"The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with Him in an intimate friendship."
—Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1468
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Jesus Christ gave his Apostles the power to absolve sins, that is, to pass on His Mercy. The Sacrament is also known as the Sacrament of Conversion, Forgiveness, Penance, or Reconciliation.
During the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius (249-251), many Christians left the Church rather than suffer martyrdom. The martyr St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, allowed apostates the Sacrament of Confession, as recorded in his Letter De Lapsis (The Lapsed) in 251. The sacrament involves three steps: the penitent's contrition or sorrow for his sins, the actual confession to a priest and absolution, and then penance or restitution for your sins. The experience leads one to an interior conversion of the heart. Jesus describes the process of conversion and penance in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24).
The penitent confesses his sins to the priest in the confessional, and the priest then gives absolution to the repentant soul, making the Sign of the Cross, and saying the words "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." It is Christ Jesus through the priest who forgives your sins. As the penitent must make restitution or satisfaction for his sins, the priest gives a penance to the forgiven one, usually prayer, fasting, or almsgiving (1 Peter 4:8).
Confession gives one a wonderful sense of freedom and peace from the burden of sin. Sorrow, affliction, and a desire for conversion follow the remorse of sin in those with a contrite heart. Some believe we can confess our sins privately to God. But man is a social being. The humbling experience of unburdening your soul to someone, of exposing your weak nature, and then being accepted for who you are and what you have done by having your sins forgiven brings one an incredible sense of relief! The experience brings a sense of gratitude to our generous Lord for his love, compassion and mercy.
In early Christianity, Catholics in Ireland in the monastery systems were told to practice open confession. The members of the church openly confessed their sins aloud to the priest and whole congregation. It conveyed the seriousness of one’s living in grace to bless the whole body of believers (rather than sin and hurt the whole community). It was based on such ideas as in 1st Corinthians 12 and 13.
Confession helps someone to live the pure life in God’s grace. It is a Sacrament that assists the worthy reception of Holy Eucharist. As one is to be in the state of grace before receiving Holy Communion, the child makes his first Confession before his first Communion, generally at the age of reason. Here are three Scriptural references on Penance (See also Matthew 16:18-19, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38):
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, Child, your sins are forgiven..." "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth," - he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home."
"Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father who sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
"And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation."
Preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Preparation: The Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called Penance and Confession) is introduced to children in the second grade or at the age of childhood reason. Children being formed in their faith are assisted to recognize sin for what it is, and the difference of right from wrong under God’s light. First Reconciliation for children is regularly given in the Winter season at our parish (after Christmas season), that is, for those who have been preparing for it. We usually ask the parents to begin their young persons into our 1st Grade level program. We also have programs for older boys or girls. Men and women prepare for the Sacrament normally to be first received in the Lenten season, after some formation in the RCIA program or private preparation.
Ongoing practice: Men and women (and boys and girls) are in constant need of the Lord’s mercy, healing and renewal. Christians still sin, and we are asked to be in peace and healing with God. Catholic Christians have been afforded this wonderful Sacrament, and it has been used since St. Peter confessed his guilt before God that first Easter season. St. John writes often in his gospel and epistles of our need to live in Christ and His righteousness, and in the Spirit’s aid and Light, and as children of the light who fight sin and resist evil, because we are God’s vessel now.
Reconciliation (or Confession or Penance) is a Sacrament of returning to our ‘square one innocence’ of our baptismal identity and relationship to God in Christ. It is to live an honest and unveiled life before God by confession of sins. It is also an accountable life to others in Christ and His Church, that our sins committed affect the whole body of believers. We come to our priest-shepherds to get back wholly in the Fold. Their absolution given to the repentant disciple is Christ’ use of His priesthood, established in Himself and shared first at the Last Supper institution. Christ the Shepherd gives His mercy to help us forward in faith. He said: “I will give you shepherds…” and they help the flock of Christ be led into holiness and fullness of life. (Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical on all of this.)
