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Reconciliation / Confession

CONFESSIONS Saturdays: 10.30 am, 6.45 pm or anytime on request.

What is the name of this sacrament?

It is called the sacrament of Penance, the sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament of Forgiveness, the sacrament of Confession, and the sacrament of Conversion.

 

Why is there a sacrament of Reconciliation after Baptism?

Since the new life of grace received in Baptism does not abolish the weakness of human nature nor the inclination to sin (that is, concupiscence), Christ instituted this sacrament for the conversion of the baptized who have been separated from him by sin.

 

When did he institute this sacrament?

The risen Lord instituted this sacrament on the evening of Easter when he showed himself to his apostles 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.” (John 20:22-23).

Do the baptized have need of conversion?

The call of Christ to conversion continues to resound in the lives of the baptized. Conversion is a continuing obligation for the whole Church. She is holy but includes sinners in her midst.

 

What is interior penance?

It is the movement of a “contrite heart” (Psalm 51:19) drawn by divine grace to respond to the merciful love of God. This entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, a firm purpose not to sin again in the future and trust in the help of God. It is nourished by hope in divine mercy.

 

What forms does penance take in the Christian life?

Penance can be expressed in many and various ways but above all in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These and many other forms of penance can be practiced in the daily life of a Christian, particularly during the time of Lent and on the penitential day of Friday.

 

What are the essential elements of the sacrament of Reconciliation?

The essential elements are two: the acts of the penitent who comes to repentance through the action of the Holy Spirit, and the absolution of the priest who in the name of Christ grants forgiveness and determines the ways of making satisfaction.

 

What are the acts of the penitent?

They are: a careful examination of conscience; contrition (or repentance), which is perfect when it is motivated by love of God and imperfect if it rests on other motives and which includes the determination not to sin again; confession, which consists in the telling of one’s sins to the priest; and satisfaction or the carrying out of certain acts of penance which the confessor imposes upon the penitent to repair the damage caused by sin.

 

Which sins must be confessed?

All grave sins not yet confessed, which a careful examination of conscience brings to mind, must be brought to the sacrament of Penance. The confession of serious sins is the only ordinary way to obtain forgiveness.

 

When is a person obliged to confess mortal sins?

Each of the faithful who has reached the age of discretion is bound to confess his or her mortal sins at least once a year and always before receiving Holy Communion.

 

Why can venial sins also be the object of sacramental confession?

The confession of venial sins is strongly recommended by the Church, even if this is not strictly necessary, because it helps us to form a correct conscience and to fight against evil tendencies. It allows us to be healed by Christ and to progress in the life of the Spirit.

 

Who is the minister of this sacrament?

Christ has entrusted the ministry of Reconciliation to his apostles, to the bishops who are their successors and to the priests who are the collaborators of the bishops, all of whom become thereby instruments of the mercy and justice of God. They exercise their power of forgiving sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

To whom is the absolution of some sins reserved?

The absolution of certain particularly grave sins (like those punished by excommunication) is reserved to the Apostolic See or to the local bishop or to priests who are authorized by them. Any priest, however, can absolve a person who is in danger of death from any sin and excommunication.

 

Is a confessor bound to secrecy?

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to people every confessor, without any exception and under very severe penalties, is bound to maintain “the sacramental seal” which means absolute secrecy about the sins revealed to him in confession.

 

What are the effects of this sacrament?

The effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living.

Can this sacrament be celebrated in some cases with a general confession and general absolution?

In cases of serious necessity (as in imminent danger of death) recourse may be had to a communal celebration of Reconciliation with general confession and general absolution, as long as the norms of the Church are observed and there is the intention of individually confessing one’s grave sins in due time.

 

What are indulgences?

Indulgences are the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. The faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains the indulgence under prescribed conditions for either himself or the departed. Indulgences are granted through the ministry of the Church which, as the dispenser of the grace of redemption, distributes the treasury of the merits of Christ and the Saints.

 

Media Library - Penane and Reconciliation 1

 

Media Library - Eucharist 4

 

The prodigal son, in his anxiety for conversion, to return to the arms of his father and to be forgiven, represents those who are aware of the existence in their inmost hearts of a longing for reconciliation at all levels and without reserve, and who realize with an inner certainty that this reconciliation is possible only if it derives from a first and fundamental reconciliation-the one which brings a person back from distant separation to filial friendship with God, whose infinite mercy is clearly known. But if the parable is read from the point of view of the other son, it portrays the situation of the human family, divided by forms of selfishness. It throws light on the difficulty involved in satisfying the desire and longing for one reconciled and united family. It therefore reminds us of the need for a profound transformation of hearts through the rediscovery of the Father’s mercy and through victory over misunderstanding and over hostility among brothers and sisters.

