|THE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION -
PENANCE - CONFESSION
|Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sins
prospers not, but he who confesses and
forsakes them obtains mercy.
All pardon for sins comes, ultimately, from Calvary, but how is this pardon to be
received by individuals? How are people who sin today to obtain forgiveness?
Did Christ leave us any means within the Church [He founded] to take away sin?
The Bible says He gave us two means.
Baptism was given to take away the sin inherited from Adam (original sin) and any sins
called actual sins, because they come from our own acts committed before Baptism. For
sins committed after Baptism, a different sacrament is needed. It has been called
Penance, Confession, and Reconciliation, each word emphasizing one of its aspects.
During his life, Christ forgave sins, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery (Jn
8:1-11) and the woman who anointed his feet (Lk 7:48). He exercised this power, "to
convince you that the Son of man has the authority to forgive sins while he is on earth"
Since he would not always be with the Church visibly, Christ gave this power to other men
so the Church, which is the continuation of his presence throughout time, would be able to
offer this forgiveness to future generations. He gave his power to the apostles and it was
necessarily a communicable power, one that could be passed on to their successors and
agents, since, obviously, the apostles would not always be with them either. "He breathed
on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit; when you forgive men's sins, they are
forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound" (Jn 20:22-23). [This, by the
way, is one of only two times we are told that God breathed on man, the other being when
he made man a living soul (Genesis 2:7). It emphasizes how important the establishment
of the sacrament of Penance was.]
Christ told the apostles to follow his example: "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending
you" (Jn 20:21). What he did, they were to do. Just as the apostles were to carry Christ's
message to the
whole world, so they were to carry his forgiveness: "I promise you, all that you bound on
earth "shall be bound in heaven, and all that you loose on earth shall be loosed in
heaven" (Mt. 18:18).(Catholic Answers Tract , The Forgiveness of Sins)
The Early Church Fathers:
Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism;
Origen, writing around 244, referred to the sinner who "does not shrink from declaring his
sin to a priest of the Lord".
Cyprian of Carthage, writing seven years later, said, "Finally, of how much greater faith
and more salutary fear are they who... confess to the priests of God in a straightforward
manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience."
In the fourth century Aphraates gave this advice to priests: "If anyone uncovers his wound
before you, give him the remedy of repentance. And he that is ashamed to make known
his weakness, encourage him so that he will not hide it from you. And when he has
revealed it to you, do not make it public."
TR, Feb. '97, "Confession" by James Akin
Over time, the forms in which the Sacrament has been administered have changed. In the
early Church, publicly known sins (such as apostasy) were confessed publicly, though
private confession to a priest was always an option for privately committed sins. Whether
public or private confession was made, it was not done alone or in silence to God, but has
always been done "in church"
(Didache 4:14, 14:1, A.D. 70) "Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your
prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life...On the Lord's Day gather together,
break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice
may be pure"
(1 Cor. 11:27) "whoever...eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy
manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord".
(me) There are several Scriptures that refer to the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
Matthew 18:18; John 20:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:18; Acts 19:18, James 5:13-16; 1 John 1:9.
Each Scripture taken separately might not mean much but the Catholic Church is a Full
Bible Church, so we need to look at how these Scriptures add meaning to one another.
Remember those "puzzles" or "pictures" "connect the dots". Let's (play) "connect the
We know that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins and that He did so [Mk 2:5-10] v. 5,
"My son your sins are forgiven." v. 10, "But that you may know that the Son of man has the
authority on earth to forgive sins". We also know that Jesus expected the Church He
founded on the Apostles to continue His ministry, [Jn 20:21] "As the Father has sent me,
so I am sending you". We can see from a study of the same Scripture that Jesus gave this
authority to His Church, [Jn 20:22-23] "He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive
the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any,
they are retained." Further proof of this transference of authority to forgive sins is found in
the Gospel of Matthew 18:18, "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be
bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Jesus only mentions the word Church two times in Scripture, once when He
founded His Church on the Apostle Peter [Mt. 16:18] and the other time is right
here when He gave His Church special authority to teach in His name, to bind
Satan and to forgive sins.
The next question would be: Did the early Church understand that they had the power to
forgive sins? [2 Cor 5:18-20] "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to
himself and gave us the ministry of Reconciliation, that is, God was in Christ reconciling
the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the
message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, be reconciled to God."
Who was St. Paul talking to here? He was writing to a community of believers who lived in
Corinth. That means they had already been washed from their sins through Baptism, and
yet they needed to further turn away from sin and turn their lives again to God! So, we can
see that St. Paul is talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
What next? We see St. Paul talking about believers making use of the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. Do we see anyone Confessing sins to the Apostles in the new Church?
[Acts 19:18] "Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging
Do any of the Apostles direct the believers to Confess their sins? [1 Jn 1:9] "If we confess
our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all
unrighteousness". Where does the Scripture say only a priest has this authority to forgive
sins? [James 5:13-16] v. 14, "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the
church, and let them pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the
prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has
committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray
for one another, that you may be healed." We can see here that it was the elders [Priests]
who had the power to anoint the sick and through whom forgiveness of sins was given!
TR, 'June '96, P. 12, "The term "priest"
(Greek hierus) was not often used at first for the Christian presbyter which comes from the
Greek (presbyteros), meaning "elder". This is explained by the need to distinguish the
Christian priests from the Jewish priests who were still functioning up to the time of the
destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in the year 70 A. D. Thereafter
the use of the word "priest" for those ordained in Christ became more and more common.
Did Jesus have the authority to forgive sins? Yes.
Did Jesus pass on this authority to his apostles? Yes.
Did the early Church Confess their sins to the apostles? Yes.
Did the apostles minister the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Yes.
Did the Priests have the authority to forgive sins? Yes.
Do we see anyone else in the New Testament forgiving sins? No.
In Romans 13:14, St. Paul says; "put on the Lord Jesus Christ".
"It is in the Sacrament of Penance that you and I put on - Jesus Christ and his
merits". (St. Escriva)
The Catechism of The Catholic Church:
1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
- reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
- reconciliation with the Church;
- remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
- remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
- peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
- an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
How often do we need to make use of the Sacrament?
CCC 1457 According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of
discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at
least once a year."56 Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not
receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first
received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion
and there is no possibility of going to confession.57 Children must go to the sacrament of
Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.58
CCC 1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is
nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.59 Indeed the regular confession of
our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves
be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently
through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he
From The Baltimore Catechism
Q. 783. Should a person stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to
A. A person should not stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to
confess, for the Sacrament of Penance, besides forgiving sins, gives an increase
of sanctifying grace, and of this we have always need, especially to resist
temptation. The Saints, who were almost without imperfection, went to confession
Prof. Scott Hahn said that if going to your doctor were free, how often would you go?
Many people would go at least once a month.
He suggests that we make use of the Sacrament monthly.
I would like to end with; "peace with God". I maintain my "peace with God" through
the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
2 Cor. 5:18 "And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through
Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation,"
For Further Study
New Advent on The Sacrament
The Catechism of The Catholic Church
POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE OF
JOHN PAUL II
Good Catholic Links On The Sacrament
REDISCOVERING FREQUENT CONFESSION by Rev. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap.