First Communion Catechism

Five Steps Of Making The Sacrament Of Confession Worthily (Part I)

The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism gives five steps for making a good confession (p. 41).  They are as follows:

  1. Find out my sins.
  2. Be sorry for my sins.
  3. Make up my mind not to sin again.
  4. Tell my sins to the priest.
  5. Do the penance the priest gives me.

Each will be shortly treated in turn.

Step 1

The first step is “find out my sins.”  At the start of this step, one should ask God for light to see one’s sins.  Then, one should perform an examination of conscience.  This can be done by going through the 10 Commandments and the Precepts of the Church.  Examination of conscience booklets – such as An Examination of Conscience – A preparation for the Sacrament of Confession by Fr. Rober Altier or Examination of Conscience for Adults: A Comprehensive Examination of Conscience by Rev. Donald F. Miller – can be used and are also very helpful.  The second title is actually a guide for growing in a specific virtue each month, but it can be used in its totality as an examination of conscience.  Also, this second title divides sins between grave (mortal) and light (venial) matter, in case one needs assistance in determining if a certain sin is mortal or venial.

With regards to how long one should spend making an examination, it will depend on how often one goes to Confession.  If one goes regularly, such a one will not have to spend as much time as one who has not gone in several months or years.  As a general rule, however, one should give the time one would give to a serious matter in making an examination of conscience.

Step 2

The next step is “be sorry for my sins.”  This sorrow for sins is not an emotional sorrow, but one which arises from the intellect and will from the recognition that sin should be detested.  While an emotional sorrow may accompany this detestation, and this can be helpful, it is not the essence of this sorrow.

This detestation must arise from a supernatural motive.  As such, it cannot come from a natural motive, such as the loss of physical goods, natural punishment from parents or the community arising from the sin, or the natural shame associated with having sinned.  Properly, this motive can be due to having offended so good and loving a God.  It can also come from fear of the spiritual punishment which accompanies sin.  If it is purely the former – solely out of love of God – unmixed with any other consideration, this is called perfect contrition.  If it is a mix of the two or solely out of fear of punishment, it is called imperfection contrition or attrition.  Attrition is enough to receive the Sacrament of Confession validly, but all should strive for perfect contrition.

Proper contrition for the sacrament can be stirred up by meditation on how sin offends God, how sin was the cause of Our Lord’s suffering and death, and how it spurns the gifts of grace given by God to one’s soul.

Step 3

“Make up my mind not to sin again” is the third step.  This is, more properly, the forming of a firm purpose of amendment.  It is, again, an act of the intellect and will.  Regarding mortal sins, this must be the firm purpose, particularly at the time of making one’s confession, that one will never commit these mortal sins again.  Now there may be fear that one may fall into these sins again in the future, but what is required is that there is a firm act of will, here and now in the confessional, that one does not want to commit them again.  With regards to venial sins, it must include the firm purpose of improving such as by decreasing the number of venial sins between confessions or lowering the frequency at which these venial sins are committed.

This firm purpose of amendment must also include, especially for mortal sins, the intention to put into practice the advice given by the confessor for overcoming these sins and also any other practices or strategies which the penitent believes will be beneficial.

One can again have recourse to prayer, asking God for this firm purpose of amendment.

The last two steps will be covered in a future article.

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