For many adults becoming Catholic, Confession can be a necessary evil at best and an anxiety-inducing stumbling block at worst in their preparation to receive the sacraments. Here in the parish, Holy Week is the time when adults to be received into the Church at Easter receive this sacrament. How can we best prepare people to meet Christ here? How can we help people move beyond seeing it as ‘something to get through’ and rather a sacrament of encounter, where we have the opportunity to be touched and healed by the Lord in our deepest being.
Of course, one thing to remember is that as Catholics we take a long time to ‘grow into’ this sacrament, make it our own, and build it into our lives as a regular encounter with Jesus. Growing up, Confession was not a regular part of my Catholic life until I was 17, and it took me a long time for me to feel comfortable with it: now, I feel I cannot live without it. Candidates and catechumens too will need to make this journey, and their first Confession may be an awkward, uncomfortable experience, even if they know that they are speaking directly to the Lord. Like anything that we grow accustomed to, we increasingly become more and more at home, until it is the most natural experience in the world to kneel down in the confessional, unload all our sins, and speak with the priest.
How do we help candidates approach this sacrament? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Most have their whole lives’ worth of sin to confess. Where do they begin? The first point is that they receive a full and gradual catechesis on sin. Most will not think they have sin in their lives when they begin, but through a careful, gradual and complete catechesis on the dynamics of sin, the workings of our soul, and God’s mercy, they will begin to perceive the reality of sin in their lives. So, preparation for Confession happens throughout the catechumenate
2. Make use of the liturgies of the RCIA: the second Sunday of Lent includes a Penitential Rite for candidates, comparable to the scrutinies of the catechumens. This rite can give the grace to aid them in their self-searching and growth in repentance
3. When it comes to preparing for the Confession itself, advise your candidates to put aside some time – perhaps an hour – to prepare. We give our candidates a thorough examination of conscience to go through, and tell them to send the kids off with the au pair, step away from emails and phone, shut themselves away, and begin by praying to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who uncovers the deepest sins in our heart – the ones we thought we’d successfully concealed and now don’t particularly want to remember. But, we tell them, let it all be uncovered. Write it down if it helps you to remember. Know that Jesus forgives you even now, as you remember everything and repent in your heart. Don’t allow fear or anxiety to let you burrow anything back away. Just know that, in the confessional, this will all be wiped away.
4. Give candidates freedom about where, with whom, when they go to Confession. Ensure that they go at a time when the priest has enough time and it won’t be a hurried affair. Make sure the candidates know to tell the priest the frequency with which they committed serious sins. Not numbers, just an idea of the severity. Our Confession should be complete, contrite, concise.
5. Sponsors can be a great help in assuring, calming nerves, answering questions. Perhaps they can go with their candidate to the Confession and take them for a coffee after. We should be there to share in their joy 🙂