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Joleen Fuller wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have never been to Confession before and I have a few questions:

  • How do I start my sentence (i.e. Dear Father?)
  • How often do I go — Once a week?
  • What is considered a sin?

Thank-you for your time,

Joleen

  { Seeing I have never been to Confession before, can you answer a few questions I have? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Joleen —

If you go face to face, typically the priest will start with the sign of the Cross. If you're doing it anonymously, you can start with the sign of the Cross. Then say,

Bless me Father, for I have sinned; it has be X weeks/months/years since my last Confession.

For further details, here is a good guide on how to go to Confession [PDF].

How often you go is up to you. If you are conscious of having committed a mortal sin — that is to say, a sin of serious matter (such as a sexual sin) committed totally freely and knowingly — you should repent of the sin (that is, turn away from it and resolve not to do it again) and express your sorrow to God out of love for him, asking His forgiveness. Then go to Confession as soon as is practical (before you go to your next Communion). You must tell the priest what mortal sins to the extent you recall, both number and kind of the sin, with any circumstances that were relevant, e.g., I committed adultery a few dozen times with my boss instead of the vaguer I committed some sexual sins. Other than mortal sins, you don't technically need to go to Confession, although many find it helpful to go once or twice a month.

Going to Confession weekly isn't out of the question but avoid being scrupulous.

As for what is considered a sin, doing an examination of conscience with a printed guide is helpful. An examination of conscience is when you search your heart and identify areas where you've fallen short and sinned. It's like doing a review of your heart and actions during the time since your last Confession. You should start by asking Jesus to show you your sins, opening your heart to Him and committing yourself to do His Will out of love for Him. I haven't reviewed it in detail but after a cursory examination this looks like a good place to start.

It will give you a good idea of what's a sin and what is not. I'm not sure where you are in your faith so you may find this overwhelming; if so, just start with what your conscience is convicting you of and commend the rest to prayer, asking Jesus to show you the truth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church will tell what is a sin, too; but the relevant section on the Ten Commandments is long and I'm not going to make you read that before you go to Confession. (I would though encourage you to do so eventually.)

Since you've never gone to Confession you'll want to do what is called a general Confession, which is a review of your whole life. Generally, as these tend to be on the long side, it is better to make an appointment with the priest and say you want to make a general Confession rather than doing it at the regular time for Confession. Also, due to the fading memory, you'll understandably not be able to offer as many details about mortal sins, and that's OK; you just do the best you can.

General Confessions should focus on mortal sins, otherwise they'd drag on for hours. It may be easier to write things down over a period of time as you remember them so you can present them easily to the priest. You can even give the paper to the priest and say I confess these sins.
(Just be sure to get the paper back and thoroughly destroy it when you're done!)

Remember that the Confessional is a tribunal of mercy and healing, not of judgment. The point is not to accuse you or impose guilt; the point is to relieve guilt and apply the balm of mercy to sins so that they might be healed. A sin is like an injury, and the priest is like a doctor.

May God bless you through your first Confession!

Eric

Mike replied:

Hi, Joleen —

I wanted to clarify one issue that may confuse some readers.  While my colleague Eric is correct, there can appear to be two definitions for the term General Confession.

Eric stated:
Since you've never gone to Confession you'll want to do what is called a general Confession, which is a review of your whole life. Generally, as these tend to be on the long side, it is better to make an appointment with the priest and say you want to make a general Confession rather than doing it at the regular time for Confession.

General Confession or Communal Absolution is also when a priest, with the permission of his bishop, gives a group of people a General-Communal Confession or [General Absolution].

This is only done in emergency situations, like when combat soldiers are going into the battlefield and there is no time to hear individual confessions. The Confession/Absolution is valid although illicit. After receiving communal absolution the individual penitents, if possible, would have to get to a individual Confession at the soonest time possible.

Hope this clarifies any confusion over the term General Confession.

Mike

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