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Woman confessing to a monk, mezzotint by John Smith (circa 1685).

Confession is the act of admitting to another person a guilt. A confession may be followed by forgiveness, by punishment, by punishment and forgiveness, or by none. A confession can be to the person one has offended (in which case it is usually combined with an apology), to an uninvolved third person who is in authority (e.g. a parent, teacher, boss), or to any other uninvolved third person (e.g. a friend). Confession is often motivated by remorse, by guilty feelings, by a personal need to tell someone, or by the hope that confession will result in a milder outcome than if one's guilt is found out by somebody else.

Religious confession[edit]

An open confessional.
Copperplate engraving by an unknown 18th century artist, showing a confessor aroused by the words of his female penitent, and the possibility of punishing her.

In Roman Catholicism, confession of one's sins to a priest is a formalized institution and a holy sacrament. For privacy reasons, it either takes place in a private room or in a special small enclosed booth called confessional. The penitent will often kneel on a kneeler during the confession. Often placed on the kneeler is a plaque with a prayer called the Act of Contrition written on it:

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins
because I fear the loss of heaven
and the pains of hell,
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace
to sin no more, to do penance,
and to amend my life.

Subject to confession are sinful thoughts, words and actions. Before the confession, the penitent is expected to go through an examination of conscience, as this will help him or her to find out the sins they have committed. The confession follows a formal protocol, at the end of which the priest will assign a penance and donate the absolution. For Roman Catholic priests, there is an absolute confidentiality of anything that they learn from penitents during the course of confession, called the Seal of the Confessional.

Formal confession also exists in some other Christian faiths.

Other meaning[edit]

The term confession can also refer to publicly admitting to a specific faith or belief. This typically refers to one of the many Christian denominations.

Non-religious confession[edit]


Externally hosted image on Handprints: Drawings Gallery #49
Humorous cartoon

A child may be encouraged or taught to confess any wrongs they have committed (and which are not already found out) to their parents. The reward for doing so will not only be relief from pangs of conscience but also a possibly reduced punishment, or no punishment at all, for being honest and contrite.

Non-religious confession usually is informal and follows no specific protocol. Only rarely the person will kneel, but often they will instinctively avoid eye-to-eye contact, look down to the floor and/or hang their head in shame.

In a related fashion, adult partners may also expect or welcome confessions from each other. This is even the case in modern relationships where no partner has authority over the other. A special case is domestic discipline relationships, in which the partner who has broken a rule is expected to readily confess his or her fault and to accept the previously agreed punishment.

In BDSM or spanking roleplay, a player may confess to offense he or she has committed (which is usually made-up but can also be a truly committed wrong), so that there is a plausible reason for punishment.

See also[edit]