The confessional is the tool that Christ gave us to obtain forgiveness of our sins. It is not a miracle clinic. Going to confession gives us a new beginning and a clean slate, but it doesn’t remove all of our inclination toward sin. We didn’t become addicts in a day, so don’t expect to recover in a day.
That being said, I would like to share the good advice I’ve received from confessors over the years:
When preparing for confession
- Begin with a prayer that God will enlighten your heart and mind. These can be found in most general prayer books, missals, and misalettes.
- Examine your conscience. There are many good ones online (archived link), but if these are not available, run through the Ten Commandments in your head.
- Be on time or early. If the scheduled confessional time is 5:00 – 6:00, don’t show up at 5:45, or even 5:15. Show up at 5:00 or 4:45. If there’s a long line, you may not have your confession heard before father has to vest for Mass. If there is no line, and father has been waiting alone for 15 minutes or more, he may assume that no one is coming and take care of other duties. Emergencies also arise. Be respectful of the priest’s schedule and needs.
When in confession
- List all your mortal sins, in kind and number (it makes a difference if you did something once over a month versus daily)
- Don’t list your tendencies, just your sins.
- Don’t explain why you did it, just say what you did. You can’t shock the priest. Don’t try to rationalize your sins.
- Keep your voice down. People outside the confessional are not bound by the seal.
- Have an act of contrition in front of you, or have one memorized.
- Do the penance that’s assigned. If the penance is vague (“think happy thoughts”) or indefinite (“pray the rosary daily for the rest of your life”) or time constrained (“Mass starts in 5 minutes. Pray 100 Hail Marys before then.”), ask for a difference penance.
To avoid sin in the future (particularly sexual sins)
- Pray the Rosary daily
- Pray three Hail Marys for purity when you wake up in the morning
- Devote at least 15 minutes a day for prayerful reading of scripture. Start with the daily Mass readings (Extraordinary Form – Ordinary Form)
- Fast. All Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday are days of abstinence from meat. In most countries, Fridays outside of Lent are optional abstinence days, but you are supposed to replace it with some other penance.
- For sexual sins, it is good to deny some physical pleasure. This makes fasting from meat on Fridays (and other days) a good option.
- From time-to-time, deny your body some other physical pleasure. It can be small things like foregoing dessert or taking a cold shower.
- End your day by reflecting on the good and the bad you’ve done. Ask God for forgiveness, thank God for any blessings, and petition God for grace for the next day.
- Go to confession whenever you need to, but the “best practice” is to go at least once a month.
Go to confession!