During the weeks leading up to this momentous event, our third-grade teacher told us it was important to seriously examine our consciences for things that could have offended our Lord. As the weeks went by, I’d jot down various sins (fought with brother, stole cookies, gave my brother a haircut while my parents were asleep, etc.)
This was the easy part…. even a kindergartner knows right from wrong most of the time.
As the big day approached, I realized I had a problem. What if I couldn’t remember my whole list of sins when I entered the confessional? Eek! How in the world would I remember a lifetime of sins?
Finally, a light bulb went off in my head. I could bring my sin list into the confessional to use as a cheat-cheat….if that was allowed.
“Sure, why not?” my mother assured me.
For the next few days, I was so relieved.
That is, until someone mentioned the confessional might be dark.
I wouldn’t be able to read my notes!
Now what was I going to do?
I think it was my mother who, while trying to keep a straight face, suggested a novel solution to another of my predicaments……..a flashlight.
I am embarrassed to admit I actually did this, but…. I showed up at the church with a crumpled piece of paper (folded ten times lest any classmate try to catch a peek at my sins), and a flashlight. I brought them into the confessional.
The priest must have wondered what in the world was going on with the blinding flashes of light coming from my side of the booth, not to mention the loud crumpling paper commotion. Luckily, he didn’t embarrass me by commenting on it.
I pretty much forgot about the whole event until a year later, when a friend from the incoming third grade, which was preparing for first confession, informed me that her teacher told her class: “And you don’t have to bring a flashlight like Claire did last year!”
Boy, was I embarrassed! I hadn’t even realized anybody had taken any notice of my methods, much less that the situation had been discussed and remembered a whole year later.
Anyway, I continued going to confession for years with my religion class, but eventually began avoiding it. I convinced myself I didn’t really need to go. I wasn’t getting a grade for it. It wasn’t fun. I didn’t realize how important it was. I thought of it as something the teacher wanted us to do, when it was actually Christ Himself wanting us to come to it. I didn’t know it was something Christ created it for our benefit, nor did I think about the fact that Christ wouldn’t create something that wasn’t necessary.
I’m too ashamed to say how long I avoided Confession, but finally, in my mid-20s, I returned to the sacrament. With all the sins I had collected over the years, it was even less enjoyable that it had been in the past.
Few would enjoy going to Confession, yet millions go. There had to be a reason.
So I researched the origins and reasons for confessing sins to God through a priest.
When I read Jesus’ own words in the Bible, I realized it was Jesus Himself, not my teachers and not the priests, that started this whole thing. And if it was Jesus Himself who started the whole thing for our benefit, then I figured I should get there, since, well, He is God!
Jesus, appearing to his apostles after the Resurrection, told them:
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23)
Here, He is clearly giving his authority to his representatives to forgive sins, or to withhold forgiveness (Even today, a priest can withhold forgiveness if the heart of the confessor does not have the right disposition, and has not resolved to change their habits)
As the priest said this week at Mass, Christ doesn’t establish things that are not necessary or important.
Okay, it’s time to look up the Confession times at your church (or if you’re not brave enough to confess at your own church, look up the Confession times for the church in the next town!)
Confession times and Mass times around the world are available at this link: www.MassTimes.org. Just type in your zip code!
Back to www.StillCatholic.com
QUOTES BY EARLY CHRISTIANS ON CONFESSION
The earliest Christians understood John 20:23 in the same way as our Church today.
St. Augustine said: "It is not enough that one acknowledge his sins to God, from Whom nothing is hidden; he must also confess them to a priest, God's representative."
St. Augustine also said: "All mortal sins are to be submitted to
the keys of the Church and all can be forgiven; but recourse to these keys is
the only, the necessary, and the certain way to forgiveness. Unless those who
are guilty of grievous sins have recourse to the power of the keys, they cannot
hope for eternal salvation. Open your lips, then, and confess your sins to the
priest. Confession alone is the true gate to Heaven."
Augustine,Christian Combat(A.D. 397)
As Catholics know, Jesus gave his Church authority on earth when he told Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
He also called his Church “the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)
Confession was established by Jesus. The Church was granted the authority to administer the sacrament.
One last quote from the Bible: 1 John 1:8-9: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and purify us from all unrighteousness."
So, obviously, there is no wiser way to spend our extra 10 minutes this weekend.
CONFESSION IN THE CATECHISM
The Catechism says, “Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."
Read the rest of what the Catechism teaches on the sacrament of Penance at:
www.cin.org/users/james/files/penance.htm (Why Do Penance)
www.catholic-pages.com/dir/confession.asp (Everything you wanted to know)
HOT TIPS REGARDING CONFESSION
WHEN IS CONFESSION NECESSARY?
While Confession is not a requirement for people with venial sins, which are forgiven if we confess them to God in our prayers, attending confession for venial sins is highly, highly encouraged by the Church. The graces you receive will be invaluable in fighting daily temptations.
