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Preparing for First Confession

By Fr. Sean McDermott

As a growing parish, we have many people who have never said Confession privately to a priest. Having prepared many parishioners for their First Confession, I wanted to share our process with other priests in hope that they may also use our resources. This is not the only way, and confessors may feel that shorter or longer times of preparation are needed. The purpose of all this preparation is not to overwhelm the parishioner. I have found that parishioners desire to make a good Confession and appreciate the teaching and preparation. I emphasize that the goal is to ease their conscience as the Prayer Book says, and it takes time and attentiveness to do this well. Here are the steps we take:

  1. Talk about the nature of Confession and the liturgy

  2. Read an overview of Confession

  3. Answer questions and talk about liturgy and preparation

  4. Answer questions about preparation and set date for first Confession

  5. First Confession

Step I: Talk about the nature of Confession and the liturgy

In our first meeting about confession, I talk about the nature of confession. Given that many parishioners are coming from more evangelical backgrounds, it is helpful to give a clear outline of why private confession is a good thing both from the Book of Common Prayer and Holy Scripture. I also make sure to explain the nature of the Seal of Confession and proper etiquette in Confession. For example, I explain how they are to set up a time with me to make Confession, how not to use personal names during Confession, why not to hug a Confessor, etc. Finally, we walk through the liturgy being used. We use a slightly altered version from Augustine’s Prayer Book--you can find a pdf here.

Step II: Read an overview of Confession

At the end of our first meeting, I assign the parishioner a short reading about Confession. There are several different readings, but I have found Butterfield’s How to Make a Confession very helpful and clear. It reiterates what we talked about and also answers many commonly asked questions. You can find a pdf of the book here.

Step III: Answer questions and talk about liturgy and preparation

After the parishioner has read the Butterfield overview, we meet again and discuss any questions they may have. Again, I go through the nature of confession and the liturgy. Next, I teach about how to prepare for their First Confession and how to do an Examination of Conscience. There are several helpful aids, and I have found several to be good, but I still hand out the examination found in St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, especially for a first confession. You can find a pdf here.

Step IV: Answer questions about preparation and set date for First Confession

After the parishioner has worked on their Examination of Conscience, we meet one more time to answer any last questions and go through the liturgy one more time. Finally, we set up a time soon to make their First Confession. It is also wise to talk about when the next Confession will occur, since you will not want to talk about that after the First Confession.

Step V: First confession

Having prepared well, the parishioner now comes to make their First Confession.

Fr. Sean McDermott is Curate at All Saints Anglican in Charlottesville, VA and is editor in chief of Earth & Altar.

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