Jesus grants the Apostles, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the authority to reconcile repentant sinners with God and the Church: ‚ÄúReceive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained‚ (Jn 20:22-23).‚ Pope John Paul II, MISERICORDIA DEI.


Rite for Reconciliation of individual Penitents


1. Preparation of priest and penitent: prayer and examination of conscience.


Priest: prays privately to Holy Spirit for enlightenment and charity.


Penitent:  compare your life with example of Christ and saints and the commandments of Christ. (Reflect perhaps on the Sunday readings and how your life conforms to their teaching.) See, Examination of Conscience, and what the New Testament says on morality.

Pray for forgiveness. (Rile of Penance, #15)


When you enter the confessional you should have the option of remaining anonymous, by staying behind a curtain or screen, or of speaking face to face.  You may also kneel or sit.


2. Reception of Penitent (priest should be friendly, welcoming.) (Rite, cf #41, 16)        Make the Sign of the Cross.

                 (Traditionally people would say as they made the sign of the cross:  Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been [indicate time] since my last confession.)

The priest might say: ‚Äúhave confidence in God‚ (Rite, #42)


If the penitent is unknown to the priest, it is proper for the penitent to indicate his state in life, the time of his last confession, his difficulties in leading the Christian life, and anything else which may help the confessor in his ministry. (Rite, #16)


3. Reading of the Word of God (optional)

The priest may share a short reading, or the penitent himself may use the word of God to receive light to recognize his sins and is called to conversion and to be confidence in God's mercy. (Rite, #17, 43, 84)


4. Confession of Sins and Acceptance of Satisfaction

The priest helps penitent ‚ to make a complete [integral] confession‚

               (At this point the penitent must confess all grave sins but may confess any other sin or imperfection to have God‚Äôs help and forgiveness.  See the Catechism on the gravity of sin.)


The priest encourages penitent ‚ to have sincere sorrow‚

He offers suitable counsel and proposes [imposes] an act of penance. (Rite, #18, 44)

In order that the minister of the Sacrament may know the dispositions of penitents with a view to granting or withholding absolution and imposing a suitable penance, it is necessary that the faithful, as well as being aware of the sins they have committed, of being sorry for them and resolved not to fall into them again, should also confess their sins. In this sense, the Council of Trent declared that it is necessary ‚Äúby divine decree to confess each and every mortal sin‚. The Church has always seen an essential link between the judgement entrusted to the priest in the Sacrament and the need for penitents to name their own sins, except where this is not possible. John Paul II, MISERICORDIA DEI, April 7, 2002.


We should listen with attention to the instruction which the Confessor may think proper to give, and to the Penance he enjoins; and when he asks us questions, we should answer them with sincerity and humility.‚ Joseph Deharbe, SJ, A Full Catechism of the Catholic Church, (1876) p. 288.


What are we to do if we should not receive Absolution?


[The priest is to judge whether or not he should grant absolution.  If he feels a person is unrepentant, or will fail to take steps to stop serious future wrongdoing, then he should withhold absolution. In the past some sins were reserved, that is he was not permitted to absolve them on his own.  If this should occur you] should humbly submit to the decision of the Confessor, and, by true amendment, make [yourself] worthy of [receiving absolution].‚ Ibid.

This is an unusual occurrence.  Reserved sins are generally a thing of the past.  More likely would be to withhold absolution because of some grave recurring sin.  For example, if someone confesses he is a serial killer or molester, and if he refuses to go to the police or undergo therapy, most people would expect the priest to refuse absolution. Even in this extreme case, the priest must respect the seal of confession.

CCC 2490 "The secret of the sacrament of reconciliation is sacred, and cannot be violated under any pretext. "The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore, it is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason." See Code of Canon Law 983 §1.


Act of Penance:

The act of penance makes up for past, helps penitent to begin a new life, and provides an antidote for weakness.

It should correspond to the seriousness and nature of the sins.


