Mercy and Confession: 10 Tips on How to Confess Well

In the context of an Ignatian retreat it is always beneficial to prepare oneself to make an excellent Confession. To make a good confession demands prior preparation!  The better the prior preparation, the more abundant the graces and the more overflowing the river of peace in your soul! Following are ten short helps to make the best confession in your life!

1.    IMPROVEMENT/UPGRADING THE RECEPTION.  As Catholics two of the most important actions we can accomplish are to go to Confession and to receive Holy Communion.   In these Sacraments we have a direct contact with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   This being the case, we should make a concerted effort to improve our encounters with Jesus in these Sacraments.   In other words we should never take these Sacraments for granted. Also be keenly aware of the concept of dispositive grace.  The abundance of graces are received in direct proportion to the disposition of the recipient.   On the walls in the sacristies of the Missionaries of Charity is written:  “Say this Mass as if it were your first Mass, last Mass and only Mass.”  We can apply the same principle:  “Confess as if it were your first, last and only time.”

2.    PRAYERS BEFORE. All is grace! A source of abundant grace is the Communion of saints.  Why not pray to the holy Confessors to help you to make a good confession.  The following are a few:  The Cure of Ars (Saint John Marie Vianney), St. John Bosco, St. Leonard of Port Maurice, Saint Leopold Mandic, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Francis Regis, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Saint Anthony Claret, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola.  “Get a little help from your friends (the saints)….”Pray to them to help you to confess well—that each confession you make is better than your prior confession!

3.    PREPARE THE NIGHT BEFORE. Have a good examination of conscience booklet.  Find a quiet and contemplative place to examine your conscience. Utilize the crucifix and Divine Mercy image to elicit sorrow and trust.  Written!  Write down the sins so that you will not forget them once in the confessional!  Also, pray for your confessor— to his guardian angel—before you enter the confessional!
4.    SELF-KNOWLEDGE.   One of the classical steps to make a good confession is contrition but also firm purpose of amendment.  This entails rewinding the film of your life and seeing the various falls into sin. But also to capture what were the preceding causes that led to the sin. Maybe it is a person that jeopardizes your spiritual life. Who knows maybe it is a recurring situation at work or family? Maybe it is your physical state of weariness?  Still more, maybe it is some improper use of the electronics media and lack of prudence?   You will notice often a pattern that is established that leads to the slippery path and collapse. For this reason the faithful observance of one’s DAILY EXAMEN can prove a valuable tool to know oneself and even supply for the necessary knowledge to avoid the near occasion of sin.
5.    BIBLICAL PASSAGES TO PREPARE.   The Church highly recommends the use of Sacred Scripture as a means to prepare us for a better reception of the Sacraments.  Two excellent passages I would recommend: Lk. 15 and Psalm 51.   Lk. 15 presents the Parables of God’s Mercy, and the greatest is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. By praying Psalm 51 you have one of the best “Act of Contritions” ever composed, by none other than King David after having committed adultery with Bathsheba and killing an innocent man. Praying with the Word of God adds extra power to one’s prayer!
6.    FREQUENT CONFESSION.   The saints highly recommend frequent confession as a most efficacious means of growing in sanctifying grace.  Confession either restores sanctifying grace or it augments it. Of course this presupposes a thorough preparation!
7.    SACRAMENTAL GRACE. Each sacrament communicates grace. However every sacrament communicates a specific grace pertinent to that specific sacrament.  For example, the specific sacramental grace communicated in the Eucharist or Holy Communion is that of NOURISHMENT. It is the Bread of life for the journey on the way to eternal life.   The Sacramental grace of Confession is different. It is HEALING!  Jesus came to feed us with His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Furthermore, He came as Divine Physician. Time and time again in the Gospels we see Jesus healing. The blind, deaf, deaf-mute, lepers, paralytics, even the dead, were healed and brought back to life by Jesus.  Even now within the context of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ,  Jesus heals us. The Sacraments of healing are the Sacraments of Confession and the Anointing of the Sick.
8.    QUALITIES OF A GOOD CONFESSION.   In the Diary of Saint Faustina the most important qualities of a good confession are highlighted in # 113: 1) complete sincerity and openness; 2) humility; 3) obedience.  Adhering to these qualities one cannot go wrong!  Reminder!  We want to strive to make better Communions and Confessions until the end of our lives!
9.     AVOID DISCOURAGEMENT. Even though one might fall frequently, never give in to discouragement.  Some bad habits have possibly clung to us for decades.  Many have a “Micro-wave” spirituality—namely instant holiness! It does not work that way!  Change is often tedious, laborious and painful.  The key is to keep praying, working, fighting as a true soldier of Christ to be liberated from the shackles of sin. Of course a key message from the Diary is that the worse thing possible is to fail to trust in God’s infinite mercy!  As St. Paul reminds us, “Where sin abounds God’s mercy abounds all the more.”
10. MARY AND MERCY. Never forget to invite Mary to be present in your remote preparation for Confession, your immediate preparation for Confession. Even ask Mary to enter with you into the Confessional so that you make the best confession in your life. Blessed Pope John Paul II called the Marian sanctuaries—Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe—“Spiritual clinics”. How true! Lines of penitents await  to meet the merciful Jesus in the confessional in these Marian Sanctuaries. Among the many beautiful titles of Mary are the following:  “Mother of Mercy, Mother of Good Counsel, Health of the sick.”   Behind many powerful conversions is of course the grace of God but also the maternal intercession of Mary!

