Please describe how sacrament of Confession works


I am a Methodist Christian who would like to better understand the process of Confession in Catholicism. I was hoping someone could walk me through how it works from start to finish because all I’ve seen is bits and pieces of it on TV shows such as ‘Father Brown’, which may not be representative. I realize no two confessions are alike because no two people are the same, but I am mostly interested in the format and commonalities of all Confessions.

A few other related questions:

  • How long is a typical Confession?
  • How is a first Confession different than subsequent ones?
  • If a priest knows it is someone’s first Confession, will he be more patient with the person?
  • Is an older person who has a first Confession expected to remember all sins he committed throughput his life? What happens if he forgets some?
  • Does the confessing person have a choice of privacy or face-to-face Confession?
  • How much detail is required when describing a sin?
  • When finished, how do you feel? Forgiven, liberated, and better or like you’ve just been through the wringer?

Much appreciated. Just trying to vicariously understand what the Confession experience is like?

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My confessions typically last less than five minutes, typically closer to three. It varies based on what you’re confessing and who the priest is.

A first confession isn’t much different, aside from being your first exposure to the Sacrament.

This depends on the priest. Every one that I’ve had has been extremely patient with me, and I’m obviously not confessing for the first time.

We are obliged to confess all sins that we are aware of- the ones which we don’t happen to remember are also forgiven.

You can confess face to face or behind a screen.

Number and name is generally what’s expected.

Sometimes I feel great, sometimes I don’t feel much different, but I feel better knowing that I’ve received absolution.


  1. Depends. For me, about 10 minutes or less. Some people and some priests like to discuss things; some just get it done. Be brief, be gone.
  2. Depends. If you receive your first Confession as a child, you won’t have a whole lot to confess. If you receive it at a 60 year old, you have 60 years’ worth of things to confess. The first confession covers a lot of ground.
  3. Hopefully, the priest is always patient, but yes he will certainly be patient and very kind as he welcomes the person home.
  4. An older person making a first confession should do his/her best to recall grave (mortal) sins done in the past and the approximate number of times done. He/she should confess all things along these lines he/she remembers. Obviously he/she can’t confess what he/she can’t remember. He will still be forgiven for these sins.
  5. In the vast majority of confessionals, at least in my area, you have a choice.
  6. Minimal detail is needed. The priest will ask questions is he needs more detail. Just say: “I committed x sin about 5 times” or the like.
  7. Great!!! Forgiven, liberated, sometimes exhausted but in a good way. I always want to go feast on something indulgent like doughnuts afterward!


The first step is called an examination of conscience. If you Google it you will find lots of examples. The idea is to prayerfully look back on what you’ve done or not done so you know what to confess.

There are two kinds of sins, mortal and venial. Mortal sins are deadly. They’re serious and really rupture your relationship with God, the Church, and others. Venial sins are the small sins and faults that are so hard to avoid. Venial sins can be forgiven more easily with simply asking for forgiveness through prayer or other acts. Mortal sins require confession and absolution from a priest.

My experience in confession is probably less typical than others because I don’t usually join the line up on a Saturday afternoon, but I’ll add it into the mix so you can see some variations.

I have a spiritual director who is a priest so I go to confession with him when we’re meeting anyway. I just let him know that this time I’d like to take some time for the sacrament.

At that point we may have been talking about some issue that I want to confess and I’ll tell him that along with whatever else I have on my mind. He may or may not have some advice beyond what we’ve already been discussing.

He gives me a penance to do and again, since he knows me well it’s very customized. Next I say an act of contrition. There are many variations. It’s essentially a prayer expressing my sorrow for my sins.

Then comes the prayer of absolution. I’m going to print it here because I think it’s beautiful. I hear “God, the father of mercies” and my heart melts.

When I finish I can feel anything from simple consolation to a deep, deep peace. I see the world through different, more loving eyes. And mostly there’s a sense that the sinful person I was is now free. I like to think of myself as a basically good person, not someone who lies, cheats, steals, etc. And this is my chance to say no, I’m NOT that person any longer. I am a new creation in Christ.



First thing to understand is that when the Priest is in the Confessional and hearing our sins and absolving our sins he is doing so in the person of Jesus Christ (In persona Christi just like when he is saying the Mass). The Priest himself isn’t absolving us of our sins it really is Jesus Christ absolving us of our sins but Jesus is using the Priest as His representative to do so.
Confession is like nothing else because we walk in with our sins distancing us from God and in some cases totally cutting us off from God but once we’ve been sorrowful, repented, ask for forgiveness and been absolved all of those sins are GONE. God has forgotten them. Confession gives us the grace to go and sin no more. Of course we are fallen human beings so we do continue to sin but Jesus is always there with open arms and His Divine Mercy. The ONLY sin that can not be forgiven is the sin we are NOT sorry for and haven’t repented of.



