Since we are all in different places on our spiritual journey, it’s hard to set one number for all and say that this is the perfect number of times to go per year to remain in good standing. It varies by the person and the work God is doing in the soul.
At the bare minimum, Catholics should receive the sacrament once per year. This is known in the Precepts of the Church as the “Easter Duty.” Sometime between Ash Wednesday and Pentecost, each Catholic is asked to receive both the sacrament of confession and Communion.
Certainly, we can also say if a person is struggling with a mortal sin, they should be going more frequently. This helps to hold the person accountable to continue working on the sin, to receive sanctifying grace back into their soul, and to receive the grace needed to grow beyond this sin. The amount of time, though, between confessions in this case should be discussed with the priest you go to for confession.
Beyond these cases, though, the Church leaves it up to the individual.
Confession may at times be more of a regular practice in one’s life. This is especially true when one is working on a habitual sin that is not a mortal sin. Many people who have committed themselves to more regular confession (every month or so) invariably have reported great progress. Sins they have struggled with for years will, in a few months of regular confession, happen with lower frequency.
Another popular time to receive the sacrament is during Advent. People come as a way to prepare for Christmas. I think receiving the sacrament at this time also helps to get the new year started on the right foot as well.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has suggested a third time that Catholics might consider going to confession. His thought was if a Catholic was going around Christmas and Easter that was a good practice. But between these two feasts was a fairly long gap. Would it not be a good time to introduce a time in August or September to also receive the sacrament? That way we would be receiving the sacrament every four months. It’s an intriguing idea to consider.
But the answer, outside of uprooting a mortal sin or a less serious habitual sin in your life, is at least once (the Easter Duty), twice is good (Christmas and Easter), but perhaps three times (Christmas, Easter, and August/September) is even better.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in south St. Louis.