When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly with hold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know." Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. St. Jerome, In Eccl. 10,11:PL 23:1096.
Times of Confession
Cathedral Saturday - 10.30am - 11.30am After weekday Mass (on request)
Christ the King After the 12noon weekday Mass
Confession needs to be prepared for, because we are coming before God and seeking his mercy. It must not be an act of flippant condescension but a heartfelt and sincere quest for the loving forgiveness of almighty God. Sincerity is essential - but that is as far as the burden is placed on the penitent: the priest is there for many purposes, one of which is to help you if you forget what to do next or your mind goes blank!
Before Confession We need to spend some considerable time examining our consciences. We are seeking God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church through the priest. We need to care enough about being forgiven to bring to mind what we are seeking absolution for. Remember, we will confess specific sins rather than tendencies. This is not about confessing to God that I have a weakness for chocolate éclairs - but that because of that weakness I stole some from the market. Equally, it is not about saying “I tend to get cross” but to state what we have actually done for which we acknowledge responsibility – “I did get cross several times without justifiable reason and I took out my anger on several people who were not to blame.” If you ever plan to go to Confession and realise that you are going to confess to not saying your morning prayers and that is all you can remember since your last confession over a month ago - then I would suggest you look at a member of your family full in the face and say “the only bad thing I have done in the last month is to forget to say some prayers”: then see what the reaction is! This is a hard part of Confession, but it can't be skipped over: we must be aware of the ways in which we 15 are falling short of the Gospel and of Christ before we can do anything to reverse this trend.
Go in, kneel (or sit), make the sign of the cross and say “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Then tell the priest how long it has been since your last confession: this is important because it gives him an idea of your progress in the spiritual life (obviously, if you confess to getting drunk on three occasions it will make a difference if the last time you went to confession was three months ago or last Tuesday!)
Tell the priest the sins that you have been able to remember that you have committed since the last time you went to confession. Remember, you are not here to be told off - the priest won't round on you, or gasp in horror. He won't be cross because you have sinned – since that is the precise reason you are there. The only thing likely to anger a priest in confession is the person who comes in having made no real effort to examine their conscience and then confesses “I don't really do anything wrong - I think I live a good life, really.” (Don't laugh - it happens!) SO - never be afraid of what the priest will say to you. He is not angry with sinners, only with the self-righteous who believe, like the Pharisee in the Temple, that he is already perfect and in no need of repentance. • In addition, never be afraid that he will repeat what you have told him in the confessional. The priest is absolutely forbidden in every circumstance from revealing who said what in the confessional. Even a bishop or the Pope could not order a priest to reveal what he has been told. This “seal” is so absolutely protected that priests have been martyred for refusing to repeat the sins they have been told (such as St. John Nepomucene).
When you have told the priest all the sins you can remember, tell him: say “for these and all the sins of my past which I can't remember, I ask forgiveness of God and penance and absolution of you, Father.”
The priest may give you some advice or some encouragement that he feels you may need in the light of what you have said. His words are important, because he is drawing on all his knowledge and understanding to offer you help in the spiritual life. In addition, he is assisted in this work by the Holy Spirit - so his words may have a meaning and significance unknown even to him and often not immediately apparent to the penitent. Listen to what he says; it may be of use to you.
The priest will then give you your penance: this may come in the form of a prayer or sometimes of an action. Penances have a two-fold purpose. They are symbols of our repentance and desire to reform our lives (such that performing the penance demonstrates and underscores our desire to return to God and to reject the sins that have wrenched us from him). In addition, penances are remedial - they ought to respond to the sins that have been committed in such 16 a way as to help you overcome the temptation again. They should encourage us to the formation of good habits which will root themselves in our thinking and behaviour and counterattack the effects of the sins we habitually commit.
After he has given you a penance, he will ask you to make an Act of Contrition. This is very important, because it is the only thing which prevents the confessional from becoming a farce: we state solemnly that we turn away from sin, regret what we have done and make a firm commitment to amend our lives along the lines of the Gospel. There are many different forms of the Act of Contrition, but one short and favourite one goes like this, “O my God, because you are so good, I am truly sorry that I have sinned against you, and with the help of your grace I will not sin again.” What matters is the sincerity with which we say these words. If they are not truly meant by us, then the absolution is ineffective and our sins are not forgiven - so it is critical that the Act of Contrition be prayed with honesty and integrity.
The priest will now absolve your sins - Christ absolves us through the ministry of the priest. He says “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 of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Your sins are now forgiven by Christ. Say “Amen” in thanksgiving.
As you leave the Confessional, the priest may give you words of encouragement. Thank the priest, your Father before God, for the gift he has given to you from Christ.
After Confession You will need time to offer your thanksgiving. Remember, you have been brought to life through the loving mercy of your heavenly Father, mediated through Christ. If your penance has been given in the form of a prayer, you ought to offer that prayer as soon as possible. Do not always expect it to be as easy as three Hail Mary’s! And if this is what you are given, remember what the penance is for - as a symbol of your true repentance and conversion (so offer the prayer, whatever it may be, in that spirit - repentance from sin and conversion to God through the Church) AND as a remedy to help you in the future (there may be something in the prayer which you could particularly do with contemplating for a while - if you have been given Hail Mary’s, the priest is pointing you towards Mary for some reason and this could become the focus of your prayer for the next few weeks). Whatever your penance may be, ask God to make it fruitful in your life, and not simply a dead letter, forgotten as soon as it is spoken. And remember, you have just experienced what all the prophets longed for and spoke about - but never received. You have received what the angels of God worship without receiving as we do - the life-giving and healing presence of Christ the Saviour.