Fr. Ed Broom, OMV


Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of From Humdrum to Holy, which offers more words of wisdom for how to become a saint today. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

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  • waynergf

    Did you mean Psalm 50?

  • DebraBrunsberg

    A very good list. If you do the daily examen or as you notice yourself sinning, write it down. It is amazing how much accumulates when you stop to note your behavior. I like to pray the seven penitential psalms before confession; 38, 51,102, 130, and 143. (one number down if a Douay Bible)
    I also pray to the Holy Spirit to show me my sins, all those I may have forgotten or am hoping I have forgotten. 🙂

  • Sherry

    Thank you so much for this, Father Broom!

  • Joseph O’Neill

    While some may think we are being picky, Psalm numbering can cause confusion. Some of us think in terms of the Catholic numbering from the LXX and Vulgate and using the Masoretic numbering without qualification can confuse.

    Once, I was given a Psalm as penance, and only a number was given. So, I pulled out my Psalms/New Testament from my pocket and said the Psalm. A week later, I realized, through a comment the same priest made, that he meant another Psalm.

  • retiredladyann

    Well, even before I read this I knew this HAD to be by Fr. Ed Broom, OMV. He is a powerhouse, a dynamo of spirituality for us. Something VERY GOOD coming from California!

  • Maggie Goff

    Hi, did you leave two out?

  • waynergf

    Thanks, Joseph, for trying to help, but I’m confused further. 🙂

    Psalm 50 in the Douay-Rheims Bible (on-line 1899 edition) seems to be David’s confession, not Psalm 51.

  • Joseph O’Neill

    Oh, I thought you were making a “correction” of a sort. Yes, in Protestant/Jewish reckoning, Psalm 51 is Miserere, which is also the popular numbering now.

    This same Psalm is 50 according to the official Catholic numbering, the LXX, the Douay-Rheims, and Vulgate, although, these days, you often see the popular numbering with this number in parentheses.

  • waynergf

    Well, thanks again! I did not know about the different numberings – is this just with the Psalms?

    But this leads me to another question then: Since this is a Catholic web site, and the Father is Catholic [ 🙂 ], why would he use the Protestant/Jewish numbering for Psalms?

  • Jim Aroo

    NEWS FLASH! “why would he use the Protestant/Jewish numbering for Psalms?”
    He does that because the Prot/Jewish numbering system has been the official method for all Catholic Bibles since the 1960s. And Father Broom always thinks with the mind of the Church.

  • Karen S

    AS a recently confirmed Catholic – confession is daunting thing to do. I wish I had a way to feel more comfortable – this was a very helpful article.

  • haubrock

    Here are the seven.
    Psalm 6: Domine, ne in furore

    Lord, do not reprove me in your anger: punish me not in your rage. Have mercy on me, Lord, I have no strength; Lord, heal me, my body is racked; my soul is racked with pain. But you, a Lord, how long? Return, Lord, rescue my soul. Save me in your merciful love, for in death no one remembers you; from the grave, who can give you praise? I am exhausted with my groaning; every night I drench my pillow with tears. My eye wastes away from grief; I have grown old surrounded by my foes. Leave me, all you who do evil; for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord will accept my prayer. All my foes will retire in confusion, foiled and suddenly confounded.

