Hey, Father! What Makes a Good Confession?
From my experience as a confessor and one who also goes to confession regularly, a good preparation before confession is the key to making a good confession. Think about any time you have had to have a serious conversation with somebody, especially one that might be difficult. There is no way you would go into that conversation unprepared. The anxiety of the situation could seriously compromise your ability to get your points across. But, if you prepare ahead of time, even though the nerves are there, you will be in a much better position to communicate your message. We all know how nervous it is when we go to Confession, so preparing ahead of time will enable us to better confess our sins despite our anxiety. Furthermore, the Church asks us that we make an integral confession, which means making as complete of a confession as possible. Just trying to think of some sins a minute or two before confession is not sufficient.
So how does one prepare? The first thing to do is to say a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to shed light on those areas of your life where you need forgiveness. Then, it can be helpful to use an Examination of Conscience guide. These are readily available online or in your favorite Catholic bookstore. These guides generally ask questions related to the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church, though some use the Seven Deadly Sins for their guide. With more experience, you will be able to prepare without a guide, but this is a good place for many to start, especially if it has been a while since your last confession.
When you go finally head to the confessional, first tell the priest how long it has been since your last confession. Then, do your best to confess your sins since your last confession. It is important to confess all of your serious (mortal) sins in kind and number. You are also encouraged to confess your venial sins, but the mortal sins must be confessed. Again, this can be a source of anxiety, but resist the temptation to leave serious sins out because of fear or shame. To intentionally leave a serious sin out of your confession would make your confession invalid.
Finally, after receiving some counsel and a penance from the priest, you will make an Act of Contrition. Do not worry if you have forgotten the words, the priest will help you. I am amazed at how some people are more nervous about getting those words right than making a good confession. Now that you have these tips, what are you waiting for? Make a good preparation and come receive God’s mercy in your nearest confessional!
Fr. Brian Alford is vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and pastor at St. Jude in Rochester.