The Church teaches that even though through our Baptism "the gift of the Holy Spirit has made us 'holy and without blemish', just as the Church herself, is 'holy and without blemish', nevertheless, the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin".
This weakness means that we can sin through what we think, what we say, what we do, and through what we do not say and do. This sin goes against God's law and the Church; it therefore damages our relationship with God, the Church and those our sins effect.
As Christians, the Church teaches us that we must repair these damaged relationships and be reconciled with God, by acknowledging what we have done through confession, by saying sorry, resolving to change our behaviour and asking for forgiveness.
What we have done wrong may also mean that we are weighed down by guilt, especially if we keep it to ourselves. The sacrament of confession is an opportunity for us, as Christians who believe that God has already forgiven us through the action and meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus, to unburden ourselves at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, knowing that, because Jesus died so that our sins would be forgiven, he will forgive us now.
We cannot forgive ourselves. Only God can forgive sins, since, before anything else, our sins offend God. God has therefore chosen and ordained men to be His priests and given them authority through His Church to hear confessions and give us His absolution and blessing.
When we go to a priest in confession we confess our wrongdoing and say sorry to God not to the priest who is there for us as God's minister. We should not be scared or be nervous about going to confession; what we say to the priest is confidential, indeed, the priest will probably forget what we tell him. Priests, bishops and indeed the Pope are all human beings as well who are also inclined to sin themselves; they go to confession too! Therefore, the priest will know how we feel and be able to help if we need advice
To be assured of God's forgiveness a confession should be honest, open, contrite, heartfelt and sincere.
When we have made our confession the priest will offer advice, he may give penance, something practical to do as evidence of our contrition. He will then pronounce absolution - God's forgiveness of sins and freedom from guilt which we are assured of if we have faith in God's mercy and His love for us through the example of Jesus.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus came to his disciples and said: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20)
Jesus also said: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6)
In the 'Our Father', the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught us to say: "Forgive us our trespasses, as well forgive those who trespass against us." (Luke 11)
A Form of Confession
Begin by asking the priest for a blessing:
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned
After the priest has given a blessing say:
I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary, ever-virgin, to all the saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned in thought and word and deed, through my own fault, and, since my last confession which was ....... (Say how long it has been since your last confession, or 'since my baptism' if this is your first confession) ago, I remember the following sins:
Now confess your sins, and, after you have done this, say:
For these, and all my sins which I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry, firmly resolve to do better, and humbly ask pardon of God, and, of you Father, advice, penance and absolution.
The priest will offer his advice, give penance, pronounce absolution and dismiss you with a final blessing.