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When preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are instructed to perform an examination of conscience. How exactly are we supposed to go about doing this? I am looking for a thorough, sourced, pragmatic, and detailed answer focused on the spiritual actions of the penitent in sequential order.

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    For the VtC's there's actually a lot of published instruction on this. Hardly opinion based. USCCB has some nice digital stuff here – KorvinStarmast Jul 10 '17 at 1:19
  • @KorvinStarmast there are a lot of such pamphlets, and the details in them vary slightly. They are also aimed at an introductory level, like, I feel like they are perhaps more intended for children and those recently baptised, even if they don't explicitly say this. I'm hoping for a more detailed, sourced, and thorough answer here. – Please stop being evil Jul 10 '17 at 4:57
  • Are you seeking an experientially based answer? – KorvinStarmast Jul 10 '17 at 10:33
  • @KorvinStarmast I hadn't thought of that. I suppose experience could be a kind of support for a position, but I was definitely thinking more of papal encyclicals, passages from the catechism, and other official Church statements. Maybe a book from the early Church or something, like the Didache but regarding reconciliation rather than all the stuff that covers. – Please stop being evil Jul 10 '17 at 16:29
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There a guides for helping with examination of conscience, such as this short examination of conscience and this longer version. They often go through the 10 Commandments

  1. Thou shalt not have other gods besides Me
  2. Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day
  4. Honor thy father and thy mother
  5. Thou shalt not murder
  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery
  7. Thou shalt not steal
  8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods

and give particular examples of violations of each commandment. Reviewing the commandments of the Church:

  1. To go to Mass and refrain from servile work on Sundays and holy days
  2. To go to Confession at least once a year (traditionally done during Lent)
  3. To receive the Eucharist at least once a year, during the Easter Season (known as the "Easter duty")
  4. To observe the days of fasting and abstinence
  5. To help to provide for the needs of the Church according to one's abilities and station in life
  6. To obey the marriage laws of the Church

and the capital sins (i.e., sins from which others arise):

  1. Pride
  2. Greed
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

can also help.

As the Council of Trent says:

Tell your sins as they are in your mind, that is, as they appear to you, according to your own feeling about them.

See the appendix of The Secret of Confession: Including the Wonders of Confession for a short "How to Go to Confession."

Also, the Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, O Holy Ghost) prayer is commonly said at the beginning of the examination of conscience, to ask the Holy Ghost to enlighten you with the graces to discover your sins and make a good confession. You can hear it sung here.

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  • Hadn't heard about the Veni. Good one! – Matt Gutting Jul 10 '17 at 0:01
  • Accepted for the quote from the Council of Trent, which was helpful in directing me towards the sort of further reading I am looking for. (Also the rest of the advice is accurate, and it's my fault for not being clearer in my question as to what I was looking for that it isn't what I was looking for) – Please stop being evil Jul 10 '17 at 20:59
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While it's tough to beat Geremia's excellent answer, the USCCB has an easy to access page with a variety of examinations of conscience that are tailored to fit a particular place in life. We had good luck with those for some of our RCIA candidates who were coming to the Catholic Church from other confessions.

Our Church seemed to change the chosen hand outs about every three years (I think the diocese ordered such things in bulk) so suggesting one of the little pamphlets probably isn't as useful an answer as digital products.

This is the one pager for the Ten Commandments based inventory of where one is spiritually. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/upload/Examination-of-Conscience.pdf

There are .pdf files with helpful guidelines for the following common situations for where one is in life:

Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments
Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching
Examination of Conscience for Children
Examination of Conscience for Young Adults
Examination of Conscience for Single People
Examination of Conscience for Married Persons

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The examination of conscience is a really complicated method of testing or measuring one's conscience. First, you need to really know yourself. Second, we really need to admit that we've done something that upsets the Lord which is known as a "sin". Third, if you are attending or receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, tell all the sins you have committed to the priest. The perfect conscience is measured by honesty to him/herself and the presence of Lord in one's soul.

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