It’s your time! The Sacrament awaits. Come experience the peace that only Christ can give as he washes away your sins, guilt and regret. Receive the grace to “go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11). If you have not been to Confession in a long time, ask the priest to help you. The regular schedule for Reconciliation is Saturday 4:00-5:00 p.m. at the front door reconciliation room in the church (or any time by apt.). There is the option there to kneel in privacy or to sit face-to-face with the confessor. If you need extra time for your confession, then it is advisable to make an appointment with a priest. Confessions usually just last a couple of minutes (or so) on the average (unless the line is short of penitents).
The churches in our diocese who offer scheduled daily Confessions are Mary’s Basilica Shrine, the Franciscan Monastery, and near noon at St. Matthew’s, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Dominic’s and the Catholic Information Center in D.C.
A Guide to bring prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation
Make a short prayer before Confession.
(Example) O most merciful God! Prostrate at your feet, I implore your forgiveness. I sincerely desire to leave all my evil ways and to confess my sins with all sincerity to you and to your priest. I am a sinner, have mercy on me, O Lord. Give me a lively faith and a firm hope in the Passion of my Redeemer. Give me, O Spirit, a sorrow for having offended You, who are so good, O God.
Mary, my mother, O Refuge of Sinners, pray for me that I may make a good confession. Amen.
Review of Life - Examination of Conscience
We have provided further down below several helps to Examining Your Conscience, based on the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, and the 10 Commandments.
More simply, one can just quiet their self, and review their actions of offense or the omissions of doing good/practicing the true faith.
One can also use Scriptures to ppare, such as Psalm 51 or Psalm 32 or Psalms 36 & 37 together. You can use the lists in 1st Corinthians 13:1-13, 14:1 or Ephesians 5:21-33 (Married Couples) or Philippians 4:4-9 or Colossians 3:1-10, 12-24.
Steps of Confession
- You always have the option to go to confession anonymously, that is, behind a screen or curtain, or you may go face to face, if you so desire. Most Reconciliation Rooms, like at our church, have a chair you may sit in right across from the priest. Thusly, you can have a face-to-face confession. In our parish church, that room for Confession is at the front entrance area. (If the door is closed, then thre may be a person in ahead of you. You can wait inside the church by the back pew.) At St. Edward parish, the Saturday Vigil Mass presider is often the confessor. The schedule for priests is posted on the main door and east door boards, and sent in our regular Enotes (to parishioners who give us their email addresses for communication)—and the ENotes—Latest Parish Info is also on the web site.
- Private confessions with the pastor are also encouraged. One recommended time to ask for it would be for the time prior to our Tuesday or Thursday 7:30 p.m. Masses. Yet the pastor is available for many other times. Call the office to arrange it (or to the pastor’s cell phone, which is on his extension if the office is closed), if you need a personal confession time.
- After the priest greets you into the reconciliation room, go make the Sign of The Cross. Say “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” (The priest may greet you with a Scriptural word, but then proceed.) Indicate how long it has been since your last confession, and then start confessing your sins.
- Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. You might even want to discuss the circumstances and the root causes of your sin, but be brief and direct. The priest may give brief counsel. Just remember that this time is not a counseling session, so it will be brief remarks or counsel you will receive. The goal is to be open and repentant to God, with some depth to the prayer, and not just for it to be a surface ritual exercise. Listen to the advice/penance the priest gives you and accept it and resolve to do it soon. Then immediately make “An Act of Contrition” for your sins.
- The priest will then give you Absolution. You answer “Amen” as he finishes his prayer and makes the Sign of the Cross (the absolution sign), and you make the Sign of the Cross on yourself. He will then dismiss you with some words, like: "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.” You respond: "For His mercy endures forever." Or the priest will just go right to the conclusion with: "(The Lord has freed you from your sins. ) Go in peace." And you respond by saying: "Thanks be to God." [Some say: “Thank you, Father.”]
