The sacrament of penance (also called the sacrament of reconciliation) is a great gift to us. We should go to confession often, not just when we have committed a mortal sin. Confession gives us the help we need to avoid sin in the future. Though we are required to confess all mortal sins, it is not necessary to confess all our venial sins, although if we do, we receive more grace to help us overcome them in our lives.
The Baltimore Catechism says: “Confession is the telling of our sins to an authorized priest for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness” (see Proverbs 28:13).
The Baltimore Catechism goes on to say: “We must confess our sins because Jesus Christ obliges us to do so in these words, spoken to the apostles and to their successors in the priesthood: ‘Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’ (cf. John 20:22-23)… These words of Christ oblige us to confess our sins because the priest cannot know whether he should forgive or retain our sins unless we tell them to him. (To read more about confession, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)
Before confession, we examine our conscience (call to mind the sins we have committed since our last good confession) so we can be sorry for them and confess them. Below is a prayer you can pray before confession, and one you can pray after confession.
After we have confessed our sins, the priest asks us to make an act of contrition, such as this traditional version.
Prayer before Confession
Dear Jesus, help me to make a good Confession; help me to find out my sins, help me to be sorry for them, help me to make up my mind not to sin again. Have mercy on me, O Lord, and forgive me. Mary my Mother, pray for me. Amen.
Come, Holy Spirit, into my soul. Enlighten my mind that I may know the sins I ought to confess, and grant me Your grace to confess them fully, humbly and with contrite heart. Help me to firmly resolve not to commit them again.
O Blessed Virgin, Mother of my Redeemer, mirror of innocence and sanctity, and refuge of penitent sinners, intercede for me through the Passion of Your Son that I may obtain the grace to make a good confession. All you blessed angels and saints of God, pray for me, a most miserable sinner, that I may repent from my evil ways, that my heart may henceforth be forever united with yours in eternal love. Amen.
Prayer after Confession
Dear Jesus, thank you for helping me to make a good Confession, and thank you for taking away my sins. Help me, dear Jesus, never to offend you again. Mary, my mother, pray to Jesus for me. My dear angel guardian, help me. Amen.
My dearest Jesus, I have told all my sins to the best of my ability. I have sincerely tried to make a good confession, and I know that You have forgiven me. Thank you, dear Jesus! Your divine Heart is full of love and mercy for poor sinners. I love You, dear Jesus; you are so good to me. My loving Savior, I shall try to keep from sin and to love You more each day. Dearest Mother Mary, pray for me and help me to keep all my promises. Protect me and do not let me fall back into sin. Dear God, help me to lead a good life. Without Your grace I can do nothing. Amen.