Tag Archives: candidates

Preparing candidates to be received into the Church

Meeting Christ's mercy in Confession

Helping people discover the mercy of Christ

A couple of weekends ago, it was a joy to join my old parish’s candidates and catechumens on their weekend retreat. Once again, we went to Ampleforth Abbey – it is really the perfect setting for such a retreat. I have said this a million times and I will never tire of saying it – what a great joy and privilege to accompany people as they prepare to enter fully into Christ and his Body, the Church. We had a weekend of teaching from Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, Fr Sebastian (who I’ve mentioned here) on the Mass and the lay vocation. Saturday afternoon was dedicated to First Confessions. After a thorough preparation, Fr Sebastian spent several hours hearing each candidate’s First Confession. There was not one candidate for whom this experience was not deeply moving. The joy and exhilaration in our group afterwards was palpable. At breakfast on Sunday morning, the laughter was contagious. This was a group we had felt never particularly ‘bonded’ – perhaps this was true on a natural level, but on a supernatural level, there was real communion. People who had previously been quiet and reserved came out of their shells. It was beautiful to see. What Confession can do!

So…on this topic, allow me to make three points:

1. Don’t become one of the (disturbingly numerous) parishes whose candidates do not go to Confession before being received – If we experience in our own lives the transformative and life-giving power of this sacrament of conversion, why fail to introduce it to those who are precisely in the most fundamental process of conversion?

2. Don’t downplay or minimise this sacrament in an effort to make it ‘easier’ or seem less intimidating – I’ve heard of people being told they don’t need to confess every sin. How very sad. This means that we’re allowing a person both to make an invalid Confession and to not experience the full impact of Jesus’ love and mercy which we receive when we empty our hearts fully of everything

3. We must be lovers of Confession and frequent this sacrament ourselves – As a catechist, how can I convey the love and mercy of Jesus in Confession unless I receive it regularly, frequently? I would suggest that as catechists, desiring to be the best witnesses of Christ that we can be, we should go at the very least once a month, if not fortnightly or weekly. Christ strongly desires for us to allow his love and power to work through us – so let’s keep getting rid of everything that stops it.

One woman, on the weekend, said that she couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t be at Confession every single week, it sounded so wonderful to her! This is the kind of response to Confession that the Holy Spirit can stir in a person’s heart… if we witness to it well.


Preparing Adults for Confession

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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 🙂