The Act of Contrition and the Sacrament of Penance

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If you are preparing children to celebrate their First Reconciliation (Penance), you might want to be aware of a couple of small changes that have been made in the wording of the order. Last year, the Vatican approved a new translation of the Order of Penance (previously the Rite of Penance). The only significant change to be aware of is a slight change in the wording of the priest’s prayer of absolution. The changes are indicated in bold below:

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and poured out the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, + and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

Another minor change has to do with the Act of Contrition. In individual confessions, after the penitent confesses his or her sins, the priest invites the penitent to express contrition. This is the Prayer of the Penitent. The Order provides an Act of Contrition as well as ten other options. The wording of the Act of Contrition now reads:

O my God,
I am sorry and repent with all my heart
for all the wrong I have done
and for the good I have failed to do,
because by sinning I have offended you,
who are all good and worthy to be loved above all things.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid the occasions of sin.
Through the merits of the Passion of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Lord have mercy.

Now, remember, there are ten other options for the Prayer of the Penitent, including wording as brief as “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (The Jesus Prayer). Included in the options, now, is the traditional wording of the Act of Contrition that many of us learned back in the day:

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended you,
and I detest all my sins because of your just punishments,
but most of all because they offend you, my God,
who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace,
to sin no more
and to avoid the near occasions of sin.
Amen.

Suffice it to say, the penitent can use any words to express contrition, and the new Order of Penance provides many options. You may either provide all of those options and allow the penitents to choose themselves, or select one that you wish the children to learn. Often, when parishes celebrate First Reconciliation, it takes place within a communal prayer during which individual confessions are heard. In this setting, you may choose to have the assembly recite an Act of Contrition/Prayer of the Penitent together before the individual confessions are heard.

Priests were given permission to use the new Order of Penance beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2023, but must begin using it as of April 16, 2023, the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday).

One last item of interest: it is customary (at least in the English-speaking world), after making the Sign of the Cross, to begin a confession by saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been [x days, months, or years] since my last confession.” Please note that these words are not found in the Order of Penance and, therefore, are not required. However, as I said, it is customary and is even included in the “How to Go to Confession” handout from the USCCB. It is helpful to have something to say before launching into one’s confession of sins! So, it’s OK to continue using that formula, but, at the same time, it is OK to use some other wording to begin one’s confession of sins.

For quality resources to prepare children for First Reconciliation, check out God’s Gift.

About Joe Paprocki 2756 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

2 Comments on The Act of Contrition and the Sacrament of Penance

  1. Act of Contrition…..why keep changing it!!!

    Back in “my day” ….and I hate all my sins because I fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell…..but most of all …..
    ….nice change ..:because of your just punishments”…prayer has good words and nice rhythm for kids to memorize.
    So keep the new “traditional” form. Do Not Like Any Of The New Forms!!!!

    • Hi Virginia. It can indeed be frustrating for us catechists to deal with these word changes. On the other hand, options are good and at least now they’re including the traditional form as one of the options in the new Order of Penance!

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