The Sacrament of Penance, often referred to as "going to confession," frees baptized Catholics from our sins and also challenges us to have the same kind of compassion and forgiveness for those who sin against us.  Through celebrating this sacrament, we are liberated to be forgivers. 

"Jesus entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to the Church.  The Sacrament of Penance is God's gift to us so that any sin committed after Baptism can be forgiven.  In confession we have the opportunity to repent and recover the grace of friendship with God. It is a holy moment in which we place ourselves in his presence and honestly acknowledge our sins, especially mortal sins.  With absolution, we are reconciled to God and the Church. The Sacrament helps us stay close to the truth that we cannot live without God. 'In him we live and move and have our being'(Acts 17:28)." 

~from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults 

How to Go to Confession

A) Prepare: before going to confession, the person - referred to in the rite as a "penitent" - prays and reflects on his or her life since the last time they went to confession. This is called an "Examination of Conscience." There are many different guides for this step, including reflecting on how you have not lived out God's commands set out in bible:  loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:27,29) the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26) or the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17). Click to find seven different examples of Examinations of Conscience such as for young adults, children, or married people.

B) Celebrate the Sacrament of Penance (Order of Penance: Reconciling Individual Penitents, no.41-47)

  • Greeting: the priest greets the penitent (the person making a confession) and may offer a short blessing or scripture reading
  • Sign of the Cross: the priest and penitent make the Sign of the Cross together then the penitent says something like "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [give days, months, or years] since my last confession."
  • Confession: the penitent confesses the sins identified in his or her examination of conscience.
  • Penance: the priest will propose an act of penance like prayer, a work of mercy, or a work of charity
  • Act of Contrition: the penitent expresses sorrow for sins and resolve to sin no more using one's own words or a common prayer like: "My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I ­ rmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his name, my God, have mercy." (Order of Penance, no.45)
  • Absolution: the priest extends his hand over the head of the penitent, calls on God in prayer and says "And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Order of Penance, no. 33). The penitent responds, "Amen."
  • Praise: the priest usually offers praise to God and invites the penitent to do the same
  • Dismissal: the priest concludes the sacrament by saying something like "Go in peace."

C) Perform Penance: the penitent does some kind of act as a "remedy for sin" and that renews living in right relationship with God and others, usually this is the penance proposed by the priest during the sacrament. 


Learning Expectations from Diocesan Guidelines for Preparing Children

CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • Learn the rite of Reconciliation, its necessity, effects and minister.  (CCC 1491)
  • The Sacrament of Reconciliation is important for preparing to receive the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  We must be in the state of grace to receive the other sacraments.  (CCC 1415)
  • Sin is an offense against God and hurts the Church, His Body.  Conversion includes both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church.  Both are accomplished by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation.  (CCC 1440)
  • When we are sorry and seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives us.  (CCC 1455
  • The priest is an instrument of God's forgiving love for us because Jesus gave them the authority to forgive sin.  A priest must keep what he hears in confession absolutely secret.  (CCC 1467)
  • This sacrament is called Confession, Penance, and Reconciliation.  (CCC 1422)
  • Everyone sins.  We can always be forgiven if we are sorry.
  • The steps to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
    • Pray to the Holy Spirit to help us remember our sins (Examination of Conscience).
    • Be sorry for my sins (contrition).
    • Make up my mind not to sin again (conversion/repentance). (CCC 1448)
  • The steps to make a good reconciliation:
    • Go into the confessional, sit or kneel, make the Sign of the Cross.
    • Tell my sins to the priest (confession).
    • Listen to what the priest says.
    • Say the Act of Contrition loud enough for the priest to hear me.
    • After leaving the confessional, do the penance the priest gives (satisfaction).
    • Thank God for forgiving my sins.  (CCC 1448)


Learn More

What Catholics Believe: The Sacrament of Penance

Why should I confess to a priest? English | Spanish

"Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation" Chapter 18 in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults English | Spanish

"Reclaim Reconciliation" blog post from Saint Mary's Press

"Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! I would like to ask you — but don’t say it aloud, everyone respond in his heart: when was the last time you made your confession? Everyone think about it ... Two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? Everyone count, everyone say ‘when was the last time I went to confession?’. And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is more benevolent than priests, Jesus receives you, he receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!" Pope Francis, February 19, 2014 - General Audience