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The "Five C's" of Confession

The Sacrament of Penance, popularly called "confession" and recently redubbed the "Rite of Reconciliation," seems to have undergone a sea change in the last generation. But the difference is form, not substance. The name "Penance" focuses on what we must do to reform our lives. "Confession" emphasizes the need to be honest about what makes such change necessary. "Reconciliation" underscores the purpose of the sacrament: to restore our friendship with God. All of these names point to the same sacramental episode, but they highlight different chapters of it, we might say.

Here are the "Five C’s" of the Rite of Reconciliation as described by Father Paul Boudreau: Conviction, Confession, Contrition, Compensation, and Correction. These steps haven’t changed no matter what you call them. The first is Conviction: I admit I've done wrong. That’s covered in the opening line of the Rite: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned." You can use this formula or another suitable expression of owning the truth. Confession is how I hand over the actual matter of my responsibility: What did I do or fail to do that puts me at odds with God, others, or myself?

Contrition is next. Reciting an Act of Contrition is a time-honored way of expressing "a lively sorrow" for sin in your life. If you don't know this prayer by heart you can find it in any collection of Catholic prayers (see link below) and read it aloud at this time. Or express your regret in your own words. As you express contrition the priest offers the formula of absolution the church prescribes.

Compensation is where the priest "gives you a penance." If you stole something, you have to return it. If the offense is less tangible, you may be asked to spend time in prayer or in other ways demonstrate your good will.

Finally there's the matter of Correction. In the Act of Contrition we pray: "I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin." With God's help we're not going to repeat this behavior. To strengthen this resolve we're going to avoid places, people, and patterns that initiated this behavior in the past. These steps to restoration are valid not only in the rites of the church but in any relationship where reconciliation is needed.

Matthew 26:27-28; Luke 1:76-79; 3:3; 5:20-24, 30-32; 6:37; 7:36-50; 15:1-32; 23:34; 24:46-47

Online resources
Acts of Contrition
Reconciliation and Penance, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II 

The Forgiveness Book: A Catholic Approach by Paul Boudreau and Alice Camille (ACTA, 2008)
Premeditated Mercy: A Spirituality of Reconciliation by Joseph Nassal (Forest of Peace/Ave Maria Press, 2000)

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Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

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