Help me get past my fear of confession/ reconciliation?

I converted to Catholicism in 2006. I have only gone to confession twice, and each time was a scheduled face-to-face with a priest.

I would really like to make confession part of my weekly routine, but I guess I’m experiencing some “fear of the unknown,” since I have never been to a “normal” confession.

I have a lot of questions, so please be patient with me. :o

When you go to a parish’s scheduled confession time, is there just a line of people waiting for their turn?

Do most parishes do the “traditional” in-a-box confession that you see in the movies? Or are they usually face-to-face now? I think I would prefer the solemnity of a “box” confession, rather than the face-to-face type confessions I have experienced so far. The face-to-face sessions feel very casual and I don’t feel “the full weight” of the sacrament, if that makes sense. Is there a proper term for “in the box” confessions? I thought I might call my local parishes to see which ones offer that form of confession, but I don’t want to sound silly by referring to it as “boxed confession!” :blush:

Is this the right format, generally?

  1. Is it more proper to start with “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” or “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?”
  2. “It has been four years since my last confession.” (Do I explain the long delay?)
  3. “Since then I have committed X sin approximately 10 times, and Y sin four times.” (Do I elaborate on these sins, or is just naming them enough?)
  4. Then, do I have to do a structured “act of contrition,” or can I use my own words? If I can use my own words, what points do I need to hit? Just sorrow/regret?
  5. After the priest blesses me, do I say anything in particular?

My advice is to look online. I also hadn’t gone to confession in years; I told the priest so much and that I might need a little help. When I couldn’t remember what to say, he would guide me through it.
Start by naming the sins, and he will tell you if you need to elaborate or not.
The Act of Contrition is pretty thorough; I suggest using it. Here’s a couple of different versions.

And there you are - what a good decision you’re making for yourself!


I want to add a couple things. You don’t need to know exactly how many times you have committed each sin with that kind of a delay since the last confession. You should note approximately how many/often you committed some sins as you can and the priest should advise you if he needs more. Take special care to mention to the priest if a particular sin seems to be impossible to avoid. Oh, and the priest doesn’t bless you but instead say’s “I absolve you…” Remember his power to forgive sin is directly handed down from Christ but he must exercise that power. If he says “May God absolve you” or some variation of this, find a different confessor. Once he is done, say “thank you” and immediately kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament (exposed or not) and perform your penance.

I would start by performing a careful examination on conscience. Fr. Corapi has a great one here:

You should also consider a personal meet with the priest outside of the normal time so he can work with you on this. The standard time for confession has many people waiting and there is no time for a good confession covering this long of a delay. Once you have completed this, you can go to the scheduled confession on a weekly basis. Most of the churches I have been to have either face-to-face or screen once you enter. I prefer the screen personally. I am afraid that if the priest reacts to any of my sins via expression, I may become distracted. The screen helps me to concentrate on making a good valid confession.

On a personal note, I had many of the same concerns and when I returned to confession, I basically told the priest I had broken all the commandments and then some. It was the wrong way to return and I ended up making an appointment with a different priest later. I can say that the more often I go the more aware I am of sin and the better I am at avoiding near occasion.

One more thing. On the Act of Contrition, I would stick to the standard prayer. Using your own words you sometimes fail to hit all the right points. Don’t memorize it as much as learn what it says:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell;
(imperfect contrition - we fear the consequences)
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
(we know we hurt God and He deserves much more from us)
I firmly resolve,with the help of Thy grace,
We acknowledge that we cannot do this on our own, but need God’s Grace!
to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

If you can sum this up in your own words, make it up yourself. If not, use the standard prayer but be conscious of what it means. To many clock it off from memory but forget to actually pray. Once I concentrated on praying the actual Act of Contrition, I realized I couldn’t say it any better.

Mother Angelica had a great show on the Act of Contrition. You can hear it here:

I think that most people go to confession in the confessional box; that is what I prefer.

I once had my confession heard, face to face, which was my choice. I felt like you did, that there was not sufficient solemnity, which is probably foolish,so I understand how you feel.

I teach first Communion and Confession to the young children, and also Confirmation classes. I always go over how to make a good confession even with the Confirmation candidates. I encourage them to make a confession every month, on the first Saturday of the month, if possible. Pope John Paul II went to confession every month, and sometimes every day!

Don’t forget to say the penance which the priest has given you, in the church after you have left the confessional. As for the act of contrition, say it in your own words. Usually, there is an act of contrition posted in the confessional. I still say the same one that I was taught, when I was a child.