It can take the form of prayer, self-denial, and especially service of one’s neighbor and works of mercy. This underlines the fact that sin and its forgiveness have a social aspect. (Rite, #18)


(The penance can be a way to undue harm done.  Whenever we sin, we cause someone hurt, we disappoint God‚Äôs love and his desire that we love others.  An action may be imposed to help make up for it, and to make restitution.  Alternatively, the priest may ask prayer which could be for the person who was hurt, and to ask God‚Äôs help to avoid this sin again.  Sin separates us from God while prayer does the opposite.  It brings us closer to God. CCC 1494.)


5. Prayer of the Penitent: Act of Contrition‚ (cf. Rite, #49)


6. Absolution: (This is the prayer said by the priest or bishop that actually confers forgiveness.)


 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.‚ (Penitent answers) Amen.


(Reconciliation of the penitent comes from the mercy of the Father. It shows connection between the reconciliation of the sinner and the paschal mystery of Christ. It stresses  the role of the Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of sins and it underlines the ecclesial aspect of the sacrament because reconciliation with God is asked for and given through the ministry of the Church. (Rite, #19)

(The priest represents Christ, the Church, and the community.  As a member of the community he acknowledges the penitent‚Äôs mistakes and the harm done, but also confers the community‚Äôs love and acceptance of the penitent despite what he has done. See Spiritual Effects.)


7. Proclamation of Praise of God and Dismissal

Priest:               Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.‚

Penitent:          His mercy endures forever.‚(Rite, #20, 47)


[NB: God is thanked, rather than the priest, although he may be thanked too.]

[Older traditional dismissal: Go in peace and may God bless you.]




See the Catechism for catholic teaching on forgiveness of sins as part of the power of the keys, especially sections 981-983, and see the material on the sacrament of Penance, or the text "in brief". For a simpler statement of Catholic Teaching on the Sacrament of Pennce see the Compendium.




Code of Canon Law


Can. 987 In order that the faithful may receive the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, they must be so disposed that, repudiating the sins they have committed and having the purpose of amending their lives, they turn back to God.


Can. 988 The faithful are bound to confess, in kind and in number, all grave sins committed after baptism, of which after careful examination of conscience they are aware, which have not yet been directly pardoned by the keys of the Church, and which have not been confessed in an individual confession.


The faithful are recommended to confess also venial sins.


Can. 989 All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.



1.People should keep in mind that the priest has promised to never reveal what is said in confession, even if ordered to do so by an agent of government or a court.  Although no bishop would ask, he is never to real it even to church authority. Normally in the United States, this duty is protected by law, but the duty remains even if the law should seek to compel him to reveal something.  Also, the priest is not to use the knowledge in some way; he may not act on it. He should not independently refer to the knowledge in conversation with the penitent.  It is as if the act and the knowledge of the act are gone. See Catechism of the  Catholic Church 1467.

2.People are often nervous about confessing if they do not have much experience with this sacrament.  However, it has the power to heal someone emotionally as well as spiritually.  Guilt can be a corrosive that eats away at ones appreciation of life.  It is difficult to own up to something, to admit to another person the evil we may have done, but to keep it inside is harmful.  The sacrament is designed to allow you to let go of it safely, and to receive help. The grace of God which washes away the wrong is not just an idea.  It has the capacity and power to take away guilt, shame, sorrow, and even despair. It operates through another person who assures you that you are loved, that you are a valuable person, that you are someone who can turn around and begin to do beneficial things rather than hurtful things.

3. As a penitent for about 50 years, I can say that not every confession is a great experience, but usually they are.  If the priest is having a bad day, pray for him.  As a confessor for 30 years, I can say that hearing confessions isn‚Äôt always a joy, but it can be. It is wonderful when someone with serious problems really does genuinely repent, especially if they have been away many years.  As a confessor, you find that most people have many of the same problems, which recur habitually. Nevertheless, it is the willingness to keep struggling that can convey sanctity.

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