Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession – reprise

Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession   o{]:¬)

We should…

  1) …examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly;
  2) …wait our turn in line patiently;
  3) …come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
  4) …speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
  5) …state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling;
  6) …confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
  7) …listen carefully to the advice the priest gives;
  8) …confess our own sins and not someone else’s;
  9) …carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it;
10) …use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
11) …never be afraid to say something "embarrassing"… just say it;
12) …never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
13) …never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
14) …never confess "tendencies" or "struggles"… just sins;
15) …never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
16) …memorize an Act of Contrition;
17) …answer the priest’s questions briefly if he asks for a clarification;
18) …ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
19) …keep in mind that sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
20) …remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.

Here is one Act of Contrition I recommend:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; [This is attrition, sufficient for absolution.]
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. [This is contrition, more perfect.]
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

This is also good:

Latin

Deus meus, ex toto corde poenitet me omnium meorum peccatorum, eaque detestor,
quia peccando, non solum poenas a te iuste statutas promeritus sum,
sed praesertim quia offendi te, summum bonum, ac dignum qui super omnia diligaris.
Ideo firmiter propono, adiuvante gratia tua, de cetero me non peccaturum peccandique occasiones proximas fugiturum. Amen.

English

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins,
because of thy just punishment, [Again, this is attrition.]
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all-good and deserving of all my love.  [Again, this is contrition.]
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen. 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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41 Responses to Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession – reprise

  1. Will says:

    At the risk of sounding like a wise guy, father, how does one go about confessing the alleged sin of polluting the environment?

  2. Mark M says:

    Thank you, Father. I note, with a certain smile, that this is the Act of Contrition I was taught.

    Now, does anyone know where one can get nice little cards printed? I know a lot of people who want to use the older form of Confession (the one with the confession inside a Confiteor) but keep forgetting the form, and I thought little cards would be nice.

  3. jh says:

    Will
    I suppose if you are dumping PCP into the river and things like that then you confess it just like everything else

  4. Brian says:

    The topic at hand does not merit the somewhat snide remarks about the comments about sin made by the Apostolic Penitentiary. But while we’re at it, and at the risk of fitting myself for a seamless garment: to the extent that damage to the environment jeopardizes human life and is an abuse of the job of stewardship of creation given to us by God, yes it is sinful. It may not be as dramatic and provocative as lust in the heart or as obviously offensive as murder, but it is sin nonetheless.

    Failing to recycle a soda can, however, is not a mortal sin, and I don’t think the Pentitentiary said that or even suggested it. But an executive at Dow Chemical may have to do an examen.

  5. Jack says:

    I think you mean PCBs.

    What happened to “the near occasion of sin”?

    I think a disclaimer should come with “in kind and in number” This would scare off people that haven’t been to confession in years. Who could remember how many times if you were living in sin for 23 years? If you were high for 34 years?

  6. gjoe says:

    Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t been to confession in years. Since then, I’m disinclined to go back again soon.

    Maybe I’m a cynical 21st Century American, but it just seems a little contrived. I agree with the philosophy, theology and spirit of confession. But it just seems a little peculiar.

    Perhaps its because I’ve been so estranged from the sacrament for so long. Perhaps here, familiarity could breed comfort. Perhaps.

  7. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    I was not aware that there were any forms of the Act of Contrition other than the two Fr. Z. quotes. The first one is used by everyone (as far as I know) and the second shows up in some handmissals. I am curious: what other forms are there?

    P.K.T.P.

  8. Richard Oliver says:

    Father, thank-you for your “20 Tips!” Will be confessing this week.

    Joe, most of my life I’ve spent trying to keep twirling plates in the air on slender sticks like on Ed Sullivan. Not any more. I love the Sacrament of Reconciliation because I want to be reconciled. I can’t do it on my own. Things fall into place now that I’m not spinning plates.

  9. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    A little humour.

