Information About the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Facts About Reconciliation

  • The Sacrament of Reconciliation is officially called the Sacrament of Penance.  In the past, it was commonly referred to as “Confession” because the main emphasis was on the confession of personal sins.  The changing names for this sacrament reflect a growing appreciation of the need for reconciliation which requires more than simply confessing our sins.
  • There are various formats for celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Some Catholics prefer a more personal occasion when they meet privately with the priest–this is called Individual Confession; others prefer a more public occasion when the parish community gathers to celebrate together–this is called Communal Penance. 
  • In either case, the person’s confession of sin always takes place privately with the priest.  You may do this face-to-face or behind a screen in the Reconciliation Room.
  • Catholics are required to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confess their sins to a priest when they are guilty of mortally sinful behavior. However, most Catholics today celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation because they want to, not because they have to. (See “What Is Mortal Sin?” below.)
  • Up to half of active Catholics celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis, in the majority of cases once or twice a year.  Some do so more frequently; about a fourth do rarely if ever.
  • The most popular times for Catholics to celebrate Reconciliation are during the seasons of Advent and Lent, in preparation for Christmas and Easter.
  • Many Catholics today prefer to celebrate Reconciliation with a priest they know and who knows them.  In fact, many Catholics find Reconciliation most helpful when it takes place in the context of continuing spiritual direction with a priest they know and trust.
  • You may participate in a Communal Penance Service even if you are not obligated or do not intend to confess your sins privately to a priest.
  • Most parishes schedule an opportunity for individual confessions about 45 minutes before weekend Masses; most parishes schedule communal celebrations during Advent and Lent.
  • You may celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation anytime by making an appointment with a parish priest.
  • In the absence of mortal sin, you do not have to confess all your bad behavior. You may choose to confess the behavior which is most hurtful to yourself, others, or society; the behavior you are most sorry for; the behavior which is most frequent; or the behavior you most want to change.
  • You may always visit with the priest about important issues or questions in your spiritual or personal life, but it is best to do this at a time when others are not waiting to see the priest.
  • You should find the Sacrament of Reconciliation a helpful spiritual experience.  You should always come away from Reconciliation with a sense of God’s mercy more than a sense of your own guilt.  Pope Francis has said: “The center of confession is not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are always in need.”
  • (See Special Conditions below for special situations)

“We seek to form adults who actively cultivate a lively baptismal and Eucharistic spirituality with a powerful sense of mission and apostolate. Nourished by word, sacrament and communal life, they will witness and share the Gospel in their homes, neighborhoods, places of work, and centers of culture.”

- stated in Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us

Frequency of Confession

In the Church’s view, what would be an appropriate frequency for confession?  Fr. Reginald Martin OP, writing in Our Sunday Visitor, provides this guidance:

The Church’s Code of Canon Law stipulates Catholics are bound to confess serious sins each year. “After [reaching] the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation…to confess serious sins at least once a year” (Canon 989). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us we may not approach the Eucharist unless we are in the state of grace. It states, “Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance” (No. 1415). The Catechism likewise observes those preparing for marriage should “prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving the sacrament of penance” (No. 1622).

These, however, are “minimum” requirements; our baptism unites us in a community with every other baptized Christian. This community is damaged by sin and nourished by the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. The Catechism says: “The confession … of sins, even from a simply human point of view … facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man…takes responsibility for [sins], and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church” (No. 1455). How often we avail ourselves of the sacrament must remain a personal decision, but frequent — perhaps monthly — confession is probably a good idea.

Learn more about the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Love the Lord your God with your whole heart. – Deuteronomy 6:3-9

Sacrament of Reconciliation