5 steps to the Sacrament of Reconciliation

5 steps to the Sacrament of Reconciliation

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It used to be that Catholics went to Confession on a weekly basis in order to be in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist at Mass. However, as Catholics have grown in their understanding of the Eucharist as a Sacrament that celebrates Christ’s reconciling us to the Father and a Sacrament through which our venial sins are forgiven, the old reason for going to Confession dissipated. Although this richer understanding of the Eucharist is great, it is unfortunate that most Catholics have not renewed their understanding of Reconciliation along with it and discovered more meaningful reasons to celebrate the Sacrament–maybe not weekly, but on a somewhat regular basis.

So let’s take a quick look at the basics. First, there are actually 3 ways one could experience the Sacrament: individual reconciliation, communal celebration with opportunity for individual confession, or communal celebration with general absolution—the latter is only celebrated in exceptional circumstances. Regardless of the form followed, the steps involved are the same:

  1. Examination of Conscience: We prepare by taking a look within. Most of us jump right in to zero in on our sins but sometimes it might be better to start by looking at the ways we have been faithful to our baptismal call to holiness as this will give us a more balanced and truthful look at ourselves.
  2. Confession: Once we are ready, we come to the Sacrament and during the celebration will confess our sins to a priest. Saying our sins out loud for someone else to hear, revealing the darkness that lies in our hearts to another person, is the hardest part of the Sacrament and probably the part that keeps many from coming to it. But there is something powerful to laying the burden of our sins down and leaving it behind when we walk out and there’s nothing like having to say them out loud to make us realize and feel the full import of what we have done. Click here for an overview on sin. In addition, as Catholics, we believe we are connected to each other in the Body of Christ and that our sins weaken and harm the Body of Christ–hence the need to be reconciled to the Church community and the priest is the mediator for this. This may not sound like the most persuasive argument but one of the things most Catholic love about the Church is belonging to a worldwide community that connects us to each other and to our loved ones who have gone before us. If this is so, then maybe it’s important for us to reflect on the full implications of being members of the Communion of Saints, on how our actions and choices affect the corporate body of Christ.
  3. Penance:A penance is a prayer or action to reflect our desire to turn back to God and to begin to make amends for the harm our sins have caused. The priest usually suggests something and it’s usually something very manageable but feel free to suggest your own penance.
  4. Contrition: When faced with our sins contrition tends to flow naturally—we feel sorry for what we have done, we recognize we could have and should have done better, we want to be more loving and kind and generous and honest, and we recognize we need God’s help to do so because alone we waver. During the Sacrament, we express these sentiments through a prayer of Contrition. Most Churches have one printed in the Reconciliation area that you can read (because let’s face it, few of us know one by heart), but if you’re particularly anxious, you can always bring your own copy.
  5. Absolution and Forgiveness: If you’re wondering we go through all this agony, it’s for this final step. We go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation not so much to confess our sins (although of course, confessing our sins does actually help us) as much as to hear that prayer of absolution, those words of forgiveness that lift our burden and put a smile back on our face.

This Lent why not take a step towards the Sacrament? This Lent, as you reflect on what you’ll do for your Lenten Penance, focus on how what you choose for prayer will help you grow in your relationship with God, how your almsgiving/service will help you grow in your relationship with others (maybe it’s the people under your own roof you need to serve), and how your fasting will help you put your priorities and desires back in order and right your relationship with yourself.

And once you find yourself ready, take the final step and celebrate the Sacrament. This Lent 2013 parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston are once again participating in The Light Is On For You and offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation on the Wednesdays of Lent (February 20, 27, March 6, 13, 20, 27) from 6:30-8PM in every Church in the Archdiocese.

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