    When I saw Fr. Z.’s list of procedures, the second item, “Wait in queue patiently” reminded me of a humorous story in a book about St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Now, some of the ladies from Calabria and Sicily who used to go to him for confession were, in his own words, a bit “hysterical”. For example, they would jump out of the pews with little scissors and snip off portions of his vestments to venerate.

    They would also wait all night out in the fields for his confessions, sleeping on the grass. The next morning, they would scramble to re-assemble in queue in the right order. One morning, one of these ladies queue-jumped. Another of them was so angry that she pulled out a knife and stabbed the queue-jumper. The writer joked that the attacker would then have something serious to confess!

    P.K.T.P.

  10. Cliftonian says:

    I like the honesty of listing the motives for repentance, from the lowest to the highest; and I agree with the importance of thinking about the occasion of sin, which seems to be so little considered these days.

    I was taught this at the age of 6, and use it to this day:

    O my God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins. I detest them above all things,
    - because they deserve Thy dreadful punishment,
    - because they have crucified my loving Saviour, Jesus Christ,
    - and most of all, because they offend Thine infinite Goodness; and I firmly resolve, by the help of Thy Grace, never to offend Thee again, and carefully to avoid the occasion of sin.

  11. Diane says:

    gjoe says: Maybe I’m a cynical 21st Century American, but it just seems a little contrived. I agree with the philosophy, theology and spirit of confession. But it just seems a little peculiar.

    Perhaps its because I’ve been so estranged from the sacrament for so long. Perhaps here, familiarity could breed comfort. Perhaps.

    Here, get this and read it: Frequent Confession

  12. Liam says:

    Three separate thoughts:

    ***
    I.

    I would have to qualify #14: it sounds terribly juridical (and I mean that in a bad way). COnfession is not a criminal booking (“just the facts, ma’am”), and one of the problems with its brittleness in the past was a tendency to reduce it to self-indictment.

    I can understand it as a caution for

    1. Scrupulants; and
    2. People who are avoiding actually naming their sins.

    Still, struggle with habits and tendencies can be essential to comprehending the sin – and, more important, can provide a window into things that the penitent may not realize are actually sinful – if the priest allows this information to arouse a sensible curiosity.

    ***

    II.

    After you recount your sins, it can be good to remember to add something like “for these and all the sins of my past life I am truly sorry and beg God’s forgiveness”.

    III.

    I do wish more priests would familiarize penitents with the fullness of Form I of the Rite of Penance. It’s actually a beatiful ritual (and, in case anyone is wondering, the actual Rite does not limit penitents to the standard Act of Contrition – it provides a wealth of options, many beautiful). For some reason, we seem to have to choose between those who strip Form I down to the barest “essentials” and those who play around with a blend of Forms II & III. The latter, when illicit, is clearly a reprehensible abuse. But stripping Form I down for the sake of speeding up the confession line or simply not dickering with what’s familiar is not terribly commendable.

  13. May I humbly suggest another? Those folks waiting patiently in line should NOT stand 3 1/2 feet from the confessional. It is very difficult to not hear everything being said as it is in some churches, but being that close only adds to the occasion of over-hearing that which we should not be hearing.

    That seems to be something that should be dealt with where I confess regularly. Does anyone else notice that same thing?

  14. Garrett says:

    To my utter surprise, I must say I agree substantially with Liam. Informing the priest of certain tendencies and struggles allows him to better assess which specific problems each one of us has, and allows him to act more like a Spiritual Father/Director instead of just a bare-minimum avenue to forgiveness and absolution. I think we need someone who knows our weaknesses and can help guide us, because we so often do not see the reasons for our downfalls. Barring us from Communion for a time may even be necessary to break us from certain habitual sins. This is certainly practiced in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

  15. m.a. says:

    I can’t believe I am even posting on this blog… but here is my experience of reconciliation. It had been many years since I had gone. I had awful experiences as a child, teenager and young adult so I simply stopped going to reconciliation. or confession as it was called in those days.

