The Christian Training of Children: Preparing a Child for Confession

Little Book of Instructions for Christian Mothers [continued]
(from Mother LoveA Manual for Christian Mothers – by Rev. Pius Franciscus, O.M.Cap., 1926)

On the Christian Training of Children

Chapter XIII. – How a Christian Mother Should Prepare Her Child for Confession.

The sincere confession of sins and faults in union with a sincere sorrow for them and a firm resolution to amend is the best means to root out any bad habits or any evil inclination, as well as to strengthen the will in its determination to practice virtue and fulfill the daily duties and obligations. Confession teaches self-knowledge. Confession reveals the ugly side of our individuality, gives us a clearer view of our responsibility, and proves very vividly that sin, mortal and venial, is an offense, an insult against the supreme authority and majesty of God. Confession, therefore, has a distinct educative value in the development of character such as no other means can supply.

To obtain these results it is important to have the child thoroughly prepared and instructed in the proper manner of receiving the sacrament of Penance. No one can so easily and so effectively contribute to this thorough preparation as a pious father and a pious mother. Therefore parents should for the sake of their children make frequent use of the Holy Sacrament themselves. Their example will be the child’s first lesson on the subject of confession. The child will be deeply impressed when it observes how for some days after receiving the sacraments father and mother evidently are more subdued, more happy and peaceful, less irritable and less impatient.

When, finally, the time arrives for the child to make its first confession, the parents should evince a cordial interest in its prospective happiness. They should carefully guard against frightening the child about confession and never represent confession as a difficult and laborious task; on the contrary they should represent it as comparatively easy. They should instill into the child’s heart love and confidence towards the priest who hears its confession in the name of Jesus Christ, in Whose name he is also ready to absolve every child, if it is sorry for its sins and resolved never to commit them again.

About a week before the day fixed for its first confession the parents should begin to pray with the child for the grace to make a good and worthy confession. The Our Father, the Hail Mary, or some other easy prayer will be suitable. The following prayer or at least a part of it may also serve the purpose:

O Jesus, my God and Savior, I have often been a naughty child, I have been bold and saucy, disobedient and stubborn, and in this way I have displease You very much, so that You could hardly love me any more. I wish I had never done anything wrong. My Lord, I am sorry for all the naughty things I have done. I will never do them again. I love You, Lord; please, forgive me all my sins and love me again also. Help me to make a good confession, and help the other children too.

If a child receives sufficient instruction in school, the parents’ task will be much easier. All they need do in this case, is to let the child tell them what was said in school, and then supply what the child may have forgotten. Certainly the task will be much more difficult if the school instruction is deficient. Then the duty will devolve upon the parents to instruct the child themselves. The following items may be of great usefulness to them.

Five things are necessary for a good confession:

1) Prayer to the Holy Ghost;

2) Examination of conscience;

3) Sorrow for sin and the resolution to sin no more;

4) Telling of our sins to the priest;

5) Satisfaction or penance.

The first is prayer to the Holy Ghost. This prayer the parents should have the child repeat frequently, till it has learned to say it devoutly. The following form may well serve the purpose:

Come, O Holy Ghost, and enlighten me that I may know my sins, be heartily
sorry for them, and sincerely confess them, and earnestly amend my life.

Then follows the examination of conscience. When the child is quite young and has only learned the rudiments of the catechism, the parents should assist it in making this examination.

A good way to help children recall their sins is to remind them of how they behaved at home, at school, at church, on the street, on the playgrounds, towards father and mother, towards brothers and sisters, towards the teacher and towards other children. Parents should not ask their children to tell them the wrongs committed, but if a child should in its innocence reveal something which father and mother never expected it to do, they should not become excited over the revelation but use the opportunity calmly to recall the meaning of sin and the punishment which God will inflict for sin.

Children should also be assisted in making an act of contrition, and parents should consider it a privilege to teach them some form of this act. Any of the following will meet the purpose.

My Father in heaven, I am sorry for all the naughty things I have done because
They have displeased You Who are so good and kind, and because I love You.
I do love You, indeed I do. Please forgive me and help me to be a good child
after my confession.

O my God, I am sorry that I have sinned against You, because You are so good,
and I will sin no more.

O my God, I am sorry for all my sins. I hate them more than all evils, because
they deserve Thy dreadful punishments; I hate them because they offend Thy
infinite Goodness. Do not punish me as I deserve. Forgive me and I will try not
to do these sins again.

Older and better instructed children should be taught to make their examination of conscience by going through the then commandments of God, the six commandments of the Church, the nine ways of being accessory to the sins of others, and the seven capital sins.

The first commandment demands that the child recite daily and devoutly its morning and evening prayers, the grace before and after meals, and frequent acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

The second commandment requires reverence towards the names of God, of the Saints, and of holy things. It forbids therefore the abuse of the name of God and of Jesus Christ by using them as by-words or in curing and sinful swearing.

