1. Religion & Spirituality
A reader writes:
We've entered the season of First Communion, and it got me thinking. Every child who makes his or her First Communion will first go to Confession. In many cases, though, the parents of those children have not been to Confession in years--some, undoubtedly, not since their own First Communion. What does the Catholic Church say about how often one should go to Confession?

You have observed a common phenomenon. Today, it often seems as if only the young and the old take advantage of the Sacrament of Confession. On the other hand, more people do seem to be participating in the sacrament today; there were times in the 1970's and 80's when parishes cut scheduled times for Confession back to a bare minimum because no one ever showed up.

But how often should we go to Confession?

The technical answer is that we need to go whenever we have committed a mortal sin. We should not receive Communion again until we have been reconciled to Christ through the Sacrament of Confession.

The better answer is that we should go as often as we can. Confession is a sacrament, and participation in all sacraments provides us with grace that helps us conform our lives to Christ. Too often we regard Confession as something we have to do, rather than something we want to do.

That explains why some parents of prospective First Communicants will take their children to Confession, to fulfill to obligation to receive Confession before their First Communion, but won't take advantage of the sacrament themselves while they are there. If we treat the sacrament as a burden rather than a blessing, we'll find that the weeks slips into months, and then into years. And, at that point, the idea of going to Confession can become daunting.

It shouldn't. If you haven't been to Confession in some time, the priest will understand--and, most likely, he'll rejoice at your decision to return to the sacrament. He'll gladly take the time to help you make a good Confession.

Then, going forward, many of the great spiritual writers of the Church recommend going to Confession monthly (more often if there's a particular vice or temptation that you're struggling with). And we should never refrain from receiving the sacrament because we haven't committed a mortal sin: Frequent participation in the Sacrament of Confession is a good way to weed out the destructive habits that result in mortal sin.

If you have a question that you would like to have featured in our Friday "Reader Questions" series, send me an e-mail at catholicism.guide@about.com. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

Comments
May 20, 2008 at 7:10 am
(1) Annette Jones says:

For Lent this year, I decided to do something that I found difficult…I went to confession once a week for the entire Lenten season. The first time was difficult, but it got easier. It made me more aware of my short comings and it made me want to do better. I haven’t been going every week now, but still attend once a month. I actually miss going if I fall behind. It has made a big difference in my life.

May 20, 2008 at 8:47 am
(2) Kathleen says:

‘Way back, I went to Confession onceor twice a month, and found it very strengthening, like regular exercise. But I work on Saturdays, and can’t get to the scheduled half hour of Confession before the 5:30 Mass. It requires a special subway trip to one of the Manhattan churches with weekday Confession — and I work weekdays too!

May 6, 2009 at 4:56 pm
(3) mike says:

Kathleen,a priest is obligated to hear a confession anytime they are asked to do so.
God Bless

January 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm
(4) william camilleri says:

I GO TO CONFESSION DAILY NOW AND WHAT BLESSINGS I HAVE RECIEVED IN MY LIFE AND MIRACLES HAPPEN, JESUS IS REALLY PRESENT AND WHEN WE FORGIVE OTHERS IN CONFESSION THIS IS VERY POWERFUL,

April 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm
(5) Jean says:

I don’t understand confession. It always feels meaningless to me. I go – cannot figure out what to say and am relieved to have it over with. My husband is big on going to confession and pushes it within the family. I just don’t get it and feel angry that I am forced to go when I have no desire and it feels empty to me.

December 25, 2011 at 8:47 am
(6) edward thimons says:

The second precept of the catholic church is to go to confession at least once a year. Is this not a mandate? Does it conflict with canon law 989?

Please clarify.

