A step-by-step guide on how to go to confession


Before going to confession, take some time to prepare. Begin with prayer asking the Holy Spirit to shine His light into your heart. Ask that you can see yourself, and your life, since your last confession as He sees you. Then ask yourself whether you have — in your thoughts, words, and actions — neglected to live Christ’s commands to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37, 39)? As a help with this examination of conscience, you might review the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes (Ex 20:2-17; Dt 5:6-21; Mt 5:3-10; or Lk 6:20-26). Or review an Examination of Conscience guide you can find online. If you need to, you can jot down some notes to keep from forgetting anything that has surfaced during your examination but finish your examination either way with a prayer of gratitude to God and be at peace as you head to the confessional. When you enter the confessional, you can choose to say your confession behind the screen or face-to-face with the priest depending on whichever way will best allow you to encounter God’s mercy in the sacrament.


The priest might say words of welcome to you; he may say a short blessing or read a Scripture passage. More often than not, however, he will go right to step #3.


Together, you and the priest will make the Sign of the Cross. You may then begin your confession with these or similar words: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [give days, months, or years] since my last confession.” Note, some priests may not say anything at all at the beginning. If that is the case, do not hesitate to begin with that Sign of the Cross and say “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [give days, months, or years] since my last confession.”


Confess all your sins to the priest. Try to be as specific as possible. If you are unsure what to say, ask the priest for help and know that if he would like more clarity on something, he will gently ask you for more details. When you are finished, conclude with these or similar words: “I am sorry for these and all my sins.” Note, you can write down your sins on paper and read them if that helps you. However, after confession, destroy the paper as soon as possible as these sins have been forgiven and are no longer part of your life. 


The priest may first counsel you on how to better live a Christian life and may ask you some questions. Then, he will offer you some act of penance. It might be prayer, a work of mercy, or an act of charity. You will know this step because the priest will say, “For your penance … .” Just remember to do your act of penance! 


After the priest has given you your penance, he will ask you to pray an Act of Contrition out loud. A suggested Act of Contrition you can pray is below, but know that you can also simply pray from your heart a prayer expressing sorrow for your sins and resolving to sin no more.

“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. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy” (Rite of Penance, no. 45). 


The priest will extend his hands over your head and pronounce the words of absolution. He will say:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

You respond, “Amen.” 


The priest may then praise the mercy of God and will invite you to do the same. For example, the priest may say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” And your response would be, “His mercy endures forever” (Rite of Penance, no. 47). Note, some priests omit this, or may use another phrase to offer God thanks for His mercy.


The priest will conclude the sacrament, often saying, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.” You can thank the priest.


After confession, spend time in quiet prayer in the church, especially if given a penance of prayer. Thank God for His unconditional love and forgiveness!

This list is reprinted with permission from the USCCB. See more information and resources about confession at usccb.org/confession.