    Psalm 32: Beati quorum

    Happy the man whose offense is forgiven, whose sin is remitted. a happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no guile. I kept it secret and my frame was wasted. I groaned all the day long, for night and day your hand was heavy upon me. Indeed, my strength was dried up as by the summer’s heal. But now I have acknowledged my sins; my guilt I did not hide. I said: “I will confess my offense to the Lord.” And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. So let every good man pray to you in the time of need. The floods of water may reach high but him they shall not reach. You are my hiding place, a Lord; you save me from distress. You surround me with cries of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will give you counsel with my eye upon you. Be not like the horse and mule, unintelligent, needing bridle and bit, else they will not approach you. Many sorrows has the wicked but he who trusts in the Lord, loving mercy surrounds him. Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord, exult, you just! a come, ring out your joy, all you upright of heart.

    Psalm 38: Domine, ne in furore

    O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger; do not punish me, Lord in your rage. Your arrows have sunk deep in me; your hand has come down upon me. Through your anger all my body is sick: through my sin, there is no health in my limbs. My guilt towers higher than my head; it is a weight too heavy to bear. My wounds are foul and festering, the result of my own folly. I am bowed and brought to my knees. I go mourning all the day long. All my frame bums with fever; all my body is sick. Spent and utterly crushed, I cry aloud in anguish of heart. O Lord, you know all my longing: my groans are not hidden from you. My heart throbs, my strength is spent; the very light has gone from my eyes. My friends avoid me like a leper; those closest to me stand afar off. Those who plot against my life lay snares; those who seek my ruin speak of harm, planning treachery all the day long. But I am like the deaf who cannot hear, like the dumb unable to speak. I am like a man who hears nothing in whose mouth is no defense. I count on you, O Lord: it is you, Lord God, who will answer. I pray: “Do not let them mock me, those who triumph if my foot should slip.” For I am on the point of falling and my pain is always before me. I confess that I am guilty and my sin fills me with dismay. My wanton enemies are numberless and my lying foes are many. They repay me evil for good and attack me for seeking what is right. O Lord, do not forsake me! My God, do not stay afar off! Make haste and come to my help, O Lord, my God, my savior!

    Psalm 51: Miserere

    Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. My offenses truly I know them; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done. That you may be justified when you give sentence and be without reproach when you judge. O see, in guilt was I born, a sinner was I conceived. Indeed you love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. a purify me, then I shall be clean; O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear rejoicing and gladness, that the bones you have crushed may revive. From my sins turn away your face and blot out all my guilt. A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your holy spirit. Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervor sustain me, that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you. O rescue me, God, my helper, and my tongue shall ring out your goodness. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise. For in sacrifice you take no delight, burnt offering from me you would refuse; my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn. In your goodness, show favor to Zion: rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice, holocausts offered on your altar.

    Psalm 102: Domine, exaudi

    O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Turn your ear towards me and answer me quickly when I call. For my days are vanishing like smoke, my bones bum away like a fire. My heart is withered like the grass. I forget to eat my bread. I cry with all my strength and my skin clings to my bones. I have become like a pelican in the wilderness, like an owl in desolate places. I lie awake and I moan like some lonely bird on a roof. All the day long my foes revile me; those who hate me use my name as a curse. The bread I eat is ashes; my drink is mingled with tears. In your anger, Lord, and your fury you have lifted me up and thrown me down. My days are like a passing shadow and I wither away like the grass.

    But you, O Lord, will endure for ever and your name from age to age. You will arise and have mercy on Zion: for this is the time to have mercy; yes, the time appointed has come, for your servants love her very stones, are moved with pity even for her dust. The nations shall fear the name of the Lord and all the earth’s kings your glory, when the Lord shall build up Zion again and appear in all his glory. Then he will turn to the prayers of the helpless; he will not despise their prayers. Let this be written for ages to come that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord; for the Lord leaned down from his sanctuary on high. He looked down from heaven to the earth that he might hear the groans of the prisoners and free those condemned to die. The sons of your servants shall dwell untroubled, and their race shall endure before you that the name of the Lord may be proclaimed in Zion and his praise in the heart of Jerusalem, when peoples and kingdoms are gathered together to pay their homage to the Lord.