Blessed John Paul II, Reconciliation and Penance (1983)

 

Why did Christ institute the sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick?

Christ, the physician of our soul and body, instituted these sacraments because the new life that he gives us in the sacraments of Christian initiation can be weakened and even lost because of sin. Therefore, Christ willed that his Church should continue his work of healing and salvation by means of these two sacraments.

Illness, which in everyday experience is perceived as a frustration of the natural life force, for believers becomes an appeal to “read” the new, difficult situation in the perspective which is proper to faith. Outside of faith, moreover, how can we discover in the moment of trial the constructive contribution of pain? How can we give meaning and value to the anguish, unease, and physical and psychic ills accompanying our mortal condition? What justification can we find for the decline of old age and the final goal of death, which, in spite of all scientific and technological progress, inexorably remain?

Yes, only in Christ, the incarnate Word, Redeemer of mankind and victor over death, is it possible to find satisfactory answers to such fundamental questions.

In the light of Christ’s death and resurrection illness no longer appears as an exclusively negative event; rather, it is seen as a “visit by God”, an opportunity “to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love”

Illness, which in everyday experience is perceived as a frustration of the natural life force, for believers becomes an appeal to “read” the new, difficult situation in the perspective which is proper to faith. Outside of faith, moreover, how can we discover in the moment of trial the constructive contribution of pain? How can we give meaning and value to the anguish, unease, and physical and psychic ills accompanying our mortal condition? What justification can we find for the decline of old age and the final goal of death, which, in spite of all scientific and technological progress, inexorably remain?

Yes, only in Christ, the incarnate Word, Redeemer of mankind and victor over death, is it possible to find satisfactory answers to such fundamental questions. In the light of Christ’s death and resurrection illness no longer appears as an exclusively negative event; rather, it is seen as a “visit by God”, an opportunity “to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love”.

Blessed John Paul II, Message for the first World Day of the Sick, 1993.

 

Media Library - Penane and Reconciliation 2

From Petrus Comestor’s “Bible Historiale” Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague

 

Why confess to a priest?

Media Library - Why Confess to a PriestAn American teacher who has charge of religious education in a primary school told me the other day that she had been preparing children for First Confession. She thought she had done a good job until one eight-year old asked, ‘Why do I have to say, “First Confession?” Do I have to go through this again?’ He thought that one experience of confession was enough for a lifetime. We all have different ideas and especially feelings about confession. The title, ‘Why Confess to a Priest?’ is from a two-penny CTS pamphlet that was on sale in churches during the 1940s and 50s. So it is not a recent question. A lot of people like the idea of general confession, where one would get absolution without having to be explicit about any sins. People can jokingly refer to this as ‘confession on the cheap,’ though Church law demands that serious sins remitted in general confession should be specifically confessed at a later date. There is no cut-price confession, at least in the case of serious sin. What serious sin is, is a matter for another time.

 

Burden or Gift
The really basic question can be expressed in this way; do we consider confession as a burden or a gift? There are several slightly different ways in which the same question might be put. Is God being kindly to us in establishing confession, or it some kind of punishment? Is confession an act of mercy, or a hard punishment for sin? Yet another way of putting the question would be, is actual confession good for us? Would we be better off simply telling our sins to God? Well, we have all told God that we are sorry for sin, but that does not seem to be enough to satisfy the human heart. Is there something about us that makes it important that we confess serious misdemeanours to another?

 

Confessing
We all have read or heard about people who committed a serious crime like murder. They get away with it for years and then they feel they have to tell someone, a friend or even go to the police and hand themselves in. What is going on in these cases? Another example would be the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The fourth step on the road to recovery is ‘Make a searching and serious moral inventory of ourselves.’ This is to look really honestly at the whole issue of good and evil – not just drink abuse. Then the sixth step is, ‘Admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.’ Again it is all wrongdoing, not just drink offences. Again note who must receive the confession: admit to ourselves, to God and to another human being. In the New Testament there is a passage in the letter of St. James that talks about how people are getting along (James 5:7-16). The author begins by exhorting patience. He then speaks about those who are suffering, they should pray. Those who are cheerful should sing songs of praise. Those who are sick should be anointed with oil and have hands laid on them by the presbyters. He then sums up: ‘Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.’ The confession of sin is somehow necessary for wellbeing. These three examples of people feeling the need to admit to past crimes, the wisdom of the AA fellowship, and the scriptural connection between confession of sins and healing or well being invite us to look again at the sacrament and see why confession is so important.