To help me examine my conscience really well before Confession, I meditate on Christ’s passion, particularly the agony in the garden, and that reminds me very forcibly how even my venial sins, hurt Our Lord so much.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you in all your fears about confession, and your spiritual mother, Our Blessed Lady will come to your assistance too.


First of all,

Weekly confession is awesome. I also try to, and it has helped me greatly.

I also prefer the “in-a-box” style, but many parishes don’t have these any more. Look for a parish that looks “older” or more traditional architecture. That would be your best bet for finding a traditional type confessional.

I like face to face better. It feels like I’m going the “full way” in confessing. Like “here I am and here are my sins, I’m not going to hide anything”.

Dear Augusta Sans,

Don’t worry about your fear of confession. I have been a Catholic for 50 years and I still get nervous when I go to confession.:eek: There are some things that may help you, because going to confession only twice in 4 years is not a good thing. I will also answer your questions to the best of my ability.

  1. The “Box” is called, “A Confessional”. Older Churches have them and all you have to do is call the parish office and ask the secretary what form of confession they use. In the Confessional or face to face. In my parish we have a choice.
  2. Each parish has a set time for Confessions. Usually on Saturday afternoons or early evening. Again, you can ask the secretary when they have confession or make an appointment. If you go during the posted time, you will more than likely see a line of people waiting.
  3. You could go to a parish, other than your own, for Confession. Alot of people do this, mostly they fear their priest will remember everything they said in the confessional and hold it against them:blush:. Nothing could be farther from the truth!! First of all, they hear so many confessions, how could they possibly remember what you said? And…even if they did, they cannot hold anything against you. So…if this is your fear, please don’t worry!
  4. Always begin your confession with,“Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it has been______________since my last confession.” “These are my sins”…then name each one and the number of times you think you committed each one. :o There is no need to go into detail…you are not expected to. Then you say,“For these and all my sins, I am sorry” The priest may talk with you for a moment or two, then give you a penance.

And…Next,You say an Act of Contrition. After that, Father will absolve you from your sins and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and you answer: “Amen”
Father then says: “Give Thanks to the Lord for he is good”.
You answer: “His mercy endures forever”.
Father says: “Go in peace”
You answer: “Amen” and exit.
Then you say your penance before you leave the church.:thumbsup:

That’s all there is to it. I go to confession once a month, unless I have done something so bad, I can’t sleep…but that hardly happens. You should say a prayer to Our Lord or Our Lady, before your confession to help you remain calm.

If you are really nervous and need help, tell the priest. Remember this…there isn’t anything you can tell him, he hasn’t heard before. I usually go in with a list…that’s how nervous I get!
What helps me is this… Each night I do an examination of conscience…then an Act of Contrition, followed by a Rosary. In the confessional, you don’t have to confess venial sins, but if something is bothering your conscience , then by all means, confess it.
Venial sins are covered by blessing yourself with Holy Water when entering the Sanctuary and by Holy Communion.
5) Usually the parish will have a “guide” in or somewhere near the Confessional to help you. It would be titled “Rite of Confession”.

Please know this…I will be praying for you:thumbsup:

I would just like to add one thing.

Find a confessor/priest that you are comfortable with. Whether it is face to face, or in the box, you will know.

I used to have only one priest that I would go to confession with. I would literally follow him from parish to parish. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. :frowning:

We understood each other, he knew my progression, or lack of progression in dealing with my sins in confession. It also helped not having to give background information every single time. We were both Irish too, so that didn’t hurt. :smiley:

The nice thing about finding a confessor that you’re comfortable with is that they essentially become a brutally honest friend. Which is what Jesus is isn’t he?

I was away from the Church for 25 years.
I used Father Corapi’s recommendations for a good confession, as recommended by another writer.
When its been a year or more, you may want to prepare your conscience at home the day of Confession, since it may take some time to remember to make a good confession.

This is Father Corapi’s web site.

Your Priest will help you with what to say if you need help. Or you can use some of the recommendations in this thread.

Catholics need to go to Confession a minimum of once a year. The more often the better.

Just think of all the grace in your heart when its over ! Jesus shows great Mercy.

Some fear of confession is healthy, Augusta; you’re admitting, verbally, to both Christ and the Church, that you are a failure. Again. Confession should also bring joy, because despite the fact that you are a failure, Christ, in his tremendous mercy, is ready to forgive you – but I don’t think the fear or discomfort ever goes away. I go once every two weeks, and I still squirm, and I still have to force myself to do it every time.

