Celebrating Reconciliation with Family Members

by Loretta Pehanich

Eight-year-old David sat on the pew as if it were a trampoline. Weeks of First Reconciliation preparation were complete. Through songs and worksheets, he now knew a great deal about forgiving others and oneself, as well as God’s great love.

Guests were assembled in pews. Programs in hand, people joined in communal song and introductory prayer. Soft music played as children walked with their parents to an available priest and were introduced. Parents then stepped back a good distance to allow children the freedom to talk with their confessor alone.

Freedom. It’s what this sacrament is all about.

But let’s admit it: the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not people’s favorite. Admitting our failures to another human being is something most of us would rather not do. As David said when asked how he felt about his First Reconciliation, “I’m excited but a little nervous too.”

David’s parents could empathize. They began helping him to be comfortable admitting errors when he was young by seeking forgiveness themselves. Their example kicked off preparations for celebrating the sacrament of freedom from poor choices. Family members teach by admitting aloud that we have sinned and by expressing sorrow. Saying something aloud makes our actions more real. Something changes when we hear ourselves speak where others can hear.

After David’s First Reconciliation, he received a lighted candle. How proudly he carried it to a table near the altar, where a growing glow symbolized solidarity in forgiveness. David sat taller when he returned to the pew.

David’s mother, his dad, and other family members took turns meeting with an available priest. They, too, bowed heads and stood a little taller afterward.

David is my grandson. When I knelt after joining him in this sacrament, I experienced God’s free gift of peace. Weights and worries lifted. Gratitude poured in. A legacy of forgiveness continues, and I know I can start fresh, try again, and know that God is always waiting to forgive. Because I am sure I’ll fall again.

God never tires of forgiving and waits for us wayward children. God is forever patient.

What keeps families from regularly celebrating this sacrament together? Remind reluctant relatives that they can say anything to the priest, including, “I really don’t know what to say,” or, “I’m here in solidarity with my family, because I love them. But I’m not ready to participate today.” Bring coloring books or activity pages for younger children who won’t be celebrating the sacrament just yet.

A Family Exercise in Prayer Before Celebrating Reconciliation

It’s not easy, nor is it impossible to create time as a family to pray the Lord’s Prayer and talk about forgiveness. David’s family gathers every night before bedtime. Your family might consider pausing as you pray after saying, “Forgive us our trespasses.” Think about forgiving yourselves. Then continue praying, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Pause here to give children a moment to think about that declaration of willingness to look around and say, “Yes, I forgive.”

After praying in this way, a few open-ended questions provide an opportunity to say something personal if we wish. Examples:

  • Is there someone today that I need to ask to forgive me?
  • How can I be more loving to someone who has hurt me?
  • When did I neglect to make a loving choice? What can I do about that now or in the future?

Loretta Pehanich

Loretta Pehanich

Loretta Pehanich is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director with a lifetime in ministry and service, including 20 years in small faith-sharing groups. She leads retreats and workshops on prayer and busy lifestyles.

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