    Well, through the grace of God, I finally got over it and recently returned to the sacrament. The form I used was not one written in the rubrics. However, I am sure it contained all the things necessary for a “good confession.” I used my own words in the context of a prayer. The act of contrition was no formal prayer at all, simply sorrow expressed. The priest knew who I was and what my difficulties had been. He had no problem with the format I used. He knew I was trying to get as far away from my childhood experiences as possible.

    Since then, I have gone for reconciliation a few more times and have continued to use the same format with no problems.

  16. I absolutely agree with all 20 tips, of course with quailifiers for thsoe who haven’t been to confession in a while and can hardly remember the number.

  17. RichR says:

    My understanding is that Confession is primarily for absolution, not spiritual direction (by that, I mean long analyses and discussions about your spiritual life). Some patient priests will sit through a long explanation of penitents’ sins when it could have been done in under a minute. The problem is two-fold: first, the penitent is bravely baring their soul to the confessor, so it is not the time to correct them on “keeping it simple”. That may turn them away from such a beautiful sacrament. second, there are other souls in line for confession who may not get to confess because the confessor was tied up with the person who needed spiritual direction, and they may leave the church without having their sins forgiven.

    Something to keep in mind when confessing: be brief, be sorry, be gone.

  18. Tom says:

    At Novus Ordo Masses, talking prior to and following (sometimes during) Mass is a serious problem within my diocese.

    Incredibly, the chatter has overflowed to confessional queues.

    Has anybody else encountered chattering while in line for confession?

    Last weekend, the person ahead of me conducted a brief cell phone conversation. (I must say that the person in question at least spoke in a whisper…at least tried not to be rude.)

    But the constant chattering at Mass has, at least in my diocese, has overflowed to Confession.

    Amazing.

  19. Dominic says:

    So, Father, if it’s been a while, and your list is, maybe, several pages long, do you wait in place, or should I let others cut in line? :) (Joking)
    Thank you for posting this list, it helps to keep things in perspective.

  20. Frcd says:

    Father and brother in Christ:

    I am sad to read this post, a feeling I often do NOT get reading your blog.

    In our love the Faithful, could we be more patient with them as they came to confess with their anxieties and shame, and with their hopes for forgiveness?

    We can criticize the catechists all we want, but the Faithful are not to blame for their communication styles that may seem to theologians to be rambling.

    The are unburdening themselves in the sight of God. Let them. As Christ said to the onlookers in yesterday’s great Gospel: “Untie him!”

    He didn’t say to the shuffling Lazarus: “Hurry up getting out of there Lazarus, there’s more people I got to help!”

    Please pray for the patience of confessors, as well as the patience and courage of our penitents.

  21. Michael Evans says:

    I’ve got another Act of Contrition to add to the collection here, which I was taught as a child in the early 90′s:

    O my God I am sorry for all my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and in failing to do good, I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend with your help to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. For our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy. Amen.

  22. Bill says:

    re “little cards”:

    In our parish, Father had the secretary type out the “classic” Act of Contrition onto 4×6 index cards, using ALL CAPS and what looks like the sans serif Selectric font formerly used for making scripts and cue cards. The letters are VERY BIG.

    These cards are taped to the little “shelf” on the penitent’s side of the screen, and another copy is taped to the wall next to the penitent’s chair on the f2f side. The confessional is not dark, but the big type helps old eyes, and the all caps helps younger people who have trouble reading. Plus it helps people who forget things when they get nervous.

    I thought this was brilliant, and I don’t know why more confessionals are not so equipped.

  23. Bill says:

    re “little cards”:

    In our parish, Father had the secretary type out the “classic” Act of Contrition onto 4×6 index cards, using ALL CAPS and what looks like the sans serif Selectric font formerly used for making scripts and cue cards. The letters are VERY BIG.

    These cards are taped to the little “shelf” on the penitent’s side of the screen, and another copy is taped to the wall next to the penitent’s chair on the f2f side. The confessional is not dark, but the big type helps old eyes, and the all caps helps younger people who have trouble reading. Plus it helps people who forget things when they get nervous.

