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Why Is it Important to go to Reconciliation?
"Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1440)
Sin damages your relationship with God. It makes us spiritually "ill." We are told in James 5:14-16 "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Only God can forgive sins, and He gives men authority to exercise this power in His name. The presbyters in this passage are the priests. Forgiveness is done through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Confessing sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation will restore your soul to a state of grace. This is necessary to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist!
Why Should One’s Soul be in a State of Grace to Receive the Eucharist?
It is Christ’s real body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist even though it still appears to be bread and wine. While the traits and characteristics (accidents) remain the same, its essence (what it really is) is changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit when the priest consecrates the bread and wine. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." (1 Cor 11:27-30)
How Does One Prepare for Reconciliation?
To prepare for Reconciliation, a person needs to examine his or her conscience. Typically it is a good idea to begin by calling forth the Holy Spirit and asking Him to aid you in examining your conscience. You will find a helpful guide here. One prayer you might like want to use is the following:
Come Holy Spirit into my soul,
Enlighten my mind that I may know the sins I ought to confess,
and grant me Your grace to confess them fully,
humbly and with a contrite heart.
Help me to firmly resolve not to commit them again.
O Blessed Virgin,
Mother of my Redeemer,
mirror of innocence and sanctity,
and refuge of penitent sinners,
intercede for me through the Passion of Your Son,
that I may obtain the grace to make a good confession.
All you blessed Angels and Saints of God,
pray for me,
a most miserable sinner,
that I may repent from my evil ways,
that my heart may henceforth
be forever united with yours in eternal love.
Consider the sins you have committed. Sometimes churches will have a list of questions that can help guide you in your examination. You may also find a list of questions here and here.
What Happens at Reconciliation?
The priest will bless you, or you will begin with "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been (State how long) since my last confession. These are my sins. . . " It is ok if you do not remember how long it has been since your last confession. Sometimes the priest will give you feedback or advice on some of your situations. At other times he will simply tell you what you need to do as penance (ie. pray x amount of Our Fathers, Hail Marys, etc., give alms, or reflect on scripture readings). Then he will ask for an act of contrition. You then must say:
My God, 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 avoid whatever leads me into sin. Our savior, Jesus Christ, suffered and died for us. In His name, have mercy.
The priest will then say:
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 the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
*NOTE* He MUST say this in order for it to be a valid confession!!! He cannot make it up or say something such as "I absolve you in the name of Jesus." It must be through the ministry of the Church and it must be done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
After confession, you must do the penance that was assigned to you.