It should be a regular part of any Christian’s life. Christ will pour out his supernatural graces on you through his representative, the priest, and that will give you strength not to fall into mortal sin, as well as the strength to overcome temptations to venial sins. The graces will help you grow in holiness (if that’s what you want.) And you SHOULD want it, because the degree of holiness in your soul the moment you die, will determine your degree of happiness in heaven eternally.
It’s true. Heaven will be wonderful for everyone, but those with the greatest holiness when they die will be rewarded the most eternally. For example, Mother Teresa will enjoy a greater place in heaven than those who just slipped through by their tail.
Back to the point. If you have a mortal sin (whether you missed Sunday mass or robbed a bank) it is important to get to Confession as soon as possible to make yourself right with God. It’s also important to refrain from receiving Holy Communion at Mass until then.
St. Augustine warns us of the dangers of mortal sin: “But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance" (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 [A.D. 395]).
Once at Confession, every mortal sin must be confessed. Even if the sins are from ten or 20 years ago, they must be confessed if they have not previously been confessed. This can be quite embarrassing, but it’s much better than the alternatives:
b. we die and live in hell eternally
What not to do at confession: Do not try to talk so quietly the priest cannot hear your sins. Do not try to talk in a rambling, confusing manner so the priest has no clue what you actually did. (These are just a couple clever and devious tricks I almost thought up)
The truth is you must be completely honest and forthright. Otherwise the confession will not be valid. You don’t have to go into all the gory details, you can just name the sin and the number of times you committed it.
For example, a guy who has been away from his faith for a long time and is returning might confess his mortal sins to the priest like this:
“I slandered my friend by starting an untrue rumor, I committed adultery twice, I missed Mass for two years, I received Holy Communion unworthily once, I drove drunk once, I did not return the extra $500 that accidentally wound up in my paycheck, I took the name of the Lord in vain and used foul language, I watched a pornographic movie, I abused myself for a year, I cheated on my taxes, I took disability money from the government despite being able to work, I ate between meals on Ash Wednesday, I sued someone just because I wanted some money.”
Here’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t matter if you were guilty of one or 100 sins. Thanks to God’s infinite mercy, before you walk out of the confessional, you will be forgiven from EVERYTHING by Christ Himself. Graces will be shower on you by Christ through a priest whose authority was passed down to him through the apostles themselves.
You will then be in a state of grace, worthy of heaven. That’s assuming you leave with an honest commitment to avoid all sin and as well to avoid any temptations to sin in the future. (it doesn’t mean you will succeed, you just need to have that sincere intention).
If on the other hand, you make a confession with the secret intention to say, deliberately miss Mass the next Sunday, then that would not be a valid Confession. Likewise, if you confess, but know you would make the same decision to sin again should the same situation arise, then obviously the Confession is not valid because your heart is not contrite.
We cannot underestimate the serious damage that is done by each and every venial sin we commit. Human beings were created as part a plan that did not include sin. Each venial sin actually causes cataclysmic reverberations throughout the world, wounding our Church and our family on Earth, and detracting from the peace of the world.
Even missing Mass just one Sunday will hurt the body of Christ. It is not until Judgment Day that each of us will have full knowledge of the damage and hurt caused by each and every venial sin we committed. Fortunately, God gives us the power to undo the effects of all sins through prayer and repentance.
The Church teaches us we are all part of one body. When one member fails, it detracts from the whole. When one member prays or fasts or devotes oneself to charity work, the individual helps heal the whole. When you go to Confession, you say yes to God and you help heal the world.
For more info on Confession, see:
www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/3543/confession.htm (Confession and John 20:22…..Scroll down to the bottom for help in examining your conscience)
www.cin.org/users/jgallegos/confess.htm (early Church Fathers on Confession/Penance)
www.ewtn.com/library/DOCTRINE/PENANC.TXT (Sacrament of Penance in the Early Church)
The following are quotes by Early Church Fathers on Confession (compiled by Catholic apologist Mark Bonocore at http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a36.htm
"[The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles . . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you THE GIFTS OF YOUR HOLY CHURCH, AND BY THE SPIRIT OF THE HIGH PRIESTHOOD TO HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS, in accord with your command" (Apostolic Tradition 3 [A.D. 215]).
