Confession can oftentimes be scary, no matter how many times you have gone or how comfortable you are with the priest you’re receiving the sacrament from. Confession guides are great resources to help you prepare and feel less anxious about approaching the confessional.
Knowing the different steps of going to confession can help you feel less nervous and more prepared and confident heading into the sacrament. There are many different guides available online, and a PDF guide is available later in this blog.
How to Prepare for Confession
Preparing before going to confession is necessary. Here are a few simple steps to take.
Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help.
It’s a good idea to get to the church a few minutes early to get into a prayerful mindset.
Before starting any other preparation, a prayer for the guidance of the Holy Spirit can help you feel at ease, see your sins as God wants you to see them, and be able to approach the confessional with confidence in God’s mercy.
Here is a prayer to the Holy Spirit to pray before continuing with your preparation for the sacrament:
O Holy Spirit. Source of all light, Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, and of knowledge, come to my assistance and enable me to make a good confession. Enlighten me, and help me now to know my sins as one day I shall be force to recognize them before Thy judgment seat. Bring to my mind the evil which I have done and the good which I have neglected. Permit me not to be blinded by self-love. Grant me, moreover, heartfelt sorrow for my transgressions, and the grace of a sincere confession, so that I may be forgiven and admitted into Thy friendship.
Examine your conscience.
Examining your conscience is an essential step in preparing for confession. Examining your conscience involves going back through the time since your last confession and recalling the sins you have committed.
It helps you walk through and remember the times you have failed God and keep track of the sins God wants you to confess. There are many different examinations of conscience available, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a variety to choose from that pertain to different stages of life.
Examining your conscience can look different for each person. Oftentimes it involves reading through a series of prompting questions, often based on the 10 Commandments or the Seven Precepts of the Church. After each question, you can let the Holy Spirit help you remember any times you may have failed God.
I find it helpful to read through the questions, recalling individual moments as they come up, and spending some time in silence after reading through the questions to let the Holy Spirit show me any sins the questions did not bring up.
Some people find it helpful to write their sins down for confession so they can remember everything. If this is something that you think would help you, feel free to take notes while examining your conscience.
Going to Confession
After preparing for confession, it is time to trust in God and approach the sacrament. Many parishes offer confession before daily Masses and on weekends, and many priests are willing to set aside time for a private appointment.
When in the confessional, if you do not know what to do next, ask the priest for help. They are there to serve you.
Here is how a typical confession goes:
Start with the Sign of the Cross.
Say, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been [how long] since my last confession.”
Confess your sins.
Listen to the priest’s advice and the penance he gives you.
Say an Act of Contrition.
An Act of Contrition is a prayer that is said after the priest gives you your penance. It expresses your sorrow for your sins and your resolution to not sin again.
The words of absolution are as follows:
"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
You reply to this with “Amen.”
The ending of confession sometimes looks different depending on the priest or the diocese, but a common ending, given by the National Catholic Register, goes as follows:
The priest says, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good.”
You reply, “His mercy endures forever.”
He ends with, “The LORD has freed you from your sins. Go in peace,” and you reply, “Thanks be to God.”
Pray your penance.
It is best to pray your penance right after leaving the confessional so you do not forget to do it later.
Give thanks to God for His mercy.
God freely gives us His infinite mercy in the sacrament of confession. Try praying this special prayer of thanksgiving after your penance next time you go:
O Almighty and merciful God, whose mercy is boundless, and the riches of whose goodness are infinite, I give Thee thanks with all my mind and heart for the amazing and exceeding goodness which Thou hast now shown me in so graciously pardoning all my sins and restoring me to Thy grace and favor. Blessed be Thy Divine compassion, O my God, and blessed be the incomprehensible love of Thy beloved Son, which constrained Him to institute so gentle and so mighty a remedy for our sins. Wherefore, in union with all the thanksgivings which have ever ascended to Thee from truly penitent hearts, I sing aloud Thy glad praises on behalf of all in Heaven, on earth, and in Purgatory, forever and ever. Amen.
Live in the freedom God offers us!
For a more comprehensive guide, check out this confession guide PDF.
Other prayers for confession
If you’re looking for more resources and prayers for confession, check out these blogs:
For before confession: Prayer to St. Joseph for his guidance and protection.
For before or after confession: Pray the Anima Christi to give thanks to Jesus for His great mercy.
For the relief of anxiety with going to confession: Pray the Litany of Trust for surrender to God’s mercy and freedom to go to confession without fear.
Confession can be scary, but we must remember that God desires to give us His mercy through the priest. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to us that make approaching the sacrament at least a little bit easier.