I think one of the reasons is that many cradle Catholics were hauled off to confession every week as children and they weren’t really taught about the healing power of the sacrament.
Their understanding of the sacrament was legalistic and routine.
“You couldn’t go to Mass unless you’d been to confession so you had to go to confession to go receive communion so off you went with your list and father waved his hands, muttered the words and you were cleaned up for another week.
Is that the way it was? I don’t know, but I suspect so.
In fact, the sacrament of confession is a powerful, personal and beautiful sacrament and Catholics should understand these ten things about it:
1. The Seal of the Confessional is absolute – Not only can a priest not talk to anyone else about your confession, but he can’t talk to you about it outside the confessional. He also won’t talk about who has come to confession. Moms, don’t go up to the priest and ask, “Father, I just want to know whether my Jimmy has been to confession or not.” He won’t tell you.
2. Absolution is Objective – When the priest pronounces the words of absolution your sins are forgiven. This is a fact and it doesn’t depend on whether you “feel forgiven” or not. If you retain feelings of guilt and shame you can talk to the priest about that and he may give you some advice on how to deal with those feelings. I advise people to use Mass as an offering and when you see the priest offer up the gifts you offer up your feelings of guilt and ask Jesus to take them. He will. It might take some time–especially if you have been nursing those feelings for some time, but they will go as you pray to know the power of the sacrament. Affirming that the absolution is unconditional and objective will help with that.
3. Jesus forgives you through the Priest – The church is the body of Christ. Therefore it follows that the church does what Jesus Christ did on earth. He forgave sins and he gave his apostles the power to forgive sins in his name. The priest has received that authority through his ordination by a successor of the apostles. When the priest pronounces the absolution he is enacting that 2000 year old gift of Christ to his church. Jesus is alive and he is there to forgive you! Receive the gift!
4. A Good Examination of Conscience is Necessary – You should take time to prepare for confession by making a good examination of conscience beforehand. Remember, the sins of which you are ashamed and fearful may not be the most serious sins. Our feelings of guilt and shame are not necessarily a good guide to the seriousness of our sin. Go here to find a good examination of conscience.
5. Confess Your Own Sins…Not Others – Mind your own business. You are not there to tell the priest the bad things your husband has done and how long suffering you’ve been. You are not there to tell the priest how good you’ve been and how you’re “making progress” on those bad habits. Neither are you there to tell him all the bitty little venial sins you’ve committed. It’s not a sin to be late feeding the dog one day. If you have trouble knowing how to make a good confession talk to the priest and ask his advice and help. He should know what he’s doing and be able to assist you to make a good confession.