How to make a general confession

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis De Sales highly recommends making a general confession. I wish to make my general confession, but am really struggling with how to do so. I’m a sinner but also scrupulous at the same time. I’m struggling with how much detail I should get into, and some things I’m not even sure are sins. Somehow just a long laundry list of a lifetime’s worth of sins doesn’t seem the best approach and yet my lifetime story of sin and woe seems a bit too much to impose on some poor priest. Can you help me find the balance? I have been working on writing out a gc for about 2 months now and just trying to do that has been incredibly difficult. I keep remembering new things and my shame is crushing. I’m up to about 20 pages and still not nearly finished. I’m a revert and have not gone to confession in more than 30 years. I attend mass but do not receive the Eucharist. I know I need to take the plunge but I’m terrified and confused. I would appreciate your prayers and any practical advice you can give me. Thank you and God bless you.


My suggestion, for what it’s worth:

What you have written, print it out and show it to a holy priest. It seems to me that you are scrupulous about the matter. We are all individuals and need to be treated that way by a holy, discerning spiritual director.

I pray that you feel the love of our most loving God. He loves you infinitely! We all need Him so much.

Make an appointment with an experienced priest. Explain all this to him. He will be happy to welcome you back to communion with the Church.

I’m in much the same dilemma. I intuit that many priests would be inclined to sweep the more serious things like deep-seated mistrust of our Provident God, as well as any miscellaneous medium-sized wrongs in relationships, that may genuinely need putting a little more right in the future, under the carpet. I get the impression that when caught unawares they fall back on not exploiting the potential which I have an inkling the sacrament of confession actually has to give faith to the penitent. Is the substance of the penance itself actually supposed to put the penitent more in touch with God and to rights with his/her fellows, on an ongoing basis?

I think almost all priests automatically assume all penitents are horrendously scrupulous, hence they appear so dismissive. Just for myself, I’m going to have to bend over backwards to avoid a scrupulous impression in order to combat that. I’ll have to explicitly ask him to think hard about suitable penance and ask to discuss the strategy leading up to the next confession. (This is difficult as I’m not assertive.) Otherwise the ongoing cycle will never get off the ground. This is just me. :wink:

I’m a convert and had to make a general confession that accounted for over thirty years. I used a very thorough examination of conscience and wrote down my sins. I continued to reflect and write down the sins for about a week or so. I did plenty of bad things, but I think I only had four pages on lined paper of sins by the time I was done. Many of the sins were of the same kind so they got rolled up into one statement with a general qualification of frequency.

We are only obliged to confess mortal sins. And those shouldn’t be all that difficult to recollect. We are obliged to confess the number of occurrences, but when dealing with sins from the past that is going to be an estimate. So it could be described as ‘daily’, ‘several times a week’, ‘maybe five times’, or ‘frequently over the course of a couple of years’. The goal isn’t absolute accuracy but a general idea of how often. There is simply no way you could naturally recall all the occurrences of certain sins and we are not obliged to.

It seems to me twenty pages and two months indicates you are trying to be too thorough. There is no way you can be absolutely perfect in recollecting all your sins. God is not a monster hoping to send you to Hell because you say in a general confession ‘maybe five times’ rather than ‘maybe six times’. You have to trust in God’s goodness and mercy.


Try to stick to mortal sins, if you can. Being scrupulous, though, may make this difficult for you as you may see everything as mortal sin.

Here’s my story: I’ve been going to confession weekly for years. 5 years ago, before I was received as a Lay person into the Carmelite Order I made a general confession. It took me about a month to prepare and I had 13 written pages of sins that I took with me. I had made an appointment with a priest well beforehand and he knew it would be a general confession so we were both prepared to be together for about an hour.
To make my examination I have a very good and thorough examen that I use, about 700 questions based mostly on the 10 Commandments, the 7 Deadly Sins, and the Beatitudes. I went through it step by step. Then I went through the stages of my life: childhood, teenage, college, young adulthood, adulthood, present, keeping that examen in mind. Once I had done that I let it sit and simmer, allowing memories to come to the fore and writing down things I may have forgotten. I did not use the exercise to beat myself up but rather as an opportunity to allow God to heal me of the wounds of my past life.

As you are scrupulous, please make an appointment with a priest soon. It sounds like you are taking too long to prepare for this. You need to set a limit on yourself. Not every mistake you’ve made in your life has been a sin and not every sin you’ve committed has been mortal. Also, remember that once you have confessed your sin, it has been forgiven. Put it behind you. Period. To not do so is to doubt in the power and efficacy of God’s promise of mercy.

Be at peace.

Read the Catechism chapters for each of the Commandments. This states what are the majority of mortal sins.

Get 10 A4 pages.
Write one of the Commandments on each page.
And write down your sins according to each commandment starting with the first commandment.

This stops you getting mixed up between them

If you think it’s a mortal sin, write it down so you can say it to the priest and ask, is this a mortal sin?

When you have written down all your mortal sins on each page for each commandment then:

Make an appointment to meet with a parish priest at their house (away from the confession queue. Because you have 30 years of sins to confess, and may have more than the usual laundry list, and don’t want your neighbours hearing what you have to say, or don’t want to keep people in the queue all day.)

I’m not an expert, a theologian, a priest, or a psychologist.

But I am extremely concerned that you see yourself as being scrupulous, OP, but yet want to make a general confession of your life.

Please consult a priest to determine if this is really necessary. The spiritual damage might well outweigh the spiritual benefit.

Very good point.

This. Twenty pages indicates to me that you are perhaps being scrupulous. I agree with others’ suggestions that you take your list to a priest for guidance.