Back in the good ole days when I was growing up, Saturday was the only day that confession was offered. You would get to church by 3 pm and wait in line for your turn. There was no marker on the outside of the confessional to tell you which parish priest would be hearing your confession so you never knew what to expect until you were "in the box". Some priests were patient and understanding, others not so much. The other notable difference was "back then" the confessionals were set up so as to allow two people to enter, one on either side of the part where the priest sat. It got tricky sometimes. I remember thinking I was next when in fact I was not and getting a severe reprimand for starting my confession while the poor priest was listening to the person on the other side. It wasn't funny at the time, but it is now, with the years that have passed putting the event in its proper perspective.
I think that the way the Church handles confession now as opposed to then is actually a change for the better. In some busy parishes, confessions are heard every day except Sunday. I am always saddened to hear that one of the major reasons people do not want to convert to Catholicism is because they don't want to go to confession. They don't know what they are missing. First off, it is nearly unheard of today to come across a priest who is harsh or insulting. If a person presents themselves in the proper disposition, approaching the sacrament with honesty, humility and a sincere sorrow for having offended God, they may certainly expect to have their sins heard and forgiven with kindnes and mercy. After all, it is not the priest who forgives our sins but Jesus, Who invested that authority in His priests. I can personally attest to the incredible feeling of lightness that comes with unloading my sins in the confessional. What others dread, I see as one of the most supreme gifts left to us by Our Lord.
Sometimes, a person will tell me they don't see the point in going to confession if they're going to commit the same sin again. The way to look at that is so long as you realize the sin is wrong, and you really do repent of having committed it, it's ok. Remember that Jesus fell three times on His way to Calvary. He knows that we, too, will fall many times and the mercy He extends to us is infinite. Going to confession isn't an instant fix for our failings in life but it is a means by which to obtain the graces necessary to overcome them.
Last week, on the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the priest celebrant shared this incident that happened when St. Margaret was receivng revelations from Our Lord and shared them with one of her spiritual directors. The priest told her to ask Jesus: What was the most offensive sin I committed in my youth? When St. Margaret Mary relayed the question to Jesus, His answer was: I don't recall. St. Therese once said that even if she had commimtted the most horrible sin she could possibly could, it would be like throwing a single drop of water into a blazing furnace because of the infinite mercy and love Our Savior has for us. Mother Angelica once observed "It is a kind of sin against God to assume that our sins are greater than His mercy."
So OK, now that we have established that you SHOULD go to confession, how do you go about it, particularly if it's been awhile? First, be honest with the priest in telling him how long it's been since the last time. Then, tell him your sins. I try to keep things as brief and general as possible. The reality is that there are fewer priests to hear confessions and Father may not have time for long explanations. If he needs to hear more, he'll ask you. Remember approximately how many times the sin was committed. When you are finished, say that you are sorry for these and all the sins you've committed in life. Father will offer a brief counsel,give you a penance, ask you to say the Act of Contrition(more on that in a moment) and then give you Absolution of your sins. Some priests prefer to have you pray the Act of Contrition while they say the prayers of Absolution but this is not generally the case. I always like to say thank you and God Bless you to the priest before exiting. A small but greatly appreciated gesture. It is best to do or say your penance immediately, rather than put it off
Usually, penance consists of saying prescribed prayers such as "ten Hail Mary's and two Our Fathers". Some priests will want you to read a particular psalm, pray a decade of the Rosary, or perform some act, such as doing something nice for a person you may have offended.
For the love of all that is God's, please do not let the Act of Contrition deter you from going to confession. The priest will help you say it if you can't remember. I will print one at the bottom of this post that you can print and take with you, which is perfectly acceptable to do. At St. Rita's the friars have the Act of Contrition posted right there on the confessional so you can read it if necessary.
You can do this, and you should do this, so get going. St. John the Evangelist Church at 13th and Market Streets offers confessions Wed. thru Saturday from 3:15 until 5:00pm. St. Rita's at Broad and Ellsworth offers confessions twice daily from Monday thur Saturday, at 11 am and again at 4 pm.
Here is an Act of Contrition you can print and take with you:
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee. I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment but also because I've offended thee, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of they grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
No more excuses, just do it.