That being said, you shouldn’t be so nervous that you’re only going once every two years! So let’s see if we can clear up your questions and get you back in the confessional!

You know, I could be wrong, but aren’t Catholics required to make a confession at least annually, even if they haven’t committed any mortal sins? Let’s Google it.

Looks like yes, definitelysort of. (There are three links in that paragraph.)

So, yep, this is pretty important. It’s especially good that you’re looking to make confession part of your weekly routine. That can only help your spiritual life. But even if you don’t pull that off, I certainly recommend at least annual confession.

When you go to a parish’s scheduled confession time, is there just a line of people waiting for their turn?

Usually, but it depends on the parish and the day and the liturgical season.

First thing when you walk into the church, I suggest you say a prayer to the Holy Spirit in the pews to help you make a good confession. I usually do my examination of conscience at this point, too. Prayer in a quiet church before going to the confessional helps me center myself and remind myself what this sacrament is all about. Sometimes choir practice is going on at this point, and frankly that’s heavenly.

You’ll now take note of the confession booths within the church. Most churches have several, some have only one, and I know one wayward college that has none, and any confession has to be done with a sort of improvised booth. Bleh. But you’ll probably be in a church with two or three confessionals.

Usually the confessionals will have one or two lights above them. These lights tell you two things: (1) is there a priest in the confessional?, and (2) is the priest hearing someone else’s confession right now? I’ve seen this done a lot of different ways – sometimes a green light means there’s a priest and he’s free, while a red light means the priest is there but busy. Other times the priest’s side of the booth has a light showing he’s there, and the penitent’s side has another light. Whatever the system at your parish, it is designed to be intuitive, and you should be able to figure it out pretty easily. If you don’t, the absolute worst thing that could happen is that you accidentally walk in on someone else’s confession, which is a little embarrassing, but doesn’t hurt anyone, doesn’t violate the seal of confession, and happens more frequently than you’d think.

So, if you get to the confession booth and there’s a priest inside but he’s not hearing a confession, you can go right in. If you get there and there’s someone already in there, form a queue a little ways back from the confessional, just far enough away that you can’t hear any specific words that may carry through the walls. Most likely, though, there will be a line when you get there. On a rainy day, it might be one old lady who isn’t gonna let a little rain keep her from confession, dammit. On a Saturday in ordinary time, I usually see ten or twelve people, but we have two priests hearing confession, so it’s fine. The really busy time is Lent, when you can easily have thirty people in line. Even with several priests working, those lines can be pretty long. You can generally assume four minutes per person. Some are shorter (especially kids!), and a few are much, much longer (you might want to move to another confession line if somebody goes longer than ten minutes). Your pastor will always try to have enough priests available to keep the lines the right length, so don’t worry too much.

So, you wait in line. Great time for an examination of conscience, if you didn’t do it in the pew. Great chance to look at the art in your church. You wait a while and now it’s your turn.

Do most parishes do the “traditional” in-a-box confession that you see in the movies? Or are they usually face-to-face now?

Every single confession I have ever attended, at every parish or college campus or random penance service I have ever been to, offers everyone both options. Usually, the priest will be seated behind a screen with a kneeler in front of it, so you can use that if you’re a screen person, but there will also be an empty chair behind the screen, in full view of the priest, which you are also invited to use if you’re a face-to-face person. My parish has it arranged a bit more complicated, so there are actually two separate rooms, one for screen folks and one for face-to-face folks, both with access to the same priest, but either way you’ll get the option.

I’m a screen guy myself, but I did face-to-face when I was in grade school. I think most people still go to the screen (because screens are traditional, and most regular confession-goers are faithful Catholics, and faithful Catholics tend to be more traditionalist), but there’s no stigma whatsoever associated with either choice.

And, I do think people would know what you mean by “boxed confession,” or “traditional” confession, but, the term I always see is “screen.”

So, you’ve chosen your confession mode. Now it’s time to start things up.

Is this the right format, generally?

  1. Is it more proper to start with “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” or “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?”

Actually, in recent years, I’ve noticed that most times, it’s the priests who start the confession, as soon as your knees hit the kneeler, with “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This is very sporting of them, I think, because it “breaks the ice” a bit. Either way, the way I learned it, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” should be the first words out of your mouth.

  1. “It has been four years since my last confession.” (Do I explain the long delay?)

You don’t need to explain anything unless its either directly related to a sin or the priest directly asks you. Some priests are quite probing, but most are not. They are not counselors; they are ministers of the sacrament of forgiveness. And they are mostly aware of that.