    He has broken my strength in mid-course; he has shortened the days of my life. I say to God: “Do not take me away before my days are complete, you, whose days last from age to age. Long ago you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish but you will remain. They will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like clothes that are changed. But you neither change, nor have an end. The children of your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before you.”

    Psalm 130: De profundis

    Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice! O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading. If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you. My soul is waiting for the Lord; I count on his word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than the watchman for daybreak. Let the watchman count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption; Israel indeed he will redeem from all its iniquity.

    Psalm 143, 1-11: Domine, exaudi

    Lord, listen to my prayer; turn your ear to my appeal. You are faithful, you are just; give answer. Do not call your servant to judgment, for no one is just in your sight. The enemy pursues my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead, long forgotten. Therefore my spirit fails; my heart is numb within me. I remember the days that are past: I ponder all your works. I muse on what your hand has wrought and to you I stretch out my hands. Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you. Lord, make haste and answer; for my spirit fails within me. Do not hide your face lest I become like those in the grave. In the morning let me know your love, for I put my trust in you. Make me know the way I should walk: to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies; I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will for you, O Lord, are my God. Let your good spirit guide me in ways that are level and smooth. For your name’s sake, Lord, save my life; in your justice save my soul from distress.

  • haubrock

    Also, here is a link to The Seven Penitential Psalms and the Songs of the Suffering Servant on the USCCB website

  • Joseph O’Neill

    The numbering is just a convention, except for a few Psalms which are joined or unjoined. The text is substantially the same (especially in translations).

    The Masoretic Text is a Jewish edition of scriptures from the 7th and 10th centuries AD. The Septuagint is often quoted in scriptures, was known the Apostles, and was in existence and use before Christ was born.

    The Masoretic numbering is NOT the official Catholic numbering, although, it is often recognized.

    As for “official”, remember, the Nova Vulgata does seem to make heavy use of the Hebrew numbering, and it is approved as the Latin edition used in the Roman Rite, the use of the LXX and its numbering is more widespread in the Church, being the basis for the Eastern Churches’s scriptures as well.

    Given that for over 2000 years, the division of the Psalms in the LXX is what was used by the Church, that it was the basis for the division of the Psalms continuously in the Church, and it is only in the past few years that any attention was paid to Jewish numbering and partially adopted (as the numbers are artificial, it is the text which is important) for reference in the Roman Rite, does not supplant the tradition and history of the Church.

  • Joseph O’Neill

    Because it is the most widely known in the Latin rite as promulgated now, due to the Nova Vulgata referencing them, and it being widely known. It is just a numbering scheme, based on the division of a few Psalms. A few Psalms are joined in the Masoretic text which are not joined in other editions. The numbers are just a sequence, so nothing is fundamentally different, except that it can be confusing.

    Usually, you’ll see Psalm 51 (50) in Catholic texts in cases like this.

    I am not accusing anybody of having Protestant or Jewish errors…it is just a confusing issue of numbering.

  • Maggie Goff

    Thank you!!

  • Maggie Goff

    And another thank you!

  • Very well said.

  • Ruby Caneey

    I really appreciate the 10 tips to confess well. But my only problem is that many people are no longer interested in the sacrament of reconciliation. Either they are shy to make confession or or they think they are not sinners. Pls fr could you write an article on the need to make a confession to a confessor.

  • LizEst

    This is the most comprehensive guide to confession I have ever seen:

  • QuoVadisAnima

    As a cradle Catholic, let me assure you that Confession is a daunting thing to do for most of us! 🙂

    I try to make it a point to offer my discomfort as part of my penance. It does help to know that the only truly bad confession is the one wherein you deliberately hold back sins – or the one that you don’t make at all.

    Another thing that helped me after I had fallen away and then returned to the Church (& had some really embarrassing mortal sins to confess), was from reading some of the mystics, realizing that the sins I confessed privately to a priest would be “forgotten” by God – whereas the ones I did not would be known to all in the final Judgment. That definitely motivated me to “clean house”! 😛

  • gilad

    Is Fr. from a Hawaiiian Gardens Parish out in Orange county, CA.?