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.
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