Steps After Confession
Spend some time after Confession with Our Lord thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible. You need not stay in the church, though many do for a brief period.
As the prayer of most Act of Contrition(s) go, you leave with the purpose not to sin again, relying on God’s grace to inspire your choices. We know we will sin again, in some way, but we are turned away from sin and cleansed in our Baptismal Grace, heading in the direction of pleasing God in all things. We are at “square one” again with God.
Popular Acts of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
Alternative Traditional form
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee/You, and I detest all my sins, because of Thy/Your just punishments; but most of all because they offend Thee/You, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy/ Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
Modern form (Used by children and youth)
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. (some know it with an added ending: Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.)
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (From Luke 18:13)
The Jesus Prayer Form
“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
You may expss your contriteness in your own words of prayer for mercy.
Examinations of Conscience
We are called to live virtuously. There are 3 Theological Virtues. (1ST Corinthians 13: “There abides Faith, Hope and Love. The Greatest of these is Love—strive for the excellent, higher gifts.”)
There are also 4 Cardinal (or moral) virtues. (Wisdom 8:7 says: “If anyone loves righteousness, wisdom’s labors are virtues; for She teaches temperance, prudence, justice and courage (fortitude).”
There also are the more familiar 10 Commandments.
You can use these to pray for the Way of Perfection, and so to be apart from the slavery of sin.
Examen using the Theological Virtues - Faith, Hope, Love
- Do I make an honest effort to grow in the virtue of faith by daily mental prayer on the mysteries of the faith as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ?
- Do I make at least a short act of faith every day?
- Do I pray daily for an increase of faith?
- Do I ever tempt God by relying on my own strength to cope with the trials in my life?
- Do I unnecessarily read or listen to those who oppose or belittle what I know are truths of my Catholic faith?
- What have I done lately to externally profess my faith?
- Have I allowed human respect to keep me from giving expssion to my faith?
- Do I make a serious effort to resolve difficulties that may arise about my faith?
- Do I ever defend my faith, prudently and charitably, when someone says something contrary to what I know is to be believed?
- Have I helped someone overcome a difficulty against the faith?
- Do I immediately say a short prayer when I find myself getting discouraged?
- Do I daily say a short act of hope?
- Do I dwell on my worries instead of dismissing them from my mind?
- Do I fail in the virtue of hope by my attachment to the things of this world?
- Do I try to see God's providence in everything that "happens" in my life?
- Do I try to see everything from the viewpoint of eternity?
- Am I confident that, with God's grace, I am being saved and converted? That I can rely on The Trinity?
- Do I allow myself to worry about my past life and thus weaken my hope in God's mercy?
- Do I try to combine every fully deliberate action with at least a momentary prayer for divine help?
- How often have I complained recently, even internally?
- How have I served the Church and parish to bring the Gospel to others or serve others in love in the Lord’s Name, or helped make the community of the parish a welcoming, holy, growing place of hope?
- Have I told God lately that I love Him?
- Do I frequently tell Jesus that I love Him with my whole heart?
- Do I take the occasion to tell God that I love Him whenever I experience something I naturally dislike?
- Have I capitalized on the difficulties I have had recently to tell God that I love Him just because He sent me the trial or misunderstanding? Or, that I love Him unconditionally, and that I trust that whatever He allows in my life can be used for good somehow?
- Do I see God's love for me in allowing me to prove my love for Him in the crosses He sent me today?
- Have I seen God's grace to prove my love for Him in every person whom I met today?
- Have I failed in charity by speaking unkindly about others?
- Have I dwelt on what I considered someone's unkindness toward me today?
- Is there someone that I consciously avoid because I dislike the person?
- Did I try to carry on a conversation today with someone who is difficult to talk to?
- Have I been stubborn in asserting my own will?
- How thoughtful have I been today in doing some small favor for someone?
- Have I allowed my mood to pvent me from being thoughtful of others today?
- Am I given to dwelling on other people's weaknesses or faults?
- Have I been cheerful today in my dealings with others?
