How to prepare your students for Reconciliation
By Rachel Padilla
Preparing children for Sacraments is an honor but it can also be daunting. Whether you are responsible for forming a class for their first Confession or just need to give a refresher before a schoolwide Reconciliation service, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Sometimes kids are afraid of Reconciliation. While we can’t eliminate all fear, alleviating their concerns should be of top priority. They need to know that Confession is a gift. Kids who are calm and relaxed for Confession are more likely to have a positive experience and want to return to the Sacrament in the future. Students should be reassured that their confessions are private and confidential. Father will not share their sins with anyone. In fact, priests are required to not even act upon what they’ve heard. It may be helpful to tell the story of St. John Nepomucene, a priest who died a martyr rather than breaking the seal of the confessional. Confession is the Sacrament of Mercy, the way we teach it and speak of it should reveal this to students.
Explain What the Sacrament Is and Is Not
A key part of preparing kids for Reconciliation is teaching or reminding them what it’s all about. The ways in which we explain the Sacrament may vary between grade levels, but the core meaning remains the same. Confession is where we turn away from sin, turn back to God, and receive his mercy and forgiveness. No matter what, God is always ready to forgive us. We just need to turn back to him with our whole hearts. He can work with whatever we bring, even a sliver of repentance. Confession is a place of healing and a place of victory. Christ is victorious over sin and we, with His help, are victorious over our fallen nature. Confession gives us grace to avoid sin in the future. It’s not just where we run when we’ve been especially sinful. It should be a common part of our journey as Catholics.
Don’t Force It
While it’s not common everywhere, there are Catholic schools where the whole class walks to the chapel together on their assigned Friday and every student is expected to participate in the Sacrament. Even in places where this is neither said nor enforced, students may still feel pressured. Remember that, as Catholics, we understand that God’s gift of free will is sacred. If we force someone to go to Confession, they’re not actually receiving the Sacrament. One of the main requirements for the absolution to be valid is that the penitent is, well, penitent. Making kids participate in the Sacrament when they do not wish to is ultimately damaging. Teachers should be clear that Reconciliation has requirements and though students are encouraged to go, it is not required.
Walk Them Through It
We know that kids benefit from having things modeled for them. Confession is no different. It’s important that they understand the Sacrament as well as how to practically participate in it. There are five essential steps to help someone make a good Confession:
- Examine your conscience
- Repent/be sorry for your sins
- Resolve to amend your life
- Go to Confession: tell the priest your sins
- Do the penance the priest gives you
Go over these steps with your students before heading to the chapel. The examination of conscience can even be done together with the teacher guiding it. It can also be helpful to go over the words used in the Sacrament. Many children are taught to begin by saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” Check with your chaplain to see if there are specific guides he would like you to mention.
Download our printable sheet that includes these steps, an examination of conscience designed for upper elementary and middle school, as well as prayers for before and after the Sacrament. It’s a great resource for students as they prepare for the opportunity to go to Reconciliation.
Rachel Padilla is a campus minister in Colorado.
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