The Sacrament of Penance, also known as confession, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. This sacrament allows Catholics to confess their venial and -- more importantly -- mortal sins so they can receive absolution from the priest, who is acting on behalf of God. Catholic Canon Law binds a priest to observe what's called "the seal of confession," meaning he can never disclose what is said by the penitent, or he risks excommunication. For a confession to be valid, a person not only must be repentant and forthright, but he also must accept and complete his penance.

Examine your conscience before going to confession. Recall your behavior as best you can since you last confessed your sins. Refer to the Ten Commandments, which are a set of biblical principles, to help you determine where you've made poor judgments with your behavior and thoughts.

Go to the church during the time of Reconciliation. Find out the time by visiting the church's website, calling the rectory, or viewing the time listed on the bulletin, which usually is located in the church vestibule.

Enter the confessional, which is an enclosed booth, and kneel toward the priest, who usually is located behind a screen. Alternatively, sit face to face with the priest if that is an available option that you'd prefer.

Make the sign of the cross, which entails taking your right hand and touching your forehead, the middle of your chest, your left shoulder and then your right shoulder. Recite, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," as you make the sign of the cross.

Say to the priest: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (the number of weeks, months or years) since my last confession." Tell the priest your sins, speaking clearly as you recite each transgression. Conclude by stating: "These are my sins, and I am very sorry for them."

Listen as the priest offers counsel, support and suggestions for avoiding sin. Accept your penance from the priest, which can include such things as reciting certain prayers, praying the rosary, or reading certain scriptures from the Bible. Fulfill your penance in private.

Recite the Act of Contrition when the priest has finished speaking or when he advises you to say the prayer. Listen as the priest says the words of absolution. Bow your head if you feel the need to or if the priest advises you to do so. Exit the confessional after saying, "Thank you, Father."

Tip

  • Write down your sins on a piece of paper if you are concerned that you might forget something when you confess to the priest.

    The frequency of going to confession isn't set in stone. Catholics are obliged to confess their mortal sins before receiving the sacrament of communion, and are encouraged to confess their venial sins as often as necessary to receive God's forgiveness and grace.

    Before entering the confessional, you will usually see a light that when turned on will indicate that someone is in the confessional.

    The Act of Contrition might be printed on a sheet of paper above the kneeler, or the priest may provide you with a sheet if you don't know the words.

    If you want to make a confession urgently, call the rectory to schedule a meeting with the priest.

    If you are unsure of what to do during the confession, ask the priest for help.

Tip

  • A priest can deny absolution of your sins if you do not show contrition.