Thanks for the clarification, CajunJoy65 because I had been wondering if there were any sins that the priest could not absolve or if he was bound to absolve them all, provided the penitent shows remorse and intends to do their best to not repeat it again.



When I go to confession I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and the length is different for everyone sometimes you get a patient priest other times you’ll get a priest who seems in a hurry whenever I get a patient one I could be in confession for well over an hour explaining my sins and why I did them sometimes I cry because I feel so sorry but the priest is always patient if your thinking of going to confession you should it’s so good to know your sins are forgiven only once you go you realise the weight you’ve been carrying around you will feel so light and happy that’s what it was life for me anyways and tbh I can’t remember what my first confession was like I think I was around 7 or 8



Oh and the priest can absolve all sins anything at all



If someone says Oh God can’t forgive me this sin it’s so bad------that is putting a limit on God’s Mercy and there is no limit to God’s mercy. OR if someone says Oh I don’t need to confess that God would understand why I did that and He would forgive me----nope it still needs to be confessed and the person truly needs to be sorrowful for what they’ve done. We can never “play God” with our sins. We sin, we MUST be sorrowful over even the smallest of sins because each and every sin hurts God and brings us a little farther away from Him because we chose that particular sin over loving and serving Him. But like I said He also knows how human, fallen, fickle and flawed we are Like the Prodigal Son He just wants us to come back to Him with a sorrowful heart and a means to do better knowing that we can only do so by His grace.

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At there is the introduction part of the official liturgical book, Rite of Penance. There is a description of confession on page 5, n. 15 under the heading “A. RITE FOR THE RECONCILIATION OF INDIVIDUAL PENITENTS”.

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  1. My Confessions are usually about 5 minutes, but I´ve also experienced a Confession that lasted about 10 minutes or more. (It seems to be depending both on the sins being confessed and the particular priest. Some priest seem to want to give more personalized advice than others).
  2. I´m a convert from Protestantism, and I remembered being frightened to go to Confession the first time even though I probably didn´t need to be. It´s better now, it won´t ever be comfortable, but it is what it is.
  3. The penitent should include all grave sins which are to be remembered at the time. He or she may use an Examination of Conscience to do so, and write a list of sins to mention if they would like.
  4. You may choose to go behind a screen or face-to-face with the priest. Personally, I prefer going behind the screen. I´ve went face-to-face three times before, but it´s not really my favorite. Either way, I know someone who likes it because they prefer it to be less formal.
  5. Grave sins are to be confessed in kind and number (if we remember while in Confession). Venial sins are optional, which practically means that you may confess it how you´d like. Personally, I just mention the sin and go on with the Confession.
  6. I feel at ease and gratitude while sitting in Church afterwards, cause then I´ve gotten it all of my chest and know that I´m forgiven.

The experience of going to Confession costs something of us. It´s embarrassing to mention your sins, but it´s also liberating and you may also recieve some advice that you wouldn´t want to ask for otherwise.
Also, it´s reducing my pride and making me a little more humble, which is great.



I don’t know if this still applies but there were certain sins called “reserved sins” which only could be absolved by permission of the Holy See (e g. desecration/profanation of the Holy Eucharist; procuring or assisting another in procuring/doing an abortion which is punishable by automatic excommunication). The priest/bishop would contact the Holy See stating that a penitent (no names given) needed to be absolved of the sin(s) in question. Usually the Holy See would grant permission.

Also, in re to the 6th & 9th commandments, e.g. adultery, one has to mention the status of the other person e.g. are they married/divorced/single/religious. If a priest/religious is involved, it’s adultery and
sacrilege. If it persists (I.e. the person continues the adulterous relationship), the priest may withhold absolution.

Otherwise, any Catholic priest can absolve a penitent, provided they have true contrition for their sins and are resolved to avoid those sins in the future.

This is my story:

Aug. 8, 1990 (it was 2 days after the Feast of the Transfiguration; that’s why I remember it) I decided to go to Confession. I hadn’t been to confession since before Pascha/Easter (about 4-5 months). The local Roman Catholic church had longer times for confession so I went there instead of going to my Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish.

It was the first time I went to confession face-to-face. The priest really helped me (he even gave me a hug! - that’s verboten now, thank goodness). When I came out of confession I felt lighter than air. The horrible burden of my sins was gone.

