‘Tis the season: A primer on the sacrament of reconciliation

Categories: Advent

By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully
The Visitor

Bishop Donald Kettler has asked pastors in the St. Cloud Diocese to offer extra times for the sacrament of reconciliation during Advent.

The Visitor recently interviewed Father Mike Kellogg who explained the sacrament, the role of the priest and how it fits with the Advent season. Father Kellogg is pastor of St. Gall Parish in Tintah, St. Olaf Parish in Elbow Lake and St. Charles Parish in Herman.



Q. Describe what the sacrament of reconciliation is about.

A. It’s meant to bring us from brokenness to healing. Reconciliation is much more than just confessing. It’s being open to reconciling, and that means being open to God’s love and God’s forgiveness. When we are open to that, then we are able to grow in our faith and in our lives and realize that healing is happening. It is a sacrament of healing.

Q. We call the sacrament “confession” or “penance” or “reconciliation.” The words seem to describe different aspects of the same sacrament. Would you say that is accurate?

A. That is true. I like to use “reconciliation” because that includes the component of confession. We confess our sins not because God needs to know them (God already knows them), but we need to own them. We need to let another person know what we are struggling with, so we do not struggle alone.
When we confess our sins and we say them out loud, we take ownership of them, and then we can share them. We are not alone. There is another person in this world you have been able to share this with, and they still tell you that you are loved.

Q. Is that why it is important to confess sins to a priest rather than just silently praying to God?

A. Yes. … God already knows what our sins are. It’s for us (the people confessing), needing to say it out loud. There is a psychological need to say it out loud. We have to take ownership.
The priest can never reveal what is said in (confession). And you are able to know you are healed, that God’s grace is working through the person of this priest to bring you healing and guide you. As a priest it is one of the greatest honors for me to be with people who are opening their hearts up and wanting to be healed.

Q. How often should a person go to reconciliation?

A. It is up to the person and depends on where they are on their spiritual journey. We are required to celebrate the sacrament once a year. If we are in a state of mortal sin, we need to celebrate the sacrament.
Some people find it spiritually nourishing on a regular basis. It’s almost as if it’s the rhythm of their life: to continually go and ask for forgiveness and open themselves to the grace of God. Other people don’t feel they need to go as often, and that’s up to each individual person and their confessor.

Q. What would you say to someone who hasn’t been to reconciliation for a long time and is hesitant to go back?

A. “Welcome back! I’m so proud of you [that] you came back. It takes a lot of courage. You’re always welcome. No matter what you’ve done, the forgiveness of God is constantly inviting you. You just have to accept it.”
Pope John Paul II, when he was first was elected pope, said, “Do not be afraid.” Never be afraid of the love of God.

Q. How does reconciliation fit with the Advent season?

A. Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year. Also, as we prepare for the birth of Christ and the new life of the incarnation, reconciliation makes infinite sense. We want to be able to free ourselves from sin to be able to embrace the grace of God and embrace the presence of Christ in a more full way.
It makes a lot of sense in Advent and in Lent. The sacrament can help us let go of stuff that holds us back from Christ and give us the encouragement and certainty that we are loved in spite of our sinfulness. We’re called to love others. The two greatest commandments are, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything flows from those two. To be able to love we have to be open to being loved.

Q. How should a person prepare for reconciliation?

A. There are a variety of ways. There are many different examination of conscience guides. Some people find using the Ten Commandments helpful as they begin their examination of conscience. I tend to tell people to look at how relationships in their lives have been damaged or broken or hurt and bring those to God. Say, “These are the areas I have fallen and have sinned and I ask for forgiveness.” Also, say, “These are the areas where I have been hurt and I have struggled with in relationships with others and I need healing.” It’s a sacrament of healing. And it’s not just the sins that I have committed, but the areas that I need assistance or healing in.

Q. In addition to doing one’s penance, are there other things a person should do after going to confession?

A. A regular prayer life is so important. Our prayer routine keeps us faithful to that prayer life. That may mean evening prayers or praying with your family.
An examination of conscience can be part of our prayer life. Lord, where have I sinned? Where have I struggled? Where do I need to be healed? Then, when you go back to the sacrament of reconciliation, you already have a good examination of conscience.

How to go to confession

PREPARATION: Before going to confession, take some time to prepare. Begin with prayer and reflect on your life since your last confession. How have you — in your thoughts, words and actions — neglected to live Christ’s commands to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39)? As a help with this “examination of conscience,” you might review the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes (Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Matthew 5:3-10; or Luke 6:20-26).

  • GREETING: The priest will welcome you; he may say a short blessing or read a Scripture passage.
  • SIGN OF THE CROSS: Together, you and the priest will make the Sign of the Cross. You may then begin your confession with these or similar words: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [give days, months, or years] since my last confession.”
  • CONFESSION: Confess all your sins to the priest. If you are unsure what to say, ask the priest for help. When you are finished, conclude with these or similar words: “I am sorry for these and all my sins.”
  • PENANCE: The priest will propose an act of penance. The penance might be prayer, a work of mercy or an act of charity. He might also counsel you on how to better live a Christian life.
  • ACT OF CONTRITION: After the priest has conferred your penance, pray an Act of Contrition, expressing sorrow for your sins and resolving to sin no more.
    A suggested Act of Contrition is:
    “My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
    “In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
    “I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
    “Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
    “In his name, my God, have mercy. “
    (Rite of Penance, no. 45)
  • ABSOLUTION: The priest will extend his hands over your head and pronounce the words of absolution. You respond, “Amen.”
  • PRAISE: The priest will usually praise the mercy of God and will invite you to do the same. For example, the priest may say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” And your response would be, “His mercy endures forever” (Rite of Penance, no. 47).
  • DISMISSAL: The priest will conclude the sacrament, often saying, “Go in peace.”

— Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops