Twice a year my students celebrate the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with the other classes in the school—once during Advent and once during Lent. Since I teach third graders, I review the sacrament and the steps necessary to make a good confession. While every class is different, I have found some similarities over the years in their concerns, and they often have the same questions:
- What do I say at the beginning?
- What sins should I confess?
- How many sins should I confess?
- What happens if I forget the words to the Act of Contrition?
What do I say at the beginning?
I answer the first question by telling them to first greet the priest by saying “hi” or “hello.” Many years ago, our wise pastor shared with my principal that our students were coming into confession just blurting out their opening lines, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was this many months ago and these are my sins.” He asked her to pass on to the teachers a reminder that our students should say “Hi, Father!” as they begin. That simple greeting gets the sacrament off to a great start. A cheerful hello can be a beautiful reminder of the joy of having our relationships and consciences healed by God’s loving grace.
What sins should I confess?
To answer the second question, I lead the children in an examination of conscience. I ask them to prayerfully look in their hearts and ask them to identify times when they hurt their relationship with God and their relationship with others.
How many sins should I confess?
The third question usually comes up during the examination of conscience. Ever practical, the children want to know how many sins they should list. Since they are so young, I review the definition of a sin and explain the difference between a sin and an accident. At this point a student will usually shout, “I think you should just tell two or three sins!” I tend to agree that this is a reasonable number, considering their age and the fact that their classmates are waiting their turn to celebrate the sacrament.
What happens if I forget the words to the Act of Contrition?
The final question my third graders have is about remembering the words to the Act of Contrition. When I mention that we have an opening prayer service and we will say the Act of Contrition together, they are relieved. But I do tell them that if they are celebrating the sacrament at another time, the priest will be happy to help them with the words if they forget. Plus, many confessionals may have the Act of Contrition written on a piece of paper for them. Of course, being the techie that I am, I tell them there is an app for that!
After answering their questions, I like to remind the children that Reconciliation is a special time to receive God’s mercy and healing. After reviewing the sacrament with them and answering any additional questions they might have, we are ready to celebrate Reconciliation with the rest of the school. The time we spent reviewing and preparing has a wonderful reward: the many young and happy faces I see upon their return from the confessional.
How do you help your classes prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What questions do your students have?