From a reader:
I was wondering the correct formula for confession. I read online somewhere “Bless me father for I have sinned it has been X weeks since my last confession… I accuse myself of the following sins…” (list in kind and number) and when I finish the list state “For these and the sins of my past life I ask for forgiveness and absolution”
I said this in a confessional and the priest wanted to make sure I knew there was no such thing as reincarnation [?!?] and wanted to make sure I was Catholic. I appreciated his concern for my soul, and I don’t want to make the same mistake again. [You didn't make a mistake.] Was the whole formula wrong or just the “sins of my past life”? What should I say instead? – I find that using a formula for confession makes it easier to confess and I am less likely to panic and forget all of my sins.
What you have been doing is just fine. It was pretty clear what you were asking for. I am surprised by that question, however. It may be the confessor was just being a little facetious, about that “past life” thing. I believe that many people, in making their confessions, will express sorrow again for past sins, but you don’t need to ask for past sins to be absolved unless you have never confessed them before.
Even though it was obvious what you are asking for, perhaps a better way to phrase the statement could be something like: “for these sins and all those which I cannot now remember, I ask a penance and absolution”.
When you make a sincere confession of everything that you can remember, all your sins are forgiven. And, unless you are sinning while making your confession, all your sins are “past sins”. Still, it was clear to me what you were driving at.
If you wind up in the box with that same confessor, and he again asks about about “reincarnation”, you might just smile and say “Of course not, Father, do you?”
I would not give his question about “reincarnation” a second thought. Your style of going to confession is just fine. The formula you follow is a good one. Consider the little tweak and keep doing what you are doing, especially confessing your mortal sins in both kind and number!