An oldie…. Fr. Z’s 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Diane says:

    Fr. Z – thanks so much for posting this. I had a link to your examination of conscience and the link has since stopped working. There were many outclicks to that. What was unique about your examen is that you provided a distinction between grave/mortal and venial sins. That was excellent.

    Please do what you can to bring this back, even if only in some posts so we may link to them in our blogs.

  2. mpm says:

    “14) …never confess “tendencies” or “struggles”… just sins;”

    Wouldn’t you say that if a tendency or habit is the root of venial sins,
    rather than confessing hundreds of venial sins, it is better to confess
    that habit that is at their root?

  3. Viking says:

    11) …never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it;

    This is the hardest part if you ask me, but so good to get your dirty little secrets of your back. I’m not afraid that the Priest will break his seal of confession. I think that is something that is very deeply rooted in a Priest. Is it true that Priests learn to forget what they have heard in the confessional, and is it sometimes emotionally hard to listen to all the sinning?

  4. mpm: No, I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t say that.

    Just confess sins, in kind and number.

    There is no obligation to confess venial sins.

    A “struggle” to overcome a temptation isn’t always a sin. Sometimes it’s meritorious.

  5. Nora Cannon says:

    If you have free time (LOL), can you explain the balance between the recommnedation to receive the sacrament regularly and the idea that venial sins are not subject to confession? Thanks!

  6. I am not Spartacus says:

    If you have free time (LOL), can you explain the balance between the recommnedation to receive the sacrament regularly and the idea that venial sins are not subject to confession?

    As a lay Pope, I’d remind you that Communion removes venial sins. However, if after Communion you still experience a desire to watch Ugly Betty, then not only Confession is necessary but prolly also an exorcism.

  7. RBrown says:

    If you have free time (LOL), can you explain the balance between the recommnedation to receive the sacrament regularly and the idea that venial sins are not subject to confession? Thanks!
    Comment by Nora Cannon

    You didn’t quite put it right. Venial sins are to be confessed, but it is also possible that they can be forgiven by prayer, penance, almsgiving, etc (PPAe).

    Now PPAe in themselves are not adequate for the forgiveness of venial sin. But they are acts that are elevated by supernatural charity, which is found in those who are in a state of grace. Thus PPAe are supernaturalized.

    A mortal sin kills supernatural charity–thus PPAE are not adequate.

  8. Nora: I didn’t say that venial sins are "not subject" to confession, in the sense that they are not the "object" of confession. One may certainly confess venial sins and it is laudable to do so. However, one is not obliged to confess venial sins. One is only obliged to confess mortal sins.

    The issue with confession of having "struggled" is this, super clearly:

    People get into confessionals and say: "I struggle with X and I struggle Y, etc." "Struggle" tells the priest (and yourself) nothing at all. To struggle with or against something is not a sin in itself. Of course we "struggle"! Did you actually commit the sin? If you did, call it for what it is. Is "struggle" a code word? Then for what? Get rid of it! Don’t use it. Examine your conscience and make determinations about your sins or ask the priest to help you figure it out. Can you "struggle" and overcome the temptation? Yes. When you overcome a temptation through struggling against it…. GOOD! That is not a sin. So, confess sins. Confess them in kind and number. Don’t be slick or mushy in the confessional. Be clear. This is not only so that the priest can understand what you are trying to say.

    This is to help YOU understand what you do and why and who you are. If you can’t call it something clear, and understand it, then you can’t map out a strategy to get rid of it.

    Finally, about receiving Communion regularly, and venial sins. We know that venial sins can be forgiven in a number of ways, as the Council of Trent explains. Expression of contrition, the lesser type of absolution given at the beginning of Mass in the penitential rite, pious reception of Communion, reciting the Our Father, etc.

    If you know you have venial sins, then be contrite and then be a little more wary. You might have a flaw that needs to be addressed. However, you can go to Communion, and should, provided you are well disposed. If you know you have committed a mortal sin, don’t receive Communion until you have made your confession and received absolution (unless there is compelling reason, such as Viaticum after the sacraments or you can muster a perfect act of contrition… and God cannot be fooled). If you are unsure if you have committed a mortal sin, you can go to Communion, or wait to be on the safe side, as you see fit.

  9. Nora Cannon says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

  10. Nora Cannon says:

    Thanks for the clarification. (BTW, I got an error in the anti spam word a minute ago and was instructed to report that to the webmaster)

  11. Cody says:

    Just int time for my confession today…Thank you!

  12. Patrick Kinsale says:

    Father: This post shows why you are the best around.

    Flattery aside now, one fear I always have about confession is that the priests all know me and my family personally, so I do fear what they think about me. I’ve heard priests always forget what someone confessed, or try to — so I’m sure my fear has no basis in reality. how do priests cope with this?

  13. Otherwise, thank you for posting this! My oldest son makes his first confession in a month and we are working to prepare him for it. The other night the parents of the school’s second graders (Blessed Sacrament, in Springfield, Illinois) had a meeting with our pastor, and he talked about how much he loves hearing confessions: the sorrow and sincerity of people in confession is very moving to him, he said.

    I am going to link to this on my own blog.

  14. lizaanne says:

    Patrick makes a good point. With every thing else a priest has to keep in his mind, all the parish stuff, spiritual stuff, business stuff, personal stuff, and just being a social person in general – how in the world can you separate in your head what you hear in confession and what might come up in general conversation? I can imagine slipping and saying something stupid at a dinner party and not realizing that I heard it in the confessional, thinking that I heard it at the parish picnic last week.