ORIGEN (c. 244 AD)
In addition to these [kinds of forgiveness of sins], albeit hard and laborious: the remission of sins THROUGH PENANCE...when he [the sinner] does not shrink from DECLARING HIS SIN TO A PRIEST OF THE LORD AND FROM SEEKING MEDICINE....In this way there is fulfilled that too, which the Apostle James says: "If, then, there is anyone sick, let him call the PRESBYTERS [where we get PRIESTS] of the Church, and let them impose hands upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and if he be in SINS, THEY SHALL BE FORGIVEN HIM [James 5:14-15; cf. John 20:21-23]." (Hom on Leviticus 2:4)
Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who...CONFESS THEIR SINS TO THE PRIESTS OF GOD in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience....Indeed, he but sins the more if, thinking that God is like man, he believes that he can escape the punishment of his crime by not openly admitting his crime....I beseech you, brethren, LET EVERYONE WHO HAS SINNED CONFESS HIS SIN while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, WHILE THE SATISFACTION AND REMISSION MADE THROUGH THE PRIEST ARE STILL PLEASING BEFORE THE LORD. (The Lapsed 28)
Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed" [Matt 18:18]. Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? “Whose sins you shall forgive," he says, "they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained" [John 20:23]. What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [cf. Matt 9:8; 10:40; John 20:21]. (The Priesthood 3:5)
AUGUSTINE (c. 395 AD)When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted....But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out....In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance. (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15; 8:16).
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE AND RECONCILIATION (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
1422 "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."4
I. WHAT IS THIS SACRAMENT CALLED?
1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father5 from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner's personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" - acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace."6
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the live of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God."7 He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother."8
II. WHY A SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION AFTER BAPTISM?
1425 "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."9 One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree to which sin is excluded for him who has "put on Christ."10 But the apostle John also says: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."11 And the Lord himself taught us to pray: "Forgive us our trespasses,"12 linking our forgiveness of one another's offenses to the forgiveness of our sins that God will grant us.
1426 Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us "holy and without blemish," just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is "holy and without blemish."13 Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life.14 This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.15
III. THE CONVERSION OF THE BAPTIZED
1427 Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."16 In the Church's preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism17 that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.
1428 Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal."18 This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.19
1429 St. Peter's conversion after he had denied his master three times bears witness to this. Jesus' look of infinite mercy drew tears of repentance from Peter and, after the Lord's resurrection, a threefold affirmation of love for him.20 The second conversion also has a communitarian dimension, as is clear in the Lord's call to a whole Church: "Repent!"21
St. Ambrose says of the two conversions that, in the Church, "there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance."22
IV. INTERIOR PENANCE
1430 Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.23
1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).24
1432 The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart.25 Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!"26 God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced:27
Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.
1433 Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved "the world wrong about sin,"29 i.e., proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.30
V. THE MANY FORMS OF PENANCE IN CHRISTIAN LIFE
1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving,31 which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers a multitude of sins."32
1435 Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right,33 by the admission of faults to one's brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.34
1436 Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. "It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins."35
1437 Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father - every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.
1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice.36 These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).
1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:37 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father's house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father's generous welcome; the father's joy - all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart Of Christ Who knows the depths of his Father's love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way
1440 Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.38
Only God forgives sin
1441 Only God forgives sins.39 Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and exercises this divine power: "Your sins are forgiven."40 Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.41
1442 Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the "ministry of reconciliation."42 The apostle is sent out "on behalf of Christ" with "God making his appeal" through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God."43
Reconciliation with the Church
1443 During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God's forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God.44
1444 In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ's solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."45 "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head."46
1445 The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.
The sacrament of forgiveness
1446 Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."47
1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this "order of penitents" (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the "private" practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.
1448 Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same fundamental structure is to be discerned. It comprises two equally essential elements: on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God's action through the intervention of the Church. The Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction, also prays for the sinner and does penance with him. Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion.
1449 The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church:
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.48
VII. THE ACTS OF THE PENITENT
1450 "Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction."49
1451 Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again."50
1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51
1453 The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition") is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.52
1454 The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings.53
The confession of sins
1455 The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.
1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly."54
When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know."55
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
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 is merciful:60
Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. . . . When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.61
1459 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.62 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."
1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It 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, "provided we suffer with him."63
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. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance." These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.64
VIII. THE MINISTER OF THIS SACRAMENT
1461 Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation,65 bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops' collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
1462 Forgiveness of sins brings reconciliation with God, but also with the Church. Since ancient times the bishop, visible head of a particular Church, has thus rightfully been considered to be the one who principally has the power and ministry of reconciliation: he is the moderator of the penitential discipline.66 Priests, his collaborators, exercise it to the extent that they have received the commission either from their bishop (or religious superior) or the Pope, according to the law of the Church.67
1463 Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them. In danger of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication.69
1464 Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it.70
1465 When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner.
1466 The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ.71 He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy.
1467 Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives.72 This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the "sacramental seal," because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed" by the sacrament.
IX. THE EFFECTS OF THIS SACRAMENT
1468 "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship."73 Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation."74 Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.75
1469 This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it. In this sense it does not simply heal the one restored to ecclesial communion, but has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members.76 Re-established or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger by the exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body of Christ, whether still on pilgrimage or already in the heavenly homeland:77
It must be recalled that . . . this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the Church. He is reconciled with all creation.78
1470 In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin.79 In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and "does not come into judgment."80
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