The Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) comes from God’s desire to forgive our sins, a power which Jesus gave to the apostles and which passes through history to our priests today.

The forgiveness of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit

‘Go, and sin no more’

The Rite of Penance is a liturgical act, and therefore it is a ritual of the whole Church. As with all liturgical rites, the minister (a priest in this case) and penitent act together, though in different ways. In every liturgy, ministerial roles act together.

The role of the priest is to present, or enact, the forgiveness of God in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

He does this principally by Absolution, but all his acts from his first meeting with the penitent are ordered towards the expression and experience of reconciliation.

About The Rite of Penance

Individual Confession and Absolution

Both the priest and penitent are reminded to first prepare themselves by prayer. 

The priest should invoke the Holy Spirit to be strengthened with the gifts of wisdom and counsel and to be inflamed with charity. 

The penitent needs to examine their life in light of the commandments of Jesus and the Beatitudes, this is known as the examination of conscience. 

They should pray to be truly sorry for their sins and for the grace of conversion.


‘Come Holy Spirit’

Many penitents still come into the confessional and begin with ‘Bless me/forgive me Father for I have sinned,’ but that’s not how the revised rite begins. 

A significant change is that the priest, not the penitent, takes the initiative. 

Before the penitent says anything, the instructions tell the priest to welcome the penitent warmly and greet them with kindness and charity. 

The priest, acting always for Christ, begins as Christ would begin, by welcoming, by extending the hospitality of God.



The penitent makes the sign of the Cross, the priest may do also.

The priest has welcomed the penitent, but then the penitent is in the ‘driving seat’ – they have come freely to seek reconciliation, inspired by God’s grace.

The sign of the cross recalls our own baptism, in which have been buried with Christ and rose again to divine life.

Sign of the Cross

‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’

Then the priest formally invites the penitent to trust in God, especially to have confidence in God’s mercy.

This invitation to trust can take different forms, from, “May the Lord be in your heart and help you confess your sins with true sorrow” to, “May the grace of the Holy Spirit fill your heart with light, that you may confess your sins with loving trust and come to know that God is merciful” or, “May the Lord Jesus welcome you. He came to call sinners, not the just. Have confidence in him”.

Invitation to Trust

‘May the Lord be in your heart’

The Penitent may tell the priest something about themselves which may help the priest in his role as confessor.

This may indicate their state in life, the time since their last confessions, and anything else that helps the confessor establish context.

Revelation of State of Life

‘Since my last confession …’

The penitent or the priest may read a short Scripture verse, which underlines the ritual nature of the encounter - it is a liturgy.

Through the Word of God, we receive light to recognise our sins and are inspired to convert and have confidence in God’s mercy. The rite offers a choice from fourteen texts from Sacred Scripture, including:

Mark 1:14-15
‘After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. “The time has come,” he said, “and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”

Matthew 6:14-15
'Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either”

Luke 6:36-37
“Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

Call to Conversion

‘Repent, and believe the Good News’

The penitent will then confess their sins. If appropriate, the priest helps the penitent to make a full confession and gives suitable counsel to help the penitent begin a new life.

However, the priest is not an inquisitor and overly invasive questioning is not acceptable. 

The priest proposes an act of penance, something that the penitent should do something to express sorrow for sin and intent to amend their life. 

Prayer, self-denial, service of neighbour and works of mercy are commended, as this underlines the fact that sin and its forgiveness has a social aspect.

Confession of Sins and Acceptance of Satisfaction

‘I confess …’

The penitent then makes a formal act of contrition or prayer of sorrow, this manifests his contrition and resolution to begin a new life by means of a prayer for God’s forgiveness. 

The rite gives several prayers. Some of these are scriptural. The choices given in the rite include the traditional forms. 

Luke 15:18, 18:13
‘“Father, I have sinned against you and am not worthy to be called your son. Be merciful to me, a sinner.”’

Psalm 24:6-7
‘Remember, Lord, your compassion and mercy you showed long ago. Do not recall the sins and failings of my youth. In your mercy remember me, Lord, because of your goodness.’O my God, I am heartily sorry for all my sins, because they offend you, who are infinitely good, and I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, never to offend you again.

Penitent’s Prayer of Sorrow

‘Be merciful to me, a sinner’

The priest extends his hands over the penitent’s head and then gives the sign of cross during the absolution. 

The gesture of hands over the head is important, as it is gesture of epiclesis, or the calling forth of the working of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and conversion.

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This prayer of absolution is trinitarian in structure and in reference. Reconciliation is from the Father, who is the fount of all forgiveness and mercy. Reconciliation of humanity with God occurs through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son. He sends the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins.

The Church, as an instrument of salvation, has the mission, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, of bringing peace and pardon to people.


‘I absolve you from your sins’

After the Absolution, the penitent and priest together make a short acclamation of God’s mercy, or the priest gives a blessing and dismisses the penitent. 

It is a great moment of rejoicing, of praising God for his goodness and love.

It is important to note that conversion is a lifelong process and we are reminded to continue this conversion and to express it in our thoughts, words and actions, by a life renewed according to the Gospel.

The priest may say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good – His mercy endures forever – The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace’ or, ‘The Lord has freed you from sin. May he bring you safely to his kingdom in heaven. Glory to him forever. Amen.’

Proclamation of Praise of God and Dismissal

‘The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace’

Further Reading

Do I Need to Go to Confession?

Making a Good Confession

Any questions?

Do you have questions about the liturgy and how we are called to participate in it? Explore how the Church councils, saints and popes have answered this key question and many more.

Liturgy resources

Explore great articles, discover helpful apps and watch new videos that will deepeen your understanding of the Church’s liturgy.