    I thought this was brilliant, and I don’t know why more confessionals are not so equipped.

  24. Transitional Deacon says:

    Incredibly, the chatter has overflowed to confessional queues.

    Has anybody else encountered chattering while in line for confession?

    I have encountered this in a parish that I was visiting in Florida. The guys in the line were having a talk about the latest sports news. I asked them — in front of everyone else — if they would mind not talking in Church, since we were all trying to prepare to go to confession. I got a funny look and they kept quiet after that. I was surprised that no one else spoke up, although I suppose it’s not too surprising.

    RE: an above commenter who notes penitents who wait within feet or inches of the confessional, and can possibly overhear confessions — I have been to another parish (in Michigan) where they played Gregorian Chant at a fairly low level over the parish sound system. It was soft enough that ti would not interrupt prayer, but at the same time provided enough “holy white noise” to make it really tough to hear what anyone might be saying in the box (or in the pew — this parish would have three priests come out: one would go in the sacristy, one in the box, and one in a pew kind of out of the way, and three lines would form — they had a lot of penitents on Saturdays, which was a nice sight to see).

    Playing gregorian chant over the sound system could be as easy as bringing a little boombox or MP3 player with speaker and setting it in front of the pulpit microphone, if there is not a more sophisticated way to connect it to the sound system. IOW, this could be easily done in a snap.

  25. “But the constant chattering at Mass has, at least in my diocese, has overflowed to Confession.”

    In my diocese this is almost never a problem at some parishes… Really if no one is in line, no one will be bothering you.

    “I was not aware that there were any forms of the Act of Contrition other than the two Fr. Z. quotes. The first one is used by everyone (as far as I know) and the second shows up in some handmissals. I am curious: what other forms are there?”

    I recall being taught something similar to what was posted above… With the understanding that no one had to memorize it… You could do your own as long as you 1) said you were sorry and 2) promised not to do it again… (This was the early 80s)

    I wouldn’t mind to learn how to pronounce the Latin – Father Z any chance you can record it for us to practice?

  26. Franciscus says:

    “I have been to another parish (in Michigan) where they played Gregorian Chant at a fairly low level over the parish sound system. It was soft enough that ti would not interrupt prayer, but at the same time provided enough “holy white noise” to make it really tough to hear what anyone might be saying in the box (or in the pew—this parish would have three priests come out: one would go in the sacristy, one in the box, and one in a pew kind of out of the way, and three lines would form—they had a lot of penitents on Saturdays, which was a nice sight to see).”

    They do that at our parish, too, though since the boxes were constructed so as to be soundproof, it’s a bit redundant… but better overprotection than under, no?

    Also, Father Z, what if you cannot remember all your mortal sins?

  27. Transitional Deacon says:

    The Rite of Confession gives the option of making the most simple form of the act of contrition, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, or even to make up one’s own act of contrition. The main purpose of the act of contrition is for the penitent to manifest his sorrow (contrition, or at least attrition), so that the priest may give him absolution, which is why the prayer can be variable. Obviously, if the penitent says a prayer which he made up and which is unclear or insufficient in some way, the priest is free to question him so as to elicit his sorrow, and even to have him recite a prayer that is, say, printed on a card in the confessional; the priest could also recite a traditional act of contrition and have the penitent repeat it after him.

    But the main point is not for the penitent to have to go through some drill as if the sacrament were magic and wouldn’t take place without it; rather, it is to get the penitent sufficiently express his sorrow and purpose of amendment so the priest knows that he can absolve.

    I like the idea of having the traditional act of contrition clearly printed and affixed inside the penitent’s side of the confessional so that he can recite it.

  28. Franciscus: what if you cannot remember all your mortal sins?

    The important thing is to examine your conscience well and honestly and then just do your best.

    The confessional isn’t the rack.

