penance, and (4) that you will try – with the help of God’s grace – to sin no more. You can say a memorized prayer or make up your own. If you need help, simply let the priest know and he will direct you through a simple prayer.
- Now it is the priest’s turn to pray the “Prayer of Absolution.” This prayer is the Sacramental form necessary for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to take effect. Like Jesus’ words at the Last Supper “this is my body,” or God’s words in Genesis “let there be light,” these words effect what they state. This means, that this prayer of the priest, in the person of Christ, draws those confessed sins into the Calvary and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a brief prayer, simple, but powerful.
- (Suggestion) After leaving the Confessional, take a few moments in prayer while still the church. You do not need to do your penance “right away,” it only needs to be done before your next Confession. Spend this moment of prayer thanking Jesus for His mercy and praising Him for that mercy.
“Go Forth in Peace”
Most of the “work” of Confession takes place before and after
Confession. Really, Confession is but a moment while the discipleship is the life-long journey. Going to Confession does not need to take a “long time,” but, it can have a powerful effect in one’s life when lived sincerely. When we take time to honestly reflect on the mercy of Jesus Christ and where we need His mercy to free us from sin, our lives will change. We will become nobler, truer and deeper witnesses of Jesus’ love for His Church and the world. Confession, then, is more about living life in the freedom of Jesus Christ and the Spirit than anything else we might make it. Live in that freedom. As a Baptized Christian, the freedom in the Spirit is your birthright!
Christians have kept the tradition and summons to go to Confession at least one time per year. This, however, is the legalistic minimum. If we truly desire to move away from sin in order to live in the freedom of the children of God the Father, then, regular Confession can only empower that discipleship. Try going to Confession at least once every two months as a new minimum (that’s only six times a year). God’s mercy endures forever! Allow that mercy to fold itself into your life and witness the healing, love, and Good News of Jesus Christ come alive!