The third commandment demands attendance at Mass on Sundays and feast days of obligation, and also attendance at Christian Doctrine instructions; it forbids on Sundays and feast days any kind of unnecessary manual labor, and at all times bad conduct in church, such as laughing, talking, playing, disturbing others at prayer, and inattention during church service.

The fourth commandment requires reverence, obedience, gratitude and love towards father and mother, towards the priest and the teacher; and these obligations also include that children gladly accept and follow the admonitions of their superiors; that they do not despise parents and superiors; neither offend, deceive, or provoke them, nor wish them evil or speak evil of them. Finally it commands to respect old people and forbids ridiculing them, etc.

The fifth commandment demands that all persons and especially those who are more closely connected with us, as brothers and sisters, relatives and comrades, be treated with respect and consideration and that we should do them no harm either in body or soul. Hence we should fail against this commandment if we are self-willed and disagreeable, contemptuous and hateful, rude and unmannerly, harsh and uncharitable, irritable and revengeful; if we quarrel, fight and strike others or in some other way seek to hurt them; if we curse ourselves and others, endanger our own lives and the lives of others, and unnecessarily inflict pain upon dumb animals. Finally we fail against it when we are accessory to the sin of others. There are nine ways of being accessory to the sins of others: 1) by counsel, 2) by command, 3) by consent, 4) by provocation, 5) by praise or flattery, 6) by silence, 7) by toleration, 8) by assistance, and 9) by defense of the evil done. Tolerating or not punishing a sin is a sin which parents and superior commit when they are too lenient and indulgent with their subjects. It is evident that children cannot be accessory to the sins of others in this manner, but in all other ways they also can cooperate with another’s sin.

The sixth and ninth commandments forbid all unchasteness in thought, imagination and desire, as well as in looks, words, and actions, and, in short, everything that might lead to such sins, as dangerous reading, dangerous games, dangerous company.

The seventh and tenth commandments demand honesty and justice in all our dealings with others; therefore, they forbid pilfering and stealing, receiving stolen goods and keeping what was found, destroying and injuring the property of others. Children, furthermore, are not permitted even at home, to take anything that does not belong to them, nor give anything away without the permission or consent of their parents.

The eighth commandment demands truthfulness as well as respect for the honor and reputation of our fellow-men. Therefore it is a sin against this commandment to tell lies, may they be ever so slight, to insult our neighbor or speak badly about him whether it be true or not true. To make known secret faults of our neighbor without necessity is called detraction; to brand him with crimes and faults which are untrue is slander or calumny.

The commandments of the Church dictate the manner in which Sundays and feast days must be observed, and this has been referred to in the third commandment of God; but, besides, a child is obliged by the law of the Church also to abstain from flesh meat on Fridays and all days of abstinence, and is also bound to go to confession once a year and to receive Holy Communion at Easter time.

Finally children should be taught to examine themselves regarding the seven deadly or capital sins. Regarding pride they should ask themselves whether they raise themselves above their neighbor or even above God, and think themselves better than others. Sometimes children think they look pretty because of their hair or their dress or their eyes, and like to show off before others, etc. These actions are not real pride, but are indications of vanity and silliness.

Avarice shows itself in wanting everything for yourself, and never sharing with others any of the good things you may have.

Sins of lust are sins of unchasteness, as forbidden in the sixth commandment.

Envy shows itself when you grieve at the good things which others receive, and are glad when they meet with misfortune.

Gluttony is eating or drinking too much, or [doing] something which is injurious to the health of the body.

Sloth is to neglect the work which you should do, because you do not like to do it or do not feel like doing it; sloth shows itself also in omitting our daily prayers, missing Mass and other devotions in church, neglecting the study of the catechism, etc.

It is not advisable to let the younger children make their whole examination of conscience at one time; let them do it gradually so that their little minds do not tire, and they perhaps get disgusted with the whole matter. Neither should they get the impression as if the examination of conscience and the memorizing of the sins were the most important part in preparing for the sacrament of Penance. It is certainly true that they should remember their mortal sins well and the number of times these were committed; and the child must not be allowed to consider the examination as negligible. Still the emphasis should be given to the necessity of a sincere sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of amendment. Hence in the course of the examination the parents should repeatedly try to elicit in the child sentiments and acts of real contrition. This can be most easily accomplished by pointing out again and again the motives for sorrow in language which will be intelligible to the child. A long discourse on these motives would be of little value. A mother’s instinct will naturally find the best method, but for a little guidance herein we have appended a few suggestions.

After having given the child some time to recall its faults, for instance, against the fourth commandment of God, the mother might ask: “Well, my child, are you sorry for these sins?” Whether it answers, “yes” or “no,” mother should use the opportunity to recall to the child one of the motives of sorrow in the following manner: “My child, remember, that all sins, event he smallest, are insults against the good God and displease and provoke Him very much.”

