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Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish is celebrating the Year of Catechesis from July 2022 – June 2023. The theme of the Year is: Journeying Together in Renewing our Faith. Each month, a new topic is addressed.

November 2022 Topic: The SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION

The sacrament of confession is a sacrament instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is granted to the penitent through the priest’s absolution.

The grace conferred during the sacrament of confession is deliverance from the guilt of sin, and in case of mortal sin, from its eternal punishment. The sacrament of penance further ensures serenity and peace in the penitent and reconciliation with God and the Church (CCC 1422).

This sacrament of spiritual healing has various names. Each name expresses a deep truth or an aspect of the sacrament or its effects on the recipient.

The sacrament is called:

  1. The sacrament of conversion because through it Christ calls us to conversion- to return to the Father after we have strayed from him by sinning. Having been forgiven our sins in the sacrament of confession we are called upon to change our lives for the better (CCC 1423);
  2. The sacrament of penance, because the sinner is called upon to repent, be sorrowful for his/her sin, and be determined not to sin again. To repent sins means to be truly sorry for committing such sins (CCC 1451);
  3. The sacrament of confession, since the mentioning of our sins to the the priest is an essential element of the sacrament (CCC 1424);
  4. The sacrament of forgiveness, since through the absolution by the priest the penitent is forgiven his/her sins (CCC1424); and
  5. The Sacrament of reconciliation because through this sacrament the penitent is reconciled with God and the Church (CCC 1424).

For those who have fallen after baptism, the sacrament of penance is necessary for salvation, as baptism is for those who have not been regenerated. The sacrament of penance is necessary to wash away sins that we commit after our baptism. At our baptism we experienced conversion, we became a new people, but baptism did not take away the frailty and weakness of human nature. Baptism did not take away from us the inclination to sin (CCC 1426). We still do sin after receiving the sacrament of baptism. The apostle John acknowledges this, saying, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The means available for us to be reconciled with God after baptism is the sacrament of confession.

The sacrament of penance is also necessary to prepare the faithful to receive Holy Communion worthily. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Anyone who is aware of committing a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution.” (CCC 1457). The sacrament of penance removes mortal and venial sins and bring the faithful back to a state of grace to receive the Eucharist.

Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the sacrament of penance after his resurrection from the dead. He appeared to his disciples, breathed upon them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever you forgive his sins, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn 20: 22-23).  By these words, Christ gave the apostles the power to forgive and retain sins. The apostles have also handed over the same powers to their successors: the bishops and their collaborators, the priests.

Even before he died, Christ also gave the powers to Peter and the apostles the forgive sins. For example, Jesus said to Peter, “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whosoever thou shall bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Mt 16:19). He repeated the same words to the rest of the apostles, “Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

Thus, whatever, the apostles bind or loosen on earth, which includes sins and forgiveness, God in heaven will likewise bind or loose. Christ gave the apostles the powers to forgive sins because he knew that people who have been baptized would still fall into sin in their lifetime and that they would need forgiveness. Baptism cannot be repeated but the sacrament of penance can be repeated.

The sacrament of confession involves the following important steps:

Before we go for the sacrament of confession, we need to be aware of our sins. This requires us to examine our conscience (CCC 1454). Think of what you have done or said since your last confession, which might have offended God or a neighbour or any omission.

In our examination of conscience, we may use Biblical passages, for example, the ten commandments, and the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-11) or other parts of the Gospels giving moral teachings (for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan) or parts of the letters of Paul such as Paul’s teachings on love or marriage (1Cor 12-13; Eph 4-6). Discern the root of sin in our life and any patterns of sin.

The Council of Trent explains that contrition is sorrow of heart and detestation of sin committed together with the purpose of not sinning in the future. Without sorrow for sins there is no forgiveness.

The penitent must be sorry for his sins like the sinful woman who came to Jesus when he was eating at the Pharisee’s house. She came and knelt at the feet of Jesus crying because of her sins. She wiped the feet of Jesus with her hair. She was very remorseful for her sins. Seeing the kind of sorrow the woman had, Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven” (Lk 7:36-50).

