Catholic Classroom: Confession
The sacrament of Reconciliation, also commonly known as confession, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Just like all the other sacraments, Reconciliation is an outward sign instituted by Christ that effects grace in the soul of the recipient. In this beautiful sacrament of healing, we are cleansed of the sins that have ruptured our communion with God, and we receive grace and healing to help us continue living virtuous, Christ-centered lives.
But why do we need to confess our sins to a priest? Why can’t we just bring our sins to God and ask for his forgiveness in our own personal prayer?
First and foremost, it’s because Jesus gave the apostles, and, subsequently all men ordained to the priesthood, authority to absolve sins. In the Gospel of John, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples and says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you… whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” So although we can express remorse for our sins and ask for forgiveness in private prayer, without confessing our sins to a priest we would be missing out on the sacrament instituted by Jesus himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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.” (CCC 1468) Once again, confession is a sacrament and therefore offers supernatural graces that we need in order to live out our friendship with Christ.
In Saint Faustina’s Diary, she lists two important reasons why we should confess our sins to a priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation: to be healed and to be educated. Sin wounds us and others, and the graces received in confession can help heal those wounds. Additionally, when we go to a priest for confession, he can offer us spiritual guidance and encouragement. The penance the priest gives us is also meant to inspire repentance and interior conversion.
When talking about confession, it’s important to note that although the priest speaks the words of absolution in the confessional, Jesus is the one forgiving us. Just as the priest acts in persona Christi during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, so too does he act on behalf of Christ in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
This sacrament is so important that the Church has mandated that the faithful should confess their sins at least once a year. Although confession might seem intimidating at first, there is nothing to fear. The priest is merely a minister of the sacrament; when we enter the confessional, Christ meets us there to offer us his mercy and healing.