  1. “Since then I have committed X sin approximately 10 times, and Y sin four times.” (Do I elaborate on these sins, or is just naming them enough?)

This is one of those things about confession that isn’t really clearly defined, and what’s right for one person is not right for another. Heck, what’s right for one sin isn’t right for another. I’ve been known to say, “I did X numerous times,” without even giving a number. Generally, I try to give a little bit of context – not just “I committed the sin of wrath,” but, “Last week at a family event I got into a fight with my sister about the salt shaker and lost control of my anger.” You may want to give even more context if appropriate. It never hurts, though it can be embarrassing. As a rule, I say quite a bit more about more serious sins (for instance, you will definitely want to elaborate if you’re confessing, “I committed the sin of murder”), but this is not always true – it is rarely appropriate to say more about the Most Common Mortal Sin (masturbation) than “Father, I committed acts of impurity with myself N times,” because dwelling on that particular sin only feeds it.

So, pray about your confession, and then do what feels right. The priest is used to a wide variety of different kinds of confession. He will guide you. Every priest has his own “style,” but for the most part you need to say elaborate only as much as you think you ought to elaborate.

  1. Then, do I have to do a structured “act of contrition,” or can I use my own words? If I can use my own words, what points do I need to hit? Just sorrow/regret?

Almost (but not quite) all the confessionals I’ve been in have had one or more forms of the act of contrition posted on the wall or the kneeler or whatever, so if you go in there and don’t have anything memorized it’s okay. All that is formally required is some kind of prayer of sorrow, which could conceivably even be improvised. All the same, I stick to the Irish Catholic formulation I grew up with, or, if not that, then whatever happens to be taped to the confessional wall.

  1. After the priest blesses me, do I say anything in particular?

I usually go for a “Thank you, Father,” as I stand up, and he wishes me a nice weekend. So… no, nothing is required in particular.

Last word of advice, in case something goes badly: don’t let one bad experience or bad priest scare you off entirely! Awful experiences do happen, but your soul still craves the forgiveness that reconciliation offers, so man up and get back in there next time, no matter what happens.

I hope that all helps. You can also find a LOT of good guides to confession by googling “confession guide.”

Good luck!

1 There is sometimes a line, though sadly, there may not be one. If there isn’t a line, just walk right in.
2 The proper term is screened confessions, but the parish should offer you a choice. You have a right to confess anonymously if you choose to do so.
3 Most people start with “Bless me Father,” but if you start out “In the name of the Father…” that will be ok too. (I actually had one priest who told us all to say “hello.”)Once the priest hears you haven’t been to confession in 4 years, he’ll understand why you’re confused.
4 I’d give the priest an explanation, but I don’t know if you’re requred to give one.
5 Just name the sins you’ve committed, and the number of times as best you can. If the priest needs more information, he’ll ask for it. But I can only remember that happening once.
6 You don’t need to pray a structured Act of Contrition. I have a prayer that I pray, but it’s not one of the formulated Acts of Contrition. Just ask God for mercy.

Keep in mind, you are required to go to confession once a year and we are encoruaged to go more often. Try to go once a month. Open yourself up to God’s mercy!
7 I usually say “Thank you Father” or “Thanks be to God.”

Thank you all SO MUCH for helping distill my fears! I am definitely feeling better now that there are fewer “unknowns.” I think I will start by going to my local Basilica. I have gone to mass there a number of times this year and have noticed they are trying to be very welcoming to “strayed” Catholics that are considering returning to the church. My guess is the priests there will be relatively sympathetic to a “newbie.”

I am going to call ahead to find out how their parish does it. I have seen quite a few confessionals there when I’ve gone to mass, but have seen people during Sunday mass use them as coat rooms!!! :confused: That’s why I wondered if traditional confessionals were out of style. (I just looked it up on their website–apparently there is a separate Reconciliation chapel…dedicated to St Augustine, in fact. It’s like it’s calling out to me!)

I think you’ve all answered my questions VERY well. …for the record, I knew that I was supposed to do confession at least once per year, but have been either too scared to go, or (for a time) not truly sorry for my sins and knew I couldn’t make a true confession. Now I’m experiencing true sorrow–so much so, that I’m resolving to overcome my fears. :blush:

I am not going to go this Saturday (it’s that time of the month where I burst in to tears and I don’t want to make this harder than it needs to be) but I am putting it on my calendar to go the following Saturday.

(If you happen to notice that next Saturday passes and I haven’t come back to follow up, will you send me a PM to hold me accountable? :o )

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