The Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:21-23 “But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing”. 1 John 1:9
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is one of the seven Sacraments. It is commonly referred to as Confession.
The sacrament includes four elements:
- Contrition – Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation of the sins we have committed together with the resolution not to sin again (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1451). The penitent (the person going to confession) must recognize his sins, desire forgiveness from God, and be willing to admit those sins confidentially to a priest. “When someone evil quits sinning and does what is right and good, he has saved his life.” Ezekiel 33:19.
- Confession – This is where the sinner takes responsibility for their sins and openly confesses them to a priest. The priest is under strict obligation of secrecy. This is called "the seal of the confessional." The priest may never divulge the penitent’s sins to anyone else. After the penitent confesses his sins, the priest will assign him a penance (see below) and the penitent will be asked to say an Act of Contrition. This is a prayer expressing sorrow for the sins he has committed and stating his resolve to amend his life.
- Absolution – After the penitent prays an Act of Contrition, the priest prays the words of absolution over the penitent. In offering absolution, the priest acts as the representative of Christ, the Eternal High Priest, who forgives sins. The priest is the humble instrument that God has chosen to use to forgive sins in his name. He prays:
- God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
- Satisfaction – Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."
- The penance the confessor imposes can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ. The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of "him who strengthens us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1459-60).
“For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God.” Ephesians 1:7.
First Reconciliation is received by Catholic children at the age of seven or later.This is the age at which the Church considers a child capable of understanding, at a sufficient level, what sin is and what God’s forgiveness is. Individuals who join the Catholic Church later in life will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as part of their initiation into the Catholic Faith. They will receive their instruction about Reconciliation in a manner appropriate to their level of maturity.
Although Catholics are only required to go to Confession when they are aware that they have committed a mortal sin (a sin which includes serious matter and which the person committed knowingly and freely), the Church urges her members to partake of the sacrament often. Monthly confession is a good habit. It is also noteworthy that Catholics who have been away from Mass on a Sunday or a Holy Day, or who have fallen into another grave sin, should go to Confession and be reconciled to God and the Church before receiving Holy Communion.
There is no substitute for the incredible grace of starting life again with Christ, being brought to renewal through the cleansing grace given in this sacrament. So often people tell of the tremendous feeling – a weight being lifted, a cleanness or freshness of heart – that comes from receiving God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. In receiving this sacrament, we are assured that, by confessing all our sins to a priest and receiving absolution, we are forgiven by God. We are betterprepared to give witness to His life within us, to appear before His judgment seat, and share His life for all eternity!
Act of Contrition