A General Confession

St. Farancis


Recently, I’ve been making my way through “Introduction to the Devout Life”. It’s a brilliant book by the brilliant spiritual director St. Francis de Sales!

Chapter 6 begins the process of purifying ourselves from sin and the attachment to sin. St. Francis makes these remarks about how many of us approach confession:

“It often happens that the usual confessions of those who live a common and ordinary life are full of great defects. Generally they make little or no preparation, and they do not have sufficient contrition. In fact, it frequently happens that they go to confession with the implicit determination of returning to sin, since they are not willing to avoid the occasions of sin or to make use of the measures required to amend their life.”

Yikes! For this reason, he suggests a general confession. A general confession is a confession during which you confess all the sins you have committed from the age of reason to the present. (This is not to be confused with a general absolution.) General confessions are recommended for anyone entering a new phase in life or as recommended by a spiritual director.

A few weeks ago, I made my first general confession. The priest with whom I had schedule the confession told me to prepare by recalling the first few times I had ever sinned and by doing a thorough examination of conscience. I found an examination guide online which went through each of the ten commandments in detail.

The confession lasted about forty-five minutes…and then it was over. I think I was expecting something a little more dramatic: perhaps a little psychoanalysis, maybe some fireworks, gongs, or euphoric shouts of joy. But after the confession, I realized that what had happened was that I had quietly and contritely laid my sins at the feet of Jesus. Beautifully simple.

Has it made a difference? Yes! First, there is the freedom of knowing, with certainty, that all those sins are forgiven. Secondly, I realized again the importance of a true commitment to amend my life in my decisions and actions. Finally, after this process I certainly think about each confession I make more prayerfully.

If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” 1 John 1:8

19 Replies to “A General Confession”

  1. Thanks for sharing – that’s truly beautiful indeed. Can you please expand on this notion of general confession vs general absolution, or provide a credible link or two? I’ve never heard of it. Thanks!

    1. Here is one link that explain the difference:

      General absolution, which is meant for exceptional situations, has been used invalidly to absolve a whole church or whole congregation in one fell swoop. Responding to this situation (mostly in North American churches) Pope John Paul II wrote the following Apostolic Letter:


  2. I remember my first general confession. The big diference for me was that no one asked me or pushed me to do it. No peer preassure. I made it to confession freely and for the first time as an adult. I was 18. I remember that this was the first time I saw my responsibility to seek reconcilliation with the people in my past. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It is beautiful that you shared about making a general confession. So it is a deep examination of the conscience, from the time and age we can knowledgably sin? I don’t know if I have made a general Confession then, yet. It’s definitely intriguing. I always appreciate your insight to things, and it was a pleasure meeting you at Theology on Tap 2 weeks ago.

  4. I had a similar experience almost two years ago- I had been struggling with many issues, and in fact had even stopped receiving the Eucharist for a while. I don’t know if I could call it a General Confession, as you described, but I think it was my first REAL confession, where I really held nothing back and “bared my soul”, so to speak. And for the first time I really felt the Grace of the sacrament. Many things, emotional and psychological, that I had been carrying for a long time, I was finally able to set down. And while I may not have completely left them behind, because there are things I need to do to resolve them, I am not weighed down by them any more. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. I have beeen wondering what to do with all the past sins I have not confessed or have forgotten. Now I know. I also worry about the millions of my fellow Catholics who do not have the opportunity to make an individual confession.

  6. Is this important if we have already confessed our sins? Isn’t it a bit scrupulous to confess sins over? I thought once confessed we were not to dwell on/feel guilt and remorse for those forgiven sins?

    1. Confession involves three parts: contrition (sorrow), confession (confessing to a priest), and satisfaction (doing the penance).

      That is why in the Act of Contrition we say: “I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life”. In the old form of the Act of Contrition (which many of us learned), we also promise to “avoid near occassions of sin”.

      Confessing our sins is just one part of the process. I think the harder part is amending our life and avoiding occassions of sin! Looking back, that’s what made some of my past confessions so lousy…I wasn’t ready to change!

  7. Sadly, due to many not listening to the call of Jesus to enter the priesthood, there are many locations throughout the US that lack clergy. As a result, I think many good Catholics who would love to make a good confession or even a general confession are left to fend for themselves.

    Often it seems that one must make great efforts to find a priest who has time for a scheduled confession and secondly, if you go to confession on a regular basis, you may feel rushed since there is only 20-30 minutes for the priest to give confession to a line of waiting people. That has been my experience in the last few years and as a result, I no longer go to monthly confession. It used to be the norm for practicing Catholics to at least go monthly but with the difficulties to go, I think more don’t. Yet, the line to Communion is great. We must all just hope we are all in the state of grace!

    1. Sadly, I see exactly what you mean!

      A few things:
      1) “One must make great efforts to find a priest” Yes, and it’s worth it! If you had lived in Galilee, how far would you have travelled to meet Jesus?
      2) If you ask a priest to hear your confession and he says “No”, pray for him…he needs the grace! Then ask him to recommend someone else who is more available.
      3) Never feel rushed during confession! The salvation of your soul is the most important thing in the world! If you are waiting in the confession line, please don’t judge the person in front of you who is taking forever. Pray for them while you’re waiting!
      4) If your church only offers confession for half an hour and you need an hour, call for a scheduled confession.
      5) If your church only offers confession for half an hour, pray for more priests!

  8. I once made an appointment for an individual confession, which took over 2 hours, and I had only gone back over the previous year. What chance to I have remembering things from the age of 9 or 10??? (Yes,I know with God, ALL is possible), I’d like the link(s) to the information please!

  9. Laura, I just came across your blog. It is really excellent.
    Keep up the great work and may God bless your ministry.

  10. Thanks for the beautiful witness ..

    One question above – What chance do I have remembering things from the age of 9 or 10??? I recently attended a retreat where I learnt one aspect of the answer.

    Confession begins with the feeling of guilt. Whether the guilt comes froim incidents at age 9 or age 90, one will carry the guilt forever till it is confessed and ‘washed away’. The way of the world is to cover this guilt … somehow. And the way of the Christian is to repent. Christians should overcome guilt by continuous repentance.

    It is possible that sins from years and dcades ago have seeped into our personalities and we do not feel the guilt anymore. But the sins exist in our conscious or sub-consious minds. And with continuous repentance, we can acknowledge them and go for confession.

    Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”

    1. Thank you, Navin. Yes, this was the case for me. There are some sins that a) we did not know were grave sins at the time, or b) we did not realize the repercutions of the sins for our future spiritual life. It may be years later when the guilt and sorrow really kicks in and the effects are felt. Then we want to come clean, be forgiven, and finally make amends to our life!

  11. I thank the good counsel of the Holy Spirit shared in all of your comments. I am in the process of making a general confession involving 60 years of sin. I have been going to confession every 2 weeks for months. I believe that i have only made a few truly complete confessions to God. The first; when I became Catholic. The others were during moments of my life that required more courage. ( I was graced with humility due to the prayers of others.)

    Isaiah 30;15 has been calling me for years. I was reading a different translation. The word “returning” was used in place of “repentance”. I am so happy to finally hear his call more clearly now. Thank you! May our Lord bless you all with His Peace, Love, and Joy!

  12. I’m about to make my first confession. I will be confirmed soon. I am 34 so I have a lot to cover. My question is, how much detail do I need? Do I need to list specific sins or can I say that I’ve committed x sins uncountable times?

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