Five Steps of Making the Sacrament of Confession Worthily (Part II)

In a previous article, the first three steps for making the Sacrament of Confession worthily were considered. 

Step 4

Continuing, the fourth step is “tell my sins to the priest.”  One should enter the confessional humbly, kneel, and, after any introductory words by the priest, begin by saying “Bless me father, for I have sinned.  It has been (length of time) since my last Confession.  My state in life is (single/married/religious, etc.).  Since my last confession, I accuse myself of the following sins.”  The penitent then directly, briefly, and simply states the sins to be confessed.  The sacrament of penance is a tribunal, not a time for spiritual direction, having a discussion with the priest, making acts of devotion, or complaining.  One should treat it with the same forwardness one would a civil courtroom.  One should not use ambiguous language or language couched in such a way as to try to hide things from the priest or to mislead him.  The confession of sins should be direct, precise, clear, brief, and simple.

One must confess all known, unconfessed mortal sins.  If one has such sins, one must confess these mortal sins for the sacrament to be valid.  Hiding such sins will invalidate the confession.  One may confess venial sins which have never been confessed and also previously confessed mortal and/or venial sins.  If one does not have any mortal sins to confess, then these just mentioned will suffice.

When confessing unconfessed mortal sins, by divine law, one must state each sin and how many times each was committed.  By way of an example, if one stole three cars, it is not sufficient to say “I stole” or “I stole cars.”  One must, in such a case, say “I stole three cars.”  If the exact number of times is not known, then an estimate may be given by indicating that it is an estimate.  Or, if necessary, a frequency over a period of time may be given.  

One should also include information which will increase or decrease the gravity of the sin.  For example, if one stole a consecrated chalice, one cannot simply say one stole an expensive cup.  One must mention that it was a consecrated chalice as this adds sacrilege to the sin of theft.

One should then let the priest know that one is done confessing by using a formula such as “For these sins and all the sins of my past life, especially those against the (#) Commandment, I am truly sorry.”

Step 5

The last step of making a good confession is “do the penance the priest gives me.”  The penance must be done according to the instruction and intention of the priest.  The penitent does not have the discretion to reject or change the penance given.  If one feels that a proposed penance will be extremely difficult to complete, or that it is extremely disproportional to the sins confessed (e.g., one was given the penance of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for stealing a cookie), then one can respectfully explain this to the priest and ask for a different penance.  If, however, a penance is accepted and later is found to be extremely difficult to complete, one needs to make another confession of sins, either to the same priest or another, and explain the situation.  In this confession, the priest can commute the previous penance to another.  Again, the penitent does not have the discretion to reject or modify a penance.  If one has any questions about the proposed penance, one should respectfully ask the priest.

The penance should be done as soon as it suitably can be done.  It is important to note that penances assigned for mortal sins bind mortally and penances for venial sins bind venially.

After doing one’s penance, one can thank God for the grace of having made the Confession and ask God to supply for any defect in the performance of the Confession or the Penance.

May these five steps, and their explanations, aid the faithful in making their Confessions.



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