At another time she might say: “Remember, child, even venial sins are hated by God, and they lead slowly but surely to mortal sin, and mortal sin leads to the eternal punishment of hell; and do not forget, God punishes venial sins very severely even in this world, but especially in the fires of purgatory.” On another occasion she might remind the child of the horror of sin as follows: “Sin, my child, is indeed a very wicked thing, otherwise God would not have demanded that His beloved Son Jesus Christ suffer so many and cruel pains and tortures. To redeem us from sin and from hell the Son of God had to come from heaven, become man, be persecuted and hated and finally shed the last drop of His blood and die for us on the Cross.”

Again mother might speak to her child as follows: “Remember, my child, by every sin you do, you hurt Jesus just as much and even more than the Jews did. The Jews hurt His body only, but by sins you hurt His soul, His Heart which loves you so much, and desires to give you only what is good.” Finally, a mother might recall to the child all the great favors and benefits which God has bestowed on the child, such as life and health, food and clothing; the grace of baptism and of Christian instruction, the companionship and protection of the guardian angel, etc. Surely all these considerations repeatedly and earnestly retold will not fail to impress the tender heart of your child, and will fill it with a horror for everything sinful so that it will resolve never to be ungrateful again and never to commit a sin again, because God is so good and holy and sin is so vile and punishable. After you have accomplished this result, it may be very profitable if the mother or the father will recite with the child the following litany:

Lord, have mercy on us! Christ, have mercy on us!
Lord, have mercy on us! Christ, hear us! Christ, graciously hear us!
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us!
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us!
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us!
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us!
Thou who dost call all sinners to penance and the amendment of life, have mercy on us!
Thou who dost not take pleasure in chastisement and condemnation, etc.
Thou who dost will to preserve every creature from hell and render him happy,
Thou who hast promised me, also, pardon and grace if I am sorry for my sins and
never again commit them,
I have sinned,
I have repeatedly and thoughtlessly sinned,
I have trodden under foot Thy commandments,
I have not fulfilled my duties,
I have neither watched nor prayed,
I have not feared Thy punishments,
I have dishonored Thee,
I have irritated Thee,
I have renewed Thy Passion,
I have deserved the most severe punishments,
I am sorry that I ever committed a single sin,
I am sorry that I ever displeased Thee,
I am sorry that I was ever disobedient to Thee,
I am sorry that I was ever ungrateful to Thee,
I am sorry that I ever departed from Thy love,
I will now detest all evil,
I will now be carefully on my guard against it,
I will now cheerfully overcome myself,
I will pray repeatedly and devoutly,
I will consider sin the greatest evil on earth,
I will rather die than ever willfully commit a single sin again,
Grant me, O God, grace to keep my resolution,
Enlighten my understanding and strengthen my will,
Preserve me from temptation and seduction,
Protect me from the snares of the evil spirit,
Subdue my evil desires and passions,
Grant that I may rejoice in virtue and the fear of God,
Bestow upon me final perseverance in good,
Give to me a short and easy purgatory,
Take me to heaven and make me eternally happy,
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, Thou dost love us so much and art willing to forgive us
when with a sorrowing heart we come to you for forgiveness. I have been very naughty and disobedient. I have not loved or honored Thee as I should. I deserve to be punished severely. Please forgive me my past sins, because I am sorry for them, and from now on I will never do anything willfully that I know displeases Thee. Love me again , O Lord, as Thou didst love me before. Love me as if I had never sinned; yes, love me more and help me to love Thee also more than anything else. Help me to keep my promise that I may always be Thy good and loving child, and may also give pleasure to my parents and teachers and to all my friends. Amen.

Your child, dear mother, is now ready for the cleansing, healing and helping graces of the sacrament of Penance. But before sending it to the confessional, instruct it also how it should enter the confessional, teach it the form it should use in beginning the confession, and also the one with which it should close its confession. Finally instruct it also to make a short thanksgiving after confession, and then to say the penance which the priest imposed. Then let your child “show itself to the priest” so that he may bless it and by the words of absolution purify it from the stains of sins and adorn it with the garb of sanctifying grace.

When the child returns from church, receive it, dear mother, with evident signs of joy and admonish it to make itself worthy of the great mercy it has just obtained. Watch over its conduct closely for the next few days, and remind it occasionally of its good resolutions.

Oh, how much good a Christian mother can achieve by taking a personal interest in her child’s confessions! She thereby sows a seed that is bound to bring forth fruit a thousandfold. Surely it requires much tact and much tender solicitude, but all her loving efforts will be richly rewarded when she sees her little ones earnestly responding and striving to make a good and worthy confession. And as they begin in their childhood to appreciate the value of this holy sacrament, she may confidently expect that also in later life they will find in it a source of consolation and of spiritual rejuvenation and strength against the dangers and the temptations of the wicked world. Through their whole lives and in eternity they will be ever grateful to your solicitude which familiarized them with this treasury of grace and opened to them the gates of heaven.