My parents picked me up to go to church at our parish. They were upset because I had been in confession for 45 minutes. I was thoroughly happy and was finally able to receive Our Lord Himself in Holy Communion. :blush:



A big thanks to all who responded. I’m getting a better picture now. :+1:



When one makes their first confession, it is recommended you tell the priest that it is your first confession. If you are an adult it would be best to schedule the confession. One would call the parish to schedule. If one wants to be behind the screen, tell the priest when you schedule. You only need to confess mortal sins that you are aware of. You would examine your conscience. Don’t over think it. The Holy Spirit will help you, ask Him, to know your mortal sins.
Finally you have to be sorry or want to be sorry and want never to sin again. You will; we all do. I think that about covers it.

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The time varies for confession,sometimes people ask for advice from the priest or have something specific they want to talk about. A first confession is not really different except for the fact it is your first time. Many priests I have had have been kind and patient with me. I think priests try to act patient with someone doing their first confession but sometimes it doesn’t happen. We have to confess all of the sins we know of. It is not required that you confess venial sins,but the church recommends it. It is a mortal sin to hold any sin back. You can either confess behind a screen or face to face. When talking about mortal sins,say the kind and number. If the priest wants more detail he will ask for more. Every time I feel better especially knowing I have a clean slate, many times I feel like I’m on cloud 9.



Follow up questions I just thought of:

  • How does Confession start? For example, does the penitent say, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned” or does he just greet the priest and say whatever is on his mind? Mainly just curious if anything special is said by the penitent and priest to start the process.

  • Is it typical for a Catholic spouse to ask the other one what sins he/she confessed afterwards or is it a given that the Confessional is a private act? I realize this question does not involve the priest but is an issue between spouses.






41 . When the penitent comes to confess his sins, the priest welcomes him warmly and greets him with kindness.

42 . Then the penitent makes the sign of the cross which the priest may make also.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The priest invites the penitent to have trust in God, in these or similar words:

May God, who has enlightened every heart,

help you to know your sins

and trust in his mercy.

The penitent answers: Amen.

Other forms of reception of the penitent may be chosen from nos. 67-71.


43 . Then the priest may read or say from memory a text of Scripture which proclaims God’s mercy and call man to conversion.

A reading may also be chosen from those given in nos. 72-83 and 101-201 for the reconciliation of several penitents. The priest and penitent may choose other readings from scripture.


44 . Where it is the custom, the penitent says a general formula for confession (for example, I confess to almighty God ) before he confesses his sins.

If necessary, the priest helps the penitent to make an integral confession.”

Some examples of the of forms of reception of the penitent:

“68. Luke 5:32

May the Lord Jesus welcome you.

He came to call sinners, not the just.

Have confidence in him.”


May the Lord be in your heart

and help you to confess your sins with true sorrow.”

Examples of short readings:

“74. Let us listen to the Lord as he speaks to us:

Matthew 6:14-15”

“79. Romans 5:8-9”

[Excerpts from the English translation of the Rite of Penance © 1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.]

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My first confession (I converted as a young adult) was two hours. That was the longest by far. They are usually about 5 to 10 minutes, sometimes a little longer depending on the confessor and how busy it is. I once went to a sold out Catholic Men’s conference and the priest who gave the keystone sermon was absolving a line of young men in about 30 seconds to a minute each. That’s extreme. I’ve also confessed to priests in lonely chapels without a soul around, and listened to their advice for about half an hour. Those are my favourite. It’s best to go to a regular confessor though, so they can address patterns and habits before they become vices.

I usually say that, yes. Or “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” And then say how long it has been since my last confession, a week, a month etc. And confession is private; spouses are not obligated to inform one another.

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There are times when you do not feel your feet touching the floor when you leave the confessional. Back when I was a better person, here is one confession experience I had:

The most memorable was over a decade ago. At a charismatic event, we had been singing and praising God all morning, with the opportunity for confession at lunch time.

As I was confessing, Father and I entered into a dialog about my purpose and a good penance. I differed and began to disagree with him. It struck me very suddenly that I was not arguing with Father, but with Christ!I I spiritually collapsed and submitted to the advice and penance I was assigned.

As Father was pronouncing absolution, I suddenly began shaking violently - my entire body. So badly that Father took hold of me to keep me from falling from my chair. As he did so, he looked heavenward and said in a deep voice, “Oh, Holy Spirit!”

A flood of tears came and I left weeping. Pure chastisement, absolution and grace, all at once - in an unforgettable manner. I am shedding tears as I type this, as it was the most overpowering reception of grace that I have experienced.



Sounds like a very powerful experience indeed


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