  29. JaneC says:

    One of my former parishes also played music so that it would be more difficult to overhear someone’s confession. This was particularly important as one of the priests who frequently heard confessions on Saturdays was quite elderly and more than a little deaf; he was always asking people to speak up, and gave his advice and admonishment a little too loudly.

    Incidentally, the confessionals in that church had sensors in the kneelers so that that lights went off when you knelt down, and turned on again when the penitent arose to leave. Does anyone know why that would be? I’ve never seen it in any other churches.

  30. JaneC says:

    One of my former parishes also played music so that it would be more difficult to overhear someone’s confession. This was particularly important as one of the priests who frequently heard confessions on Saturdays was quite elderly and more than a little deaf; he was always asking people to speak up, and gave his advice and admonishment a little too loudly.

    Incidentally, the confessionals in that church had sensors in the kneelers so that that lights went off when you knelt down, and turned on again when the penitent arose to leave. Does anyone know why that would be? I’ve never seen it in any other churches.

  31. JaneC: The light was to help people see what they were doing when getting into and out of confessionals. The light would go out to preserve your anonymity.

  32. Maureen says:

    Thank you for posting Acts of Contrition. I think you may actually have the one I learned back in the 70′s, which I’ve had trouble finding again.

    I agree that you can’t have enough confessional cheatsheets. Confession is stressful, and those of us who only go twice a year or so, or who haven’t gone for a zillion years, find it hard to remember what to do. This causes the priest to spend a lot of instruction time, when really most people just need a nudge to the middle-aged, overstressed memory. :)

  33. Maureen says:

    Thank you for reposting some acts of contrition. I think you may actually have the one I learned back in the 70′s, which I’ve had trouble finding again.

    I agree that you can’t have enough confessional cheatsheets. Confession is stressful, and those of us who only go twice a year or so, or who haven’t gone for a zillion years, find it hard to remember what to do. This causes the priest to spend a lot of instruction time, when really most people just need a nudge to the middle-aged, overstressed memory. :)

  34. m.a. says:

    To Frcd, who said: “In our love the Faithful, could we be more patient with them as they came to confess with their anxieties and shame, and with their hopes for forgiveness?”
    ___________________________

    Thank you for those words… Your empathy and humbleness and concern for your people is exactly what is needed by a penitent like myself.

    I am surprised that other regular posters on this blog seem to have forgotten what is more important than the form and the rubrics.

    I pray that God will keep you in his care.

  35. m.a. says:

    To Frcd, who said: \”In our love the Faithful, could we be more patient with them as they came to confess with their anxieties and shame, and with their hopes for forgiveness?\”
    ___________________________

    Thank you for those words… Your empathy and humbleness and concern for your people is exactly what is needed by a penitent like myself.

    I am surprised that other regular posters on this blog seem to have forgotten what is more important than the form and the rubrics.

    I pray that God will keep you in his care.

  36. Ana says:

    Father Z,

    What do you think of using the “Jesus Prayer”, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” as an act of contrition?

  37. Ana: I think that is probably sufficient, but I don’t think it is as complete as the other forms.

  38. Father Z,

    Any chance you could offer a recording of the act of contrition in Latin?

  39. Transitional Deacon says:

    What do you think of using the “Jesus Prayer”, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” as an act of contrition?

    Ana:

    In any case, it is permitted as an option in the novus ordo Rite of Penance. The exact words indicated are “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

  40. John Steiner says:

    Any chance you could offer a recording of the act of contrition in Latin?

    There is already one available online. Click here:

    http://www.mount2008.com/media/ActusContritionis.mp3

  41. L. says:

    Father,
    If to make a good confession one has to be resolved to avoid the near ocassions of mortal sin, does that mean that one has to remove those ocassions BEFORE going to Confession? What if one feels that after Confession those same ocassions won’t be as tempting as they were while one was living in sin?
    Please help with this, as not knowing what to do is keeping me from taking any steps towards reconciliation.
    Thank you,
    L.