People of different faiths have various rituals for practicing what they believe. For those who worship in the Catholic tradition, confession is an important sacrament that facilitates reconciliation with God. While it is common to approach confession with a somber attitude, many report that they feel a sense of joy after the experience.
There are five basic steps of confession. While these steps tend to follow particular patterns within the Catholic Church, there are other communities of faith in which communal accountability is valued, and they often follow similar processes for facilitating it.
The process of confession begins before you arrive. Take some time to pray and reflect on how you have sinned in word, thought or deed. This examination of conscience is a vital step in relieving your soul of the burden of any act that you have committed with intent. In particular, think about the things that you have done that meet the criteria for mortal sin:
- Full knowledge
- Full consent
- Grave matter
Many parishioners will make notes of the memories that come up during reflection, especially if it has been a while since their last confession. Jotting down what you need to discuss with the priest is a good way to ensure that you don't leave anything out.
When you enter the confessional, you start for asking for the priest's blessing and admitting that you have sinned. Typically, you then admit how long it has been since the last time you confessed. When listing your offenses, start with the mortal sins and finish with the venial sins (those considered lesser sins that do not necessarily separate people from God but still entail acting in a way that is not ideal).
One of the main points of this process is to express sorrow or regret about the sins you have committed. After all, to list the things that you have done wrong with no intention of changing your behavior or seeking guidance is not a true confession but merely just a statement of facts. Therefore, contrition is a necessary step. At the end of your confession of your struggles, it is important to express that you are sorry for what you have done. The priest can assist you with a prayer of contrition if you don't know one.
After you have concluded your confession, the priest will often offer advice that pertains to your situation. If, for example, you have been at odds with a friend and said or did something unkind out of frustration, the priest may be able to offer guidance on how to manage the conflict better or think of your friend in a more positive light so that your attitude toward them can be changed. If something you said during the confession indicates that you could benefit from further counseling, the priest may also take this opportunity to refer you to a trusted professional.
At the end of your confession, the priest will likely give you acts to do in penance of your sins. Penance is more than a spiritual to-do list. It is typically designed specifically to counteract the negative actions you have taken. In addition to specific prayers, it may involve an act of charity or kindness. Penance can also take the form of abstinence from a certain activity, at least until you can engage in it in a healthy, productive way.
Once the five steps are complete, the priest prays a prayer of absolution to remove the burden of the sins you have just confessed. It is at this point that many people experience relief or joy. For many Catholics, regular confession is an irreplaceable part of their spiritual life.