Above all else, an earnest desire for forgiveness and to make amends with God is required for a “good” confession. Forgetting the prayers or responses is a problem easily fixed in the confessional; bringing yourself to confession without true penitence can’t be helped by anyone but yourself. Knowing this, here are a few pieces of advice and resources to help you make a good confession the next time you go.
Plan ahead. Whenever possible, schedule your confession ahead of time. Even if it’s only a couple of hours before, mentally prepare yourself in advance. Set aside time to do an examination of conscience and assess your sins without the worry of being rushed.
Use an examination of conscience. It’s easy to forget little sins and it can be helpful to have an examination of conscience when preparing for confession. Once you find an examination you like, get into the practice of using it every night before you go to bed. This helps you to get into the habit of recognizing sin and recurrent faults, allowing you to improve in your heavenly pursuit each day. The USCCB has several examinations of conscience on their website, with more specific ones for particular stations in life, like married individuals, children, or young adults, among others. Scroll to the bottom of this page to find them.
Write it down. On a piece of paper, or the back of a bulletin, or even the notes app on your phone. If you’re worried you’ll forget something, remedy the concern by writing out your confession. Just remember to read slowly and carefully during your confession—don’t rush through in the moment.
Bring a friend. It’s harder to back out of an obligation when another person is involved—especially when their spiritual welfare is at stake! Find a friend or family member to go with you to confession, especially if it’s been awhile or you know you’re prone to chickening out or forgetting. You might also choose a friend with whom you can share accountability; if you know you regularly struggle with a particular sin, you might benefit from having someone to reach out to and ask for prayers in moments of temptation.
Be sincere in your act of contrition. Recite it slowly. Mean what it says. Make a good prayer of it. Once during confession, a priest responded to my sin (one I had struggled with for years) by asking why I still struggled with it. Surprised, I defended myself by saying that though I still struggled, I had improved over time…he responded and said that it didn’t matter if, in the end, I still committed the sin. I was shocked and offended! After stewing over it for some time, however, I realized his point (and it was a good one): we should never settle for mediocrity or average results in our spiritual life, but rather, we should always aim for perfection. Though rarely, if ever, achieved, it’s a noble and good pursuit and constantly calls us to higher virtue and a more Christ-like faith.
Though it’s required that Catholics go to confession at least once a year, it’s in your best interest to go more frequently and as often as is needed to keep yourself in a state of grace and to avoid the temptation of sin. The great saints and theologians of the Church have recommended going to confession at least as frequently as once a month. Remember that you may not receive the Holy Eucharist unless you are in a state of grace–that is, you may not receive communion while in a state of mortal sin. It also behooves you to frequent confession as it helps build the habit of avoiding sin, humbling yourself in order to repent of your sins, and growing in virtue.