- Do I control my uncharitable thoughts as soon as they arise in my mind?
- Did I pray for others today?
- Have I written any letters today?
- Have I controlled my emotions when someone irritated me?
- Have I performed any sacrifice today for someone?
Examen with the Cardinal Virtues - Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude
Definition: “A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good” says the Catechism (CCC #1803).
Overall Question to the Heart: Am I striving for ongoing conversion in my Catholic Faith unto the perfection of its highest order—full conformity to Christ Jesus and the maturity and wholeness of my calling by God?
Do I seek the practical reason to choose the genuine, godly good in every situation and the right means for achieving it? Do I apply moral principles, based on a maturing and informed Catholic faith (and knowledge) to best be choosing what will please the Lord in my life, and serve a common good for the Church and humankind? As St.Thomas Aquinas taught: Do I put right reason into action in my life? Do I encourage others to do so (beginning with my witness of it)?
Do I show a constant and firm purpose to give God and others the respect they are due? As in the example of St. Joseph, do I look upon all situations as opportunities to honor God, as I serve others in my daily work/living? Is there a practice of the psence of God in my living, a direction of all things as under Divine Providence (as God will justly judge all persons in the end, and sort out all differences/sins/etc.)? Have I shown right conduct in my treatment of others? Do I see my fellow believers as joined to me in the Body of Christ, of whom I rely, and I should honor (1 Cor. 12)? Do I realize that my poor conduct to them, my sins, affect the whole body of faith? (Hence the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Healing Sacraments, and fidelity to the Church?)
Do I have moderation of myself among all the attractions and pleasures around me of the world? Do I have a balance in my use of created goods? Do I wish mastery of my appetites and desires, as Christ has said I may have? (“Little children, do not sin… The child of God need not sin, as they are not under slavery to it any more.” 1 John verses.) Do I direct my senses and longings towards the good, maintaining discretion and valor?
Do I ask for courage from God when pssed in difficulties and distress upon my Christian vocation? Do I get on my knees, or prostrate or humble myself for such strength and help of God? Have I asked God for fortitude to conquer my fears (am I making progress in my confidence in God)? Do I exhibit perseverance amidst my trials? Do I remain in there versus my challenges? Am I surrendered to the One Who is Christ Jesus walking with me, yoked to me? Do I share my troubles and trials onto Him, or rely on my human capacity or self? Do I remember that I am asked to imitate Christ Jesus, Who said: “No greater love is there than that for one to lay down his/her life for a friend.”? Do I see the Church’s mission as a call to me (with others) to lay down our lives for the Gospel and the salvation of many to God? Do I believe the Church’s mission will succeed?
Examen using the 10 Commandments
1. 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 been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?
- Do I seek to surrender myself to God´s word as taught by the Church?
- Have I ever received communion in the state of mortal sin?
- Have I ever deliberately told a lie in Confession or have I withheld a mortal sin from the priest in Confession?
- Are there other "gods" in my life? Money, Security, Power, People, Social Media, Substances, etc.?
2. 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 any other person?
- Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?
- Have I improperly used a regular phrase with God’s name or Jesus’ name in it, as a flippant comment, aspiration, etc.?
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord´s Day.
- Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation? Have I come habitually late for it?
- Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
- Do I do needless work on Sunday? Or, if I have to work or be busy, do I use the Vigil Mass or an early Sunday morning Mass or a late Sunday Mass to be sure to attend to my duty to God?
- Have I fasted for Holy Communion, or not properly come ppared by the Sacrament of Reconciliation for good reception of the Eucharist?
- Am I in offense versus another member of Christ’ Body, in need to “lay down one’s gift at the altar, be reconciled to my brother/sister, and then come to the altar of God” as Scriptures lead us to do?
4. Honor your father and your mother.
- Do I honor and obey my parents? Or do so to the proper spiritual authorities that God has placed over me? (i.e. pope, bishop, pastor) or The Church?
- Have I neglected my duties to my spouse and children or brothers/sisters/relatives?
