The Catholic Act of Contrition:
O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended you,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend you, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace,
to confess my sins, to do penance,
and to amend my life.
As a person, you are flawed and will likely commit a mortal sin. The Catholic church says the only way to remove mortal sins is to go to the sacrament of penance, otherwise known as the sacrament of confession, or just confession. While in the confessional or shortly afterward, you’ll say the act of contrition before the priest grants you absolution.
Here’s what to expect if you’re not used to going to confession:
1. Wait in the line. Most confessionals have a light for when there is an opening.
2. When the light turns green, go into the confessional. There are usually two spots: a place to sit where the priest can see you, a place to kneel behind a screen where the priest can’t see you.
3. Start off with the Sign of the Cross.
4. Say, “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been ____________ since my last confession.” It’s okay if you don’t know exactly. Give a guess “a few months,” “a few years,” “I’ve never been to confession,” are all acceptable answers
5. At this point tell the priest your sins in number and kind. This is the awkward part but gets easier with practice. Be sure to confess your mortal sins. Venial sins can be confessed too but is not required.
6. Tell the priest those are all your sins. “These are my sins,” will get the job done.
7. The Priest will then give you some advice and penance.
8. The Priest will then ask you to say an act of contrition. Don’t worry if you don’t have it completely memorized. There are usually prayer cards in the confessional.
9. And that’s it. You’ll be done. As the penitent, you will then leave the confessional.
This is a very rigid understanding of confession. This is not uniform across all priests. That being said every confession will follow this general outline. Just roll with it. The priest has heard sins of every kind in the confessional up to and including murder(they go to prisons). Being a little awkward about the format of confession is the least of anybody’s problems.
A misconception about confession is that the priest forgives you of your sins. This is not true. Only Jesus Christ can forgive sins and it is through his sacrifice that we’re saved. This is why we say “bless us” instead of “forgive us” at the beginning of confession.
The penance the priest will assign will vary from priest to priest and will depend on the sins you confessed. Some priests may give you a light penance of doing something nice. Others may make you say a rosary, a prayer card, or a novena.
You should go to confession often. Especially after you’ve committed a mortal sin. Even if you can’t get to confession, say an act of contrition after the sin. You’ll still be saved. But you still need to go to confession, especially if you plan to take the eucharist at Mass. Two other times to go to confession are during the seasons of Lent and Advent. These are times of penance and preparation.
Some Act of contrition alternatives. The one at the top is pretty standard but there are alternate versions you may wish to use.
Traditional Catholic Act of Contrition
O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins
because of thy just punishments,
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace
to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.
Alternative Informal Catholic Act of Contrition
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.
Gospel Inspired Catholic Act of Contrition
Father of mercy, like the prodigal son I return to you and say: “I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your child.”
Christ Jesus, Savior of the world, I pray with the repentant thief to whom you promised Paradise: “Lord, remember me in your kingdom.”
Holy Spirit, fountain of love, I call on you with trust: “Purify my heart, and help me to walk as a child of light.”