Below are some traditional prayers to be used by a priest before and after hearing confessions.
While clergy may be asked to hear a confession at any time, in some parishes it is the custom to offer times for parishioners to come to church and make a confession, often on Saturdays, and usually prior to a Principal Feast of the Church. These prayers take the place of the pre- and post-liturgy prayers said by the celebrant at the Eucharist.
“The Reconciliation of a Penitent,” a.k.a. private confession, is one of the great gifts the Church has to offer as medicine to the Christian soul. In the ordination liturgy for a priest, one of the graces conferred is the power “to declare God’s forgiveness,” perhaps nowhere seen more clearly or powerfully than in this rite.
But the ministry of hearing confessions must, like all other aspects of being ordained, never be taken lightly. To do so is to participate in the pernicious sin of “the contempt for the holy.” This aspect of ordained ministry is a precious gift, not a personal possession. We are stewards of something profound and holy, and must receive and share this gift in this manner—always. To fail to do so, though understandable on the purely human plane, is a sin that must be repented of. It is too important a matter to be trivialized.
Those of us who are privileged to minister this sacrament should not only be making regular confessions ourselves, but need to undertake prayer before and afterwards. There are many ways we can sully and undermine this ministry if we are not careful, prepared, and reverent.
These prayers are fairly antique, and are cast in “traditional” language representing one particular theological point-of-view around this sacrament. This will likely bother some people. My response is that there is essentially a complete want of new forms available that have spiritual integrity and compositional skill. I think this sums up this era in our Church. With some notable exceptions, it is (as the French say) malheur for one seeking newly-minted riches in this area.
Hearing confessions well, like giving good sermons, leading liturgy effectively, or providing skilled pastoral care, is more a matter of gift than technique. Such gifts are given by God in the course of a life of prayerful and sacrificial service. These prayers are part of that sort of life. Perhaps, when we have exhausted our current preoccupation with slogans, -isms, identity politics, fads, and marketing, we can return to the rather humble life of prayer, self-awareness, and sacrifice these prayers represent. Then we will be in a position to write worthy successors, if needed.
Prayers Before Hearing Confessions
These may be said according to the opportunity of the Priest
O God, who by thy Holy Spirit perfectest the elect, pour thy heavenly light into the hearts of these thy penitent servants, that they may know and acknowledge all their sins against thee, and, confessing and forsaking them, may obtain mercy. And upon me, thy ministering servant, bestow thy grace, that I may rightly heal that which is broken, and bind up that which is wounded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O LORD Jesus, I desire to administer this Sacrament of Penance with that same surpassing love with which thou didst hallow this ordinance, when with most earnest desire for our salvation thou didst institute it, to be administered by the Apostles and their successors, to the praise of God the Father, and the salvation of all mankind: I beseech thee that it may profit me, and all and each unto whom I shall minster it, in union with that love of thine, to the increase of our salvation, and of our everlasting happiness. Let the grace of the Holy spirit so enlighten and kindle my senses and my heart, that according to thy good pleasure I may fulfill the ministry laid upon me, and mat be counted worthy to be defended and preserved from every assault of temptation; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
O LORD Jesus Christ, who didst say to thine Apostles, Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained: look mercifully upon me thy servant; enlighten my understanding, give me a right judgment in all things, fill my heart with divine love. Grant me so to minister this thy gift of Absolution, that the hearts of these thy children mat be truly turned to thee, that together with them I may attain to everlasting life. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.
GRANT me, O Lord, the wisdom that sitteth at thy right hand, that I may judge thy people according to the right, and the poor with equity. Grant that I may so wild the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, that I may open to none to whom it should be shut, nor shut it to any to whom it should be opened. Give purity to my intention, sincerity to my zeal, patience to my charity, and fruit to my labors. Grant that I may be mild, yet not remiss, stern, yet not cruel. Let me neither despise the poor nor flatter the rich. Give me gentleness to draw sinners unto thee, prudence in examination, wisdom in instruction. Grant me, I pray thee, skill to turn men aside from evil, perseverance to confirm them in good, zeal to persuade them to better things: give wisdom to my answers, rightness to my counsels: give me light in darkness, a good understanding in confusion, victory in difficulties. Let no vain conversations entangle me, nor evil defile me: let me save others and not myself be cast away. Amen.
Prayers after hearing Confessions
O Lord God, who willest not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live, have regard to the sacrifice of a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart, offered to thee by this penitent, promising to keep hereafter the judgments of thy righteousness. Strengthen that which thou has wrought in us, loosing in heaven what in thy Name we have loosed on earth, and perfecting more and more in the fear and love of thee the sanctification of him whom the Good Shepherd hath sought in his wanderings, and laid on his shoulders, and brought back rejoicing. Let not his last state, through the return of the devil, be worse than the first, but make him to walk henceforth in newness of life. Forgive me also, O Lord, all the failings and imperfections of guilt which I have now been guilty. Grant that what I have heard may not be to me the occasion of sin, but that considering myself, seeing that I am compassed with infirmity, I may ever watch unto prayer, that I fall not into temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, accept this my ministry and service, with that exceeding love wherewith thou didst absolve blessed Mary Magdalene, and all sinners who fled unto thee. And whatsoever I have done carelessly or unworthily in the administration of this Sacrament, do thou be pleased to supply and to make satisfaction for by thyself. I commend to thy most loving Heart all and each who have now confessed unto me, beseeching thee to keep them, to preserve them from backsliding, and after the trials of this life to lead them to everlasting gladness with thee. Amen.
Be present, O Lord, with our supplications, and graciously hear me, who am the first to need thy mercy; and also grant unto me, whom not for mine own merit, but of thy grace, thou hast appointed minister of this work, faithfulness in executing my commission; and do thou through my ministry perform that which cometh only of thy goodness; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayers from "The Priest's Book of Private Devotion"
Originally Compiled and Arranged by
J. Oldknow, D.D. and A.D. Crake
Newly Revised by the Rev'd
A.R. Mowbray & Co., London