Proper Form of a Good Confession?

Dear Father:

You have an excellent website, and I am embarassed to admit how many of the uncomfortable questions you deal with were the ones I went to first. I found fine answers and am grateful...

Now, my question for you: What is the proper form of a good confession? It seems some priests want it to be conversation, others ritual with the Act of Confession said aloud. We can't play a game if both sides do not agree on the same rules, and confession is becoming difficult in its form, as one must size up a priest ("Is he a Father first name or last name?") before opening the door.

Not that I mind informality, but some sins require the aura provided by darkness, screens and a paternal chewing out.......




Dear Paul

Sorry I'm slow getting back to you. I'm afraid going to confession is a bit like going to a doctor. You can expect, perhaps even demand, certain basic procedures but there will also be individual variations. Some priests are good at giving advice; others, like me, don't have that much to say. Not only will it vary from confessor to confessor, but most priests will try to adapt to needs of different penitents: elderly, married, youth, child, not to mention cultural differences. Of course an important factor is whether they have been away from the sacrament for a long time or are a frequent penitent. Some people bring problems like post-abortion guilt or how to extricate themselves from some vice or addiction. Others are just seeking a grace to continue on. I tend to go on the assumption that most people prefer just to say their sins, receive a penance and absolution, but not a long conversation. Still, when the penitent has finished I will generally ask if there is anything more he wants to say or has some specific concern.

Those are some of the variations, which you seem quite well aware of, but there are some things you should always expect: That the priest will want you to say how long it has been since your last confession and to express as best you can the nature and extent of your sins. "Father, it has been one month since my last confession. I spread stories about another person three times. I used the Lord's name in anger once. I looked at pornography several times. I failed to say morning or evening prayers, maybe five times. I am sorry for these sins and all the sins of my life." The priest would then assign some penance. He could ask you to say an act of contrition. (I often will simply say the Our Father with the person - it contains an act of contrition, "Forgive us our trespassess...") Then he will extend his hand (usually placing it on the pentitent's head if the confession is face-to-face) and say the absolution. For the confession to be valid, he must say "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

The other thing you can expect is the seal of confession. Canon law also indicates that a penitent has the right to confess anonymously - behind a screen. Every reconciliation room should provide for that option.

I hope this is some help. My prayers.

Fr. Phil Bloom

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