We show contrition because of our love of God and that we want to be reconciled with him. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Further, we love God because we realise our sins caused the passion and death of Jesus. When contrition arises from our love of God, it is called perfect contrition. But sometimes we are sorrowful for our sins and want to repent because we fear the consequences of sins such as eternal damnation. That contrition is also acceptable and is called imperfect contrition. (CCC 1452).

We may express our sorrow through actions and spontaneous personal words or through prayer such as act of contrition or we can read penitential psalms such as psalm 51.

Further, true contrition requires us to make a resolution not to commit the sins again. While it may be impossible not to sin again, there must be a deep desire in us to change, to be faithful to God, and take all necessary measures which will help us to change. God wants us to commit ourselves to change. This is what Jesus told the woman who was caught in adultery. Jesus said to her, “Go and do not sin again” (John 8:11) The penitent must do what is in his or her power to avoid committing sins again, which includes avoiding occasions for sin.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession” (CCC 1484). The faithful are required to disclose their sins to the priest who stands in the confessional box in the name of Christ and as a representative of the Church. The Council of Trent teaches that for priest to exercise judgement, give advice and penance to the penitent, the penitent needs to disclose the sins to the priest.

You can go to any priest within your diocese, whether of your parish or from another parish or institution. Go to the priest you are comfortable with, whether the one who knows you or someone who does not know you. It is all a matter of your preference. Others may prefer to have a regular confessor.

You can meet the priest for confession where you prefer: either the confessional box with a grated window or in an open, friendlier and less formal place. You can kneel or sit before the priest, whatever makes you more comfortable.

Having met the priest, the procedure for the confession is as follows:

(i) Reception of the penitent

The priest warmly welcomes you. This is important because it imitates the attitude of Jesus who welcomed sinners and ate with them (Lk 15:2).

Then both you and the priest make the sign of the cross, saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” This sign of the cross reminds us of our baptism, the redemption we received through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the fact that we are before a triune God who is merciful and loving.

If the penitent is unknown to the priest, it is recommended to the penitent to mention his/her state of life, the time he/she had the last confession, any difficulties he/she has experienced in leading the Christian life, and anything else that may help the confessor in the exercise of his ministry (Rite of Penance, no. 16).

(ii) Reading of the Word of God (optional)

The priest or the penitent may read a passage from the Bible which proclaims God’s mercy and call us to repent our sins. If the penitent used a particular biblical text for examination of conscience it is recommended he/she reads that text or at least refer to it. The word of God encourages to come to conversion and lead a holy life. However, reading of the Bible is optional.

(iii) Confession of sins

The confession ought to be simple, humble, sincere, prudent and vocal.

Simple: One should avoid all superfluous words. Do not give too many details. Mention the sin as clearly as possible so that the priest understands the nature of your sin. Mention how times you have committed that sin. Do not use vague language such as ‘I did bad things, or I committed a sin against purity’ because such terms do not mean anything.

Humble: We need humility and faith for us to make a good confession. Take responsibility for the sin you committed ((CCC 1455). One should not excuse one’s faults. Do not blame others for the sin such as “my wife is the one who makes me to sin or my children, or my friend or colleagues at my workplace.”

Sincere: One should not hide sins. Mention all the sins you have committed since your last confession. If you hide to mention a particular sin, the confession becomes invalid (CCC 1456). However, if you forget a certain sin, the confession is valid, but remember to confess that sin in the next confession.

It is obligatory to confess a mortal sin (CCC 1456) because it breaks our relationship with God and the Church and makes us lose a state of grace. A mortal sin needs to be confessed as it leads to death, eternal damnation. Further, the Church recommends that even venial sins should be confessed (CCC 1458). Although venial sins do not break one’s relationship or friendship with God, the Church and neighbor, they still have a negative impact on our Christian life. Venial sins may not wipe away the state of grace from us but still make us more inclined to sin. The more we commit venial sins the more the chance that we end up committing a mortal sin. Therefore, both mortal and venial sins should be confessed.

Further, do not confess dreams because dreams are not sins. You are not also supposed to confess temptations because temptations are not sins.

