During Lent, many of us make time to go to confessions (also known as reconciliation or penance) because we are all required to go to confession at least once a year and it fits the penitential character of this holy season. So, especially for those of you who may be intimidated by confession or just out of practice, I would like to offer some practical instruction so that you can feel more comfortable going to confession.
When is confession offered? All year round, confession is offered on Saturdays after the 4 pm mass (usually at about 5 pm). During Lent, I also offer confession after any daily Mass I say. Also, this Lent, we have two Deanery Penance Services where people can go to confession, on Wednesday March 21 st . One is at 3:30 pm at St. Rose Church, Belmar. The other is at 7 pm here at Holy Innocents.
How do we prepare ourselves to go to confession? We first need to pray that the Holy Spirit may reveal to us our faults that we need to confess. Then, it is often a good idea, especially if it has been a while, to examine your conscience. If one looks online for an “Examination of conscience”, one can find many examples of questions to ask yourself to find out how one has sinned. Common sins include: putting other things before God, taking the Lord’s name in vain, missing Mass on Sunday or Holy Days, participating in sins of abortion, use of pornography, sex outside of marriage, using contraception to prevent pregnancy, being a distraction for others during Mass and lying. Once one knows what sins they should confess, they are ready to go to confession.
How do we confess our sins in confession? We begin by saying, “Bless me Father for I have sinned”, and stating how long it has been since your last confession. You then state your sins and let the priest know when you are done. He will then counsel you, ask questions if needed and give you prayers to say afterward. You then pray an act of contrition and then he absolves you. If you need any help with any of these steps, feel free to ask the priest and he should be perfectly willing to help you. (And if not, pray for him!) It is important to make sure you state all the grave sins you remember or else you may make the confession invalid. Do not be afraid of offending the priests by your sins. We really have heard just about everything and it is better to be forgiven of these sins than to bear guilt.
Can I go to a penance service where there is no individual confession and everyone is forgiven at the same time? This is known as General Absolution. Going to confession in this manner is a valid form of the sacrament of reconciliation only in times of emergency when it is impossible for the priest to hear everyone’s confessions. (Examples include during a plane crash, in an impending natural disaster or before a battle in wartime.) However, if it is not one of those extreme cases, Catholics are still required to go to confession individually to a priest. If you ever hear of a priest absolving a whole crowd without hearing individual confessions and it is not during an emergency situation, then it is an abuse of the sacrament and should be reported to the Diocese for further investigation.
God bless and have a holy Lent!
P.S. Our school’s 8th grade class is performing a Living Stations of the Cross this Friday, March 23rd at 7 pm in the church. Please come out to support them.