September 10, 2012 at 11:07 am
(7) Rosemary says:

I am 72 years old. the last time I went to confession was 8 years ago. I am old, retired and live alone. as far as I know I have not committed any mortal sins since my last confession 8 years ago. so I do not go to confession at this time. confession has always been difficult for me. I always feel that I should have confessed more and better, but at the time I just did the best I could and asked God to put me in the state of grace which I wanted more than anything else. I do go to Mass and communion every sunday that I can get there. Am I committing a mortal sin for going to communion since I have not gone to confession in the past 8 years. tell me what sins I should be aware and confess at this state in my life.

February 4, 2013 at 9:12 am
(8) Marie says:

Rosemary and others who may read this,

You must go to confession at least once a year. Even if you have not committed a mortal sin, we are not perfect and we commit venial sins on a daily basis. Please go to confession and admit your faults to the priest. Even the saints who I am sure did not commit mortal sins still went to confession at least once a week, sometimes daily if they were able. And most did not have transportation then. They would walk for miles to get to Holy Mass and the Sacraments, this is penance. It is best to go to confession frequently. Once a month is not enough for me, I must go at the very least twice a month if I want to become more holy. There are so many graces bestowed on us through this wonderful precious Sacrament. To be able to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament through Holy Communion after Confession is so wonderful. Imagine how this makes the Lord feel when we receive Him with our souls white as snow! I am not saying that it is not good to receive Holy Communion with many venial sins on our souls. What I am saying is that this blesses the Lord, to come to Him pure and clean, more fit to receive Him, since we fall so short and no one is worthy to receive Him. Holy Communion is like renewing your marriage vows to Our Blessed Lord, we must be prepared for this most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and Penance is the perfect preparation!!! He desires us to be cleansed regularly through the Sacrament of Penance. It is a cleansing shower of grace upon our souls, preparing us and making us more worthy of the glories in Heaven.

April 1, 2013 at 8:16 am
(9) Belle says:

As I am a fairly new catholic, I do not know what to say when I go into confession. I know that there is something initially you are supposed to say and then you are to confess what you have done. But I do not know what to initially say . So I am terrified to go…..any advice?

April 3, 2013 at 9:09 am
(10) Bridget says:

I know our Lord wanted me to go to confession before Easter this year and I made it, my last confession was when I was 7. I began my process by reading and contemplating am I a Catholic and why. It helped me to get the little book, how to make a good confession, it helped to think and prepare. I didnt go into this lightly, I thought about every year of my life since then. It was in my heart to please God.

April 3, 2013 at 9:10 am
(11) Bridget says:

continued from above…I wrote everything down and took it into confessional with me, father and the people waiting in line were kind and patient with me. You know the time someone spends in confessional the level of hurt someone is in. Those people waiting were a blessing to me too, I felt supported and lifted up by them being there and being patient, so remember that when you are waiting in line, smiles are nice when you come out. It was very emotional for me crying through penance. When I walked out of church I cant describe the happiness in side of me. For the first time in my life I did not fear death, I slept like I never slept before and I havent even gotten to the best part, walking into Sunday mass, I’m single all my life and recently lost my mother. I always cried and suffered during mass because I felt alone and I was jealous in my heart and angry at being alone. I wanted to be like everyone else In my selfishness I saw only families. Now I see individuals that are responsible for themselves and we are all brother and sisters in Christ. I know that sounds corny. Palm Sunday was the day I took communion freely, unincumbered, joyful I practically ran down isle. I cant describe the happiness, I also took the wine, which I was always afraid of. I feel God inside of my heart, even though I’ve gone through the motions and invited Him into my heart. I tell you dont waist any more time…prepare…go to confession ready your heart for soon you will understand. I suggest you read all you can on why you’re a catholic. I think its hard but so rewarding. I am currently praying the Divine Mercy Novena on the ninth day He said, bring to me the souls who have become lukewarm, these souls wound his heart most painfully. Think and move and get right with God, he LOVES us so!! Dont be afraid and I will go to confession weekly…

April 3, 2013 at 10:15 am
(12) Bridget Continued says:

I wrote everything down and took it into confessional with me, father and the people waiting in line were kind and patient with me. You know by the time someone spends in confessional the level of hurt someone is in. Those people waiting were a blessing to me to, I felt supported and lifted up by them being there and being patient, so remember that when you are waiting in line, smiles are nice when you come out. It was very emotional for me crying through pennance. When I walked out of church I cant describe the happiness in side of me. For the first time in my life I did not fear death, I slept like I never slept before and I havent even gotten to the best part, walking into Sunday mass, I’m single all my life and recently lost my mother. I always cried and suffered during mass because I felt alone and I was jealous in my heart and angry at being alone. I wanted to be like everyone else In my selfishness I saw only families. Now I see individuals that are responsible for themselves and we are all brother and sisters in Christ. I know that sounds corny. Palm Sunday was the day I took communion freely, unencumbered, joyful I practically ran down isle. I cant describe the happiness, I also took the wine, which I was always afraid of. I feel God inside of my heart, even though I’ve gone through the motions and invited into my heart. I tell you dont waist any more time…prepare…go to confession ready your heart for soon you will understand. I suggest you read all you can on why you’re a catholic. I think its hard but so rewarding. I am currently praying the Divine Mercy Novena on the ninth day, bring to me the souls who have become lukewarm, these souls wound his heart most painfully. Think and move and get right with God, he LOVES us so!!

September 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm
(13) nicole says:

i have not been to confession snce easter which is over 5 months the longest i have ever gone.i live alone do not drive a car i am 71 years old and someone takes me to sunday mass. i did miss mass n the feast of the assumption which was a holyday. i felt that god forgave me since i did not do it delibertely as i had noone to take me to mass. i have taken communion since then even though i have nt been to cinfession waa that all right thank you

October 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm
(14) Laura says:

Nicole, since it wasn’t your fault that you didn’t go to mass you dind’t commit mortal sin and it’s OK that you have been taking communion

November 23, 2013 at 9:58 am
(15) Star Wars Tiny Death Star Hack says:

This is a topic that’s close to my heart…
Best wishes! Exactly where are your contact details though?

January 2, 2014 at 12:19 am
(16) ANTHONY SANTAMARIA says:

I HAVE JUST RETURNED TO CHURH AFTER MANY YEARS. GREW UP WITH THE TEACHING THAT YOU HAD TO GO TO CONFESSION TO BE IN THE STATE OF GRACE IN ORDER TO RECEIVE THE BLESSED SACRAMENT. AND YET I SEE THE MAJORITY OF THE CONGREGATION
GOING UP TO TO RECEIVE COMMUNION. I FIND IT VERY CONFUSING TO BELEIVE THAT ALL THESE PEOPEL ARE IN THE STATE OF GRACE & HAVE GONE TO CONFESSION. CAN SOPMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME OUT WITH THIS??

January 18, 2014 at 10:30 pm
(17) Michael Ezzo says:

Dear Belle,

I hope you are still reading this and will get this answer. I think what you need is to buy to a booklet to help you with going to Confession. Try going to http://www.leafletonline.com Type in “confession” in the search box, and you will get some pages that feature booklets to aid you in this sacrament. I just checked it and it looks as if the one on the first page called “Pocket Guide To Confession” would be a good one to buy. Don’t ever despair of this wonderful sacrament. And remember that the more often you go the less frightening it becomes each time. Waiting too long is what makes it so difficult. God bless you and I hope this helps.

April 14, 2014 at 6:53 am
(18) Jen says:

I tried to go to Confession on Friday when all churches were supposed to be open from 3 to 8. I went to the church closest to me because I had to be to work at 5P.M. Went inside – church wide open, knelt down and prayed. No one else in church and no priests. Wen to my regular church and at least 25 people were in line and only one priest hearing confessions. I couldn’t wait so I left. Not fair,,,,I tried

April 20, 2014 at 2:01 pm
(19) Sterling says:

Very good website you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the
same topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of community where I
can get advice from other experienced people that share the same interest.
If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
Thank you!

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