    Then again – that’s a really good reason (aside from being a woman) that I won’t be a priest!!! ;-)

    Thank you Father – for what you do.

  15. Peter says:

    Amazing timing, Father. I just blogged about finally getting around to #16 – it’s something that simply wasn’t covered in RCIA where the theory was to “make up your own”. There’s a certain point to that, but I find it’s a terrible impediment when your brain freezes because you’re already nervous and/or embarrassed. I’m not entirely sure one ever gets completely “comfortable” in Confession, but every little bit helps.

  16. LeonG says:

    No wonder suicide and depression rates are soaring these days. The Roman Catholic Church has the perfect antidote – The Sacrament of Confession. Psycho-analysis and psycho-therapies are made redundant by a sound Confession and the feelings of contrition for sin. As an atheist friend of mine said in admiration of it, it must be so good to be able to have a good clean out and start all over again.

    Well done Father. Thank you for all the Confessions you have heard and the absolution & forgiveness Christ has dispensed through you. How tragic that many priests in the church currently neglect this most wonderful & crucial of Sacraments.

  17. Patrick,

    I don’t know if this helps, but: you certainly have no obligation to confess to any specific priest. I personally do not care to confess to a priest that I really know well, for exactly the reason you mention.

    Of course, if you have a spiritual advisor who is also a priest, he might prefer that you confess to him (or not) — I have no opinion about that. Still, FWIW, I think that one reason the Dominicans are stronger today than the Jesuits is that Dominicans (like most mendicant orders) are forbidden from confessing to their superior, while the Jesuits are required to. And when your confessor holds tremendous power over you, your natural tendency is against total honesty. If being friends with a priest similarly makes this difficult, maybe confessing to someone you don’t know would be better.

    Here on the west coast, most churches have confession at 4 PM on Saturdays. And there are usually only around half a dozen folks who show up for it. Of course, our local traditional parish has longer lines…. but they also hold confession all during Mass, which seems wrong to me. I was standing in line when Mass started, and the guy behind me said “Don’t worry, you only miss a bit of the Mass” — but I decided to wait until later.

  18. dcs says:

    I can imagine slipping and saying something stupid at a dinner party and not realizing that I heard it in the confessional, thinking that I heard it at the parish picnic last week.

    I’m trying to think what one might hear at a parish picnic that would be remotely comparable to what one might hear in the confessional.

  19. Chris Molter says:

    One of the best confessional techniques I’ve ever heard was from a traditional Priestwho would almost always attach an exhortation to draw closer to the Blessed Virgin, Our Mother in prayer and petition as part of our penance. If there was a particular Saint who’s patronage would be appropriate for the sins confessed, he would recommend prayer and devotion to that Saint as part of the penance. Not only was it wonderfully helpful in turning away from the sins I confessed, but it also served to deepen my understanding of the faith.

  20. - Jussi (Finland) says:

    “Why confess venial sins, if they can be forgiven in number of ways?”

    Temporal punishments for our sins remain even though eternal punishments would be forgiven. However, the sacramental confession (i.e. Sacrament of Penance) includes works of satisfaction imposed the priest which effect ‘ex opere operato’ the remission of temporal punishments for venial sins. (This remission is proportional to the measure of penance imposed, dispositions of the person making satisfaction and the degree of grace of the penitent)

    So, without indulgences or extra-sacramental penitential works possessing satisfactory value, we have less to be purified in the purgatory (unless we die as martyrs).

    Is this right?

  21. David S.J. says:


    I am a Jesuit, and I assure you that like other orders, we are also forbidden from confessing to our superiors. What we *are* required to do is make what is called a “manifestation of conscience”, which is where the Jesuit sits down with the superior and provides a full account of what has been going on in his life since the last manifestation: personal issues, prayer life, annual retreat, works, habits of recreation, etc. This is done annually for all to the superior of the province. As for the local superior, this depends of the stage of formation. As a novice, I met with the novice master monthly. As a scholastic (I’m vowed but not yet ordained), I meet with the rector of my community twice a semester. Later on, when I am ordained (God willing), it will be about once a year or so. St. Ignatius specifically put this in our Constitutions (and stressed this obligation multiple times) because he felt that it would help the superior in his governance to have a more complete knowledege of those under him, and “may be better able to direct them in everything along the path of salvation and perfection” (no. 551). If you like, I can show you the exact and full quotations from that part and the others.

  22. David,

    Sorry, my mistake! A couple friends in the OPs had told me about this distinction, and I must have misunderstood what they told me. Thanks for clarifying!

  23. David, S.J. says:

    Not at all. I wouldn’t trust what Dominicans say about us, though. They’ve had it in for us at least since Trent.

  24. Mary says:

    wait our turn in line patiently

    This is a very good point. And I did my best, but still wonder if I should’ve said something to the lady behind me. But I didn’t want to cause a scene.

    First I heard her complain about the Bishop who came to do our Holy Thursday mass and then she went on to talk about our new Pastor and what a bad job he was doing and she said something that I am 99% sure was not true.

    I really wanted to say something to her, but did not. I thought of some snarky things to say, but did not. I thought of some nicer ways of saying something, but without knowing her I did not say anything out loud, but instead a silent prayer.

    I just can’t believe someone would talk like that in church, waiting in line for confession.

    And if you are curious, no she was not in our Pastor’s line, but in the associate priest’s confessional line…

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