How often should we go for confession? We are obliged to confess our serious sins at least once a year (CCC 1457).  However, frequent reception of the sacrament is recommended. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “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” (CCC1458).

Prudent: One should not manifest the sins of others without necessity. It is you who is confessing, not the others, so mind your business. Do not keep mentioning other people’s names unless it is really necessary.

Vocal: The teaching of the Church is that one should confess one’s sins by the spoken word, unless a reasonable cause excuses, as in the case of the deaf and dumb.

(iv) Prayer of contrition

Having confessed your sins, the priest will advise you. Listen carefully to his advice. He will further request you to pray act of contrition to express how sorrowful you are for committing those sins. You may read out or recite the prayer by heart. You may also make your own spontaneous prayer of contrition.

(v) Penance

The priest will give you penance to say or do and the penance corresponds to the seriousness and nature of your sins. Penance is also called satisfaction. That penance may consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, or sacrifices (CCC 1460).

Sins damage our relationship with God and others. It is not enough for the penitent to be sorry and be forgiven in the sacrament of confession. The penitent must do something to repair the damage that his/her sins caused (CCC 1459). For example, stolen goods should be returned; the penitent must compensate for any injuries sustained by others; restore the reputation of someone who was slandered. A good biblical example of penance is the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He acknowledged he had done wrong to others and wanted to repair the damage he had caused. He said to Jesus, “I will give half of my belongings to the poor and if I have cheated anyone I will pay him back four times as much” (Lk 19:8).

Moreover, apart from sinning against God and the Church, every “sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself”’ (CCC 1459). One must work to regain spiritual health. By sinning you became sick spiritually and now you need to recover your full spiritual strength by doing something more to make amends for your sins. So do your penance. If you forget to do your penance, confess in your next confession that you did not do your penance last time.

 (vi) Absolution by the priest

After the prayer of contrition, the priest extends his hands over the head of the penitent and says the prayer of absolution. Towards the end of this prayer, the priest makes a sign of the cross over the penitent and the penitent does the same.

The penitent answers, “Amen.” Finally, the priest dismisses the penitent. He tells him/her to go in peace. Then the penitent makes a firm resolution not to sin again.

The sacrament of confession has the following effects on the penitent:

  1. a) The penitent is reconciled with God. By sinning we offend God and damage our relationship/friendship with him. That relationship is restored through the sacrament of penance (CCC 1468). Confession brings us back into a state of grace.
  2. b) Penance reconciles us with the Church. Our sin damages our relationship with others; it destroys our communion with the members of the Church. Whatever we do, affects the whole family of God. St Paul explains that the Church is the Body of Christ comprising many members. Whatever each member does has a direct effect on the rest of the members of this Body of Christ. “If one part of the body suffers, all other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness” (1 Cor 12:26). The sacrament of penance enables you to repair your relationship with the Church. It helps you to get back to communion with the Church (CCC 1469).
  3. c) The sacrament of reconciliation gives peace and inner stability to the penitent. “Reconciliation is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation” (CCC 1468). Since sin puts us in a dangerous position of eternal damnation its forgiveness brings relief and peace to our minds.
  4. d) The penitent puts himself/herself in the merciful judgement of God every time he/she goes for the sacrament of confession. “We are already training for such an inevitable moment. In this sacrament, the sinner placing himself before the merciful judgement of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgement to which he will be subjected at the end of earthly life” (CCC 1470). For the sinner who repents, who goes for confession, he/she does not have to fear the judgment which is to come at the end of life. His/her sins are forgiven and he/she waits for a reward in heaven.

Jesus instituted the sacrament of penance to give the opportunity to the faithful to receive forgiveness from God for the sins they commit after baptism. One of the missions of Jesus was to forgive people’s sins and this mission became the mission of the apostles and the entire Church.

No one among us can claim that he/she does not sin. We all sin and let us go for the sacrament of confession as regularly as possible. It is a sign of weakness in one’s spiritual life if one does not go for the confession of confession. God does not want anyone of us to be lost and he is a merciful and loving God. Let us come to him and experience his mercy in the sacrament of confession. After receiving the sacrament of confession, let us make a resolution not to sin again.

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