- Have I given my family good religious example?
- Do I try to bring peace into my home life?
- Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?
5. You shall not kill.
- Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion? Have I opposed it becoming law in our land?
- Have I physically harmed anyone? Have I harmed another person’s name or reputation? Or curbed their receiving what is due their good work and benefit? Have I hurt another’s rightful advance at work, so to favor my own position?
- Have I held such a resentment or do I hold a revenge inside that could be seeding the anger that could harm or kill another?
- Do I have some personal position that opposes life or chastity or modesty?
- Do I have some attitude or position that sides with war or force that could be unnecessary?
- Have I abused alcohol or drugs? Is it a threat to my body?
- Do I drive recklessly so to endanger others lives?
- Did I give scandal to anyone, thereby leading him or her into sin?
- Have I been overly angry in a way that is ungodly and not a righteous anger (i.e. some things of anger are allowed)?
- Have I harbored hatred in my heart?
- Have I participated in any form of sterilization/anti procreation for selfish reason?
- Have I taken care of myself and my important health matters?
- Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?
6. You shall not commit adultery.
- Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
- Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
- Have I methods of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage without repentance to God for it? (in that I clearly was selfish and acting versus God in this category? e.g. Some discerned family planning is ok.)
- Have I been guilty of masturbation or pornographic activity that would turn me to lust, away from my partner—or one day mate—or versus my vow of chastity??
- Do I seek to control my thoughts and imaginations for some perversion or improper stimulation of the senses to no good end?
- Have I respected all members of the opposite sex (or same sex), or have I thought of other people as mere objects and been in lust over them?
- Have I been guilty of fornication and not repented of it? (Hetero or homosexual actions with a person not married to you)
- Am I in an improper marriage (second marriage out of the Church, first marriage but not in a Sacrament of Holy Matrimony for reasons of weakness of commitment or faith or fear)?
- Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words,and actions? Am I careful to dress modestly?
7. You shall not steal.
- Have I stolen what is not mine?
- Have I returned or made restitution for what I have stolen?
- Do I waste time at work, school, and home?
- Do I gamble excessively, thereby denying my family of their needs?
- Do I pay my debts promptly?
- Do I seek to share what I have with the poor?
- Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs, for example creditors, insurance companies, big corporations?
- Have I hurt or injured someone’s name or reputation or their vocation/career?
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- Have I lied? Have I gossiped?
- Do I speak badly of others behind their back?
- Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
- Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
- Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?
- Have I injured the reputation of others by slanders?
- Have I so shaded the truth or omitted something obey to the truth so to be guilty of deception?
- Have I been so competitive with a neighbor so to seek to look better than them, or take part in their being put down?
9. You shall not desire your neighbor´s wife.
- Have I consented to impure thoughts?
- Have I caused them by impure reading, movies, television, conversation or curiosity?
- Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
- Have I behaved in an inappropriate way with members of the opposite sex: flirting-tempting, being superficial, etc.?
- Is there unconfessed sin from my past actions in sexual, moral behavior that I have not addressed with God? Has someone been harmed by me for pre-marital relations with me, who then married another?
- Do I unfairly compare my own spouse to others who may have desirable traits they don’t have?
- Is their untoward actions in my life towards someone of the same sex?
10. 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 the purpose of my life?
- Is shopping too impulsive a behavior for me, or the consumption of things a way to pacify my lust?
- Do I try to ‘keep up with the Jones’s ‘too much?
Examen using the Great Commandment of the New Testament
Do I love God, and my neighbor as myself? (The Golden Way)
Think of ways you have/have not loved God lately. He is your Great Love. Think of ways you have/have not loved yourself properly as an image of God and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and as the Lord’s witness on earth as His own. Think of ways you have/have not loved others lately. Think of the people immediately around you. Think of the neighbors you have. Think of your parish community. Think of people at work or school or town/city. Think of even how your Christian life is a blessing to others, even while they are a ‘stranger’ to you.