Definitive Reconcilliation How-To


I grew up Catholic and Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and then chose RCIA as a young adult. During RCIA we learned about reconciliation and did our first confession. However, because the church was purchased from a Lutheran congregation it had no confessional. It’s a small church and they have you just sit in the back with the priest and whisper you confession (honestly, it’s a little awkward…hard to hear as the train rolls right by the door and very easy to hear people who have a hard time whispering). Anyhow, they said it’s perfectly fine to go confession elsewhere if we prefer. But they didn’t really give us a step-by-step how to and it’s causing ridiculous anxiety on my part.

I’ve looked it up online and I find anything from the traditional way my mother grew up with to new ways…but nothing definitive. I’m guessing that priests get a few different ways and wouldn’t be too put out or shocked if someone comes in doing it slightly differently, but I’d just like to know what’s a person to do? If anyone can provide a step-by-step guide, I’d really appreciate it.


Hi lola5555.

At most Catholic churches the confessional is a room with a light above the door that is white for empty and red for occupied. When you enter, the first thing you see is half a wall with a grate which you have the choice of sitting/kneeling in front of to speak to the priest through the grate, or walking around to sit in front of him. Until you walk around the partition, he cannot see you.

When I go, sometimes the “process” varies a little, but usually the priest starts with the sign of the cross and maybe a prayer, then I say “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been (period of time) since my last confession, and these are my sins.”

I’m assuming you don’t need help on the actual confession? I try to think about the 10 commandments and if/how I’ve broken them before I go in.

After that the priest might comment on something or read something from the bible, or try to give you advice you might need. Then he will give you a penance of prayers to say. Most of them ask for the Act of Reconciliation to be said, then say the prayer of absolution, and that’s it.

It occurs to me that my answer is kind of lengthy, but it really isn’t half as complicated as words can make it seem :stuck_out_tongue: If you tell the priest you are nervous or unsure how to proceed, he will guide you through. Well, he’ll do so either way but I imagine it’s helpful for him to know.

Hope that helps.


Here’s a step - by - step guide. It’s pretty detailed but here it goes:

  1. Walk into the confessional.

  2. Decide whether you want to use the screen or go face-to-face. If using the screen, just kneel at the screen; if going face to face walk around the screen and sit down.

  3. When the priest says “In the Name of the Father…” cross yourself.
    If he doesn’t say this, cross yourself anyway.

  4. This probably won’t happen but priest may have a reading, listen to it.

  5. Since there’s probably no reading, after a slight pause you say
    “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
    It has been ( x number of weeks/months/years) since my last confession”

    • or - This is my first confession, it has been ( x number of weeks/months/years) since my baptism."
  6. List your sins (you may read from a paper if you have them written). If you have any mortal sins you must include kind and number.

  7. Finish your list with “For these and for all my sins, I am truly sorry”

  8. Listen to the priest’s advice, answer any questions if he has any (probably not), and take note of your penance.
    If you do not understand your penance ask for clarification. If unable to do the penance assigned you can ask for something different.

  9. When the priest asks you to, say (or read) your Act of Contrition. Some priests may forget this part - no big deal, just say it after you leave the confessional.

  10. Listen to the words of Absolution, crossing yourself at “I absolve you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

  11. There may be a few more words, respond appropriately and leave the confessional.

  12. Do your penance as soon as possible.

I always go to confession with a written list of my sins (upon the advice of my spiritual director) and I read the Act of Contrition because I don’t have it memorized. If you need to go in with everything written down, that’s perfectly fine. The priests know that people coming in are likely to be nervous, especially if it’s their first time!

I hope this helps.:thumbsup:


So many people have fallen out of the habit of regular confession that priests are totally accustomed to confused penitents, and also happy to welcome people back to the sacrament, no matter how awkward. So don’t fret about it.

Having said that, in addition to Mary Ellen’s excellent summary, I would observe that in some places (including the shrine where I tend to go for Confession) the confessionals are constructed so that you go in one door if you want to have the “face to face” confession and the other if you prefer to confess anonymously/through the screen. And there is often a little light over the priest’s door so you can tell whether or not the confessional is “occupied.”

Don’t allow your awkwardness to keep you away from the sacrament. It’s far too valuable.



Thank you everyone!! This is immensely helpful and I am so grateful!


Just wanted to follow up and let you know how it went.

I printed out your instructions along with a list of my sins into the confessional. It went just as you said and was easy-breezy. The bishop hearing my confession was very kind and helpful. It was great to have done it and I look forward to going regularly.

I take communion really seriously and I won’t take it unless I’ve gone to confession and prepared myself…so now I can do that. Thank you all for your help! You don’t know how much I appreciate it :slight_smile:


I have a question. Why do people say “For these and all my sins I am truly sorry” when they then proceed to the Act of Contrition, which says the same thing? It seems redundant.

I never learned to do this. However, I don’t mean to be critical, it just seems unnecessary, and perhaps I am missing something.

closed #8

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