 

Healing
If I commit some serious sin, I can, and should, tell God that I am sorry. God is merciful and will, I hope, forgive. But it is a very silent forgiveness. Can I be sure that I have satisfied God? Is he content with my sorrow? In the meantime I can still feel the isolation of sin, and the deep sense of shame that can so easily lead me to think that I am unlovable or nasty. There is a powerful psychological need to feel accepted. If I confess all my sins and I am not rejected, but welcomed and encouraged, then life opens up again. So long as I am not fully honest with myself, and have not admitted the exact nature of my wrongs, then I can easily fall into the grasp of self-hatred. If I admit only to part of my sin or somehow cover up, then lurking beneath is the possible thought, if people really knew what I am like, they would reject me. Confession, even in a dark corner of a church solves this basic problem. If I confess, then I have my dignity restored; I am welcomed back from the isolation of sin and guilt.

Seen in this way confession is a gift. It can still be embarrassing, but a moment’s embarrassment is a small price to pay. We can perhaps smile at the thought: well I was not ashamed to sin, so why the big deal in confessing it? This psychological need of admitting our evil and of being accepted and respected is at the heart of the sacrament. But there are other advantages. The area of sin is one in which we can very easily have a distorted picture of ourselves and of our sinfulness. We may not be fully honest with ourselves and we can rationalise our failings. We can escape their wrong and the harm they do to others. Other people have an opposite problem. They are needlessly crushed by sin and a sense of failure. They need to be encouraged and set free from their guilt and perhaps from twisted thinking about themselves. I have often been at services of reconciliation when people have come up just to mention one or two sins and get absolution and I felt, if only I could say a few sentences to this person and help them into freedom. But there is no opportunity and they go off, forgiven, but still damaged or enslaved by anxiety, self-hatred, scrupulosity, despair. The possibility of advice is a major feature in the sacrament, and one of the important reasons why we should confess our sins.
We have seen then that we need not only forgiveness of sins, but also a remedy for sin. Sin traps and makes us slaves. Merely to get absolution is a great benefit, but people can need more. A word, a phrase from the priest can bring a lot of healing. Confession is meant to be a dialogue between priest and the penitent, so that the sin is uncovered, its roots uncovered and remedies sought. Whether all this happens depends on how we use the sacrament, a quick fix, or a step towards healing.

 

A Priest
The help that the priest can offer does not necessarily come from that the fact that the priest is particularly learned or even very holy, but because Christ in his Holy Spirit is present guiding both the priest and the person confessing sins. What if a priest is angry or unpleasant? There is, I think, only one thing to do. Walk out, telling him perhaps, as you leave, that he is a disgrace. Nobody should put up with ill-treatment of any kind in confession.
We have two answers to the question, why confess to a priest? One is that confession of the exact nature of our sins is very good and healing for us. The second is that we can find remedy for sinful or harmful attitudes to ourselves and others. Why is a priest better? The Church had ring-fastened confession to make it a safe place. There is the seal of confession. Nothing told in confession in order to receive absolution can ever be revealed. The penalty for a priest doing so is papal excommunication, usually with expulsion from priesthood. I have never heard of a case of this strict confessional secrecy being violated. So a third reason is that the Church provided a safe place for the confession that is sometimes necessary for us, and often helpful.

 

Meeting Christ
The main reason for confession to a priest is that we are dealing with a sacrament, a way in which Christ set up a means for dispensing grace. ‘Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.’ (see John 20:22-23). The priest cannot really be said to forgive sins by the power of Christ, if he doesn’t know what the sins are. In the sacrament it is Christ who forgives. Since Christ is ascended into heaven, we would not be able to see him or hear his voice forgiving us. But he acts in the person of the priest. When the priest says, ‘I absolve you from your sins,’ he is doing so in Christ’s name and place; we hear the actual words of forgiveness, and the sin is removed forever.

St Therese of Lisieux recalls her first confession. She says, ‘I never felt so much joy in my soul. Since then I’ve gone to confession on all the great feasts, and it was truly a feast for me each time.’

Chris O’Donnell O.Carm

 

This article is reprinted by kind permission of ‘Spirituality’
(Dominican Publications) Vol 10
January/February 2004

 
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