PART 2 – THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE & RECONCILIATION
(a) Most of our Catholics go for confession before Christmas and Easter. Some make a confession once or more times in a month. I make a confession once a month, for many years now.
(b) The Church commands every Catholic to make a confession at least once a year.
(c) Some Catholics never go for confession, yet they receive communion every Sunday. Perhaps they don’t know why one should make a confession, or are afraid to make a confession.
(d) Why should we make a confession?
(e) Can priests really forgive sins in confession?
(f) What are the spiritual benefits of confession?
2. The Sacrament
(a) In the very first appearance of Jesus to His disciples, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus greeted His apostles saying: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathed on them and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23).
(b) The Church believes that in these words, Jesus instituted the sacrament giving His power and authority to His apostles and to their successors to forgive sins in the Church.
(c) The Church calls this sacrament:
(i) The sacrament of Reconciliation: for it restores the relationship with God which the sinner has either damaged or destroyed because of his sin.
(ii) The sacrament of Penance: for it leads the sinner to repentance and conversion, and to seek God’s forgiveness.
(iii) And it is called the sacrament of Confession: it means the sinner must confess his sin to the priest administering this sacrament, to obtain his absolution.
(d) The apostles used this sacrament to forgive the sinners in the Christian community; they passed this authority and power onto their successors, the Pope and Bishops. The Bishops share this power with their priests to forgive sins in this sacrament.
3. We need this Sacrament
The Gospel of St Mark ( 2:1-12) tells that one day, a seriously sick person was carried by 4 friends to Jesus, and knelt before Jesus, humbly and with sincere faith begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus looked at the paralyzed, saw the intolerable guilt-feeling in this paralyzed person for his sin which caused his paralysis: at once Jesus manifested his compassion and mercy. Jesus first forgave his sin, then he healed him!
(b) Pope Francis said in a talk to a large audience: “The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing. I go to confession to receive healing to heal my soul, to heal from my wrong deeds. The forgiveness and healing Jesus gave that miserable paralyzed person is a perfect healing. Here Jesus manifested that He is a Doctor of both soul and body.
(c) Before God, a baptized person with serious (mortal) sin is more miserable than that seriously paralyzed person! As long as a sinner remains in serious sin, he remains guilty and miserable. Only Jesus and the sacrament of confession can set free a sinner from sin and restore his / her spiritual paralysis and the beauty of his soul.
(d) Thanks to the compassion of Jesus for us sinners, for He gave the sacrament of confession to set us free from sin.
4. Sin, Mortal Sin, Venial Sin
(a) When we act against our conscience, against the doctrine of our faith, or the commandments of God and of the Church, or the law of our country, we commit sin. Often we sin because we have followed our weaknesses like pride, greediness for worldly things, lust, bad temper, envy, laziness.
(b) There are two levels of sin: mortal or serious sin, and venial or small sin.
(i) We commit a mortal sin, when we knowingly and willingly and in a serious way, break the commandments of God or of the Church, or an important law of our country. (In the examination below, the sins mentioned are all mortal sins.) A mortal sin breaks our relationship with God, or we seriously harm or injure others, and we will be condemned into eternal fire of hell. We may obtain God’s pardon for a mortal sin, only through a good confession.
(ii) When we not knowingly or wilfully break a serious commandment or law, we commit a venial sin. Venial sins offend God, and God may punish the sinner either here on earth or in purgatory. A venial sin may be forgiven in confession, also with our act of contrition outside confession. A venial sin lessens our love for God and can lead us to commit mortal sin.
5. The Acts of the Penitent (a person who repents and seeks forgiveness)
Before a person uses this sacrament, he must humbly admit that he is a sinner, has offended God, and seeks God’s forgiveness.
(a) Examination of Conscience: Before preparing for confession, the penitent should ask the Holy Spirit to help him remember all serious sins he had committed. If he has not committed any serious (mortal) sin, it is sufficient that he remembers those frequently committed small (venial) sins.
(b) Then he examines his / her conscience and tries to remember his sins:
(i) against God: e.g. no faith in God, despair in God, missing Sunday mass without good reason, making a false oath in a court.
(ii) against others: e.g. hating someone, unwilling to forgive someone, damaging the good name of someone, making a false accusation against someone, seriously injuring someone, cheating, stealing …
(iii) in oneself: e.g. impure desires, masturbation, gambling, adultery, attempting suicide, getting drunk …
Having remembered his sins, the penitent then makes the Act of Contrition.
(c) Contrition: It is a sincere sorrow, regret, and detestation of the penitent for having offended God, Who is so merciful and loving to him / her; and he / she promises to God that he/she resolves not to sin again and to amend his / her life.
Both contrition for sin and resolution to amend life are necessary. Without them, one cannot obtain forgiveness from God.
There are two kinds of Contrition:
(i) “Perfect Contrition”: when the penitent, out of his love for God, is sorry and regrets for his sins because he has offended God who is so good and loving, and whom he loves. He firmly resolves not to offend God again; and he will strive to avoid sin and to amend his life. This kind of Contrition is called “Perfect Contrition”.
(ii) “Imperfect Contrition”: If the penitent is sorry and regrets for his / her sins, with firm resolution not to sin again because he fears God’s punishment. This kind of Contrition is called “Imperfect Contrition”; it is sufficient for confession.
(c) Resolution: The penitent must firmly resolve that he will strive with God’s help, to avoid sin and amend his life. Contrition would not be true, if the penitent does not make such firm resolution. Indeed a firm resolution is very necessary and a condition to obtain God’s forgiveness.
(iii) Here are 2 prayers of Contrition:
A traditional Prayer of Contrition:
“O my God, I am sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins: because I am afraid of your punishment, but most of all, because my sins have offended you, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, I will not sin again.
A short Prayer of Contrition:
“O my God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you, because you are so good , and with your help, I will not sin again.” (Note: Contrition must be made before confession.)
(d) Confession: The penitent goes to a priest and sincerely confess to him all the serious sins remembered in the examination. One should confess his / her own sins, (not sins of others!) If he / she purposely hides a serious sin when confessing, he / she has made a bad confession, he / she is not sincere before God and will not receive God’s forgiveness, even if the priest gives absolution.
(e) Penance: The priest imposes a penance on the penitent as a way to repair his relationship, damaged by his sins, with God, with the Church, and with others. Penance given by the priest may be some prayer, some work of compassion, like a visit to a sick, to a home-bound old person, or help to a poor person. The penitent must accept it and diligently do it as soon as he can.
6. The Priest who forgives sins of the penitent
(a) The priest receiving the confession of the penitent, may ask a question or two, if necessary, to have clarification. He gives a suitable penance to the penitent. He then absolves the penitent from sins “in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
(b) The priest is bound to keep absolute confidentiality on the sins he heard in confession, under severe punishment by the Church law.
7. The Effects of the sacrament of Confession
I quote again the words of Pope Francis: Receiving the sacrament of reconciliation is a loving embrace of God the Father (just as Jesus described that loving father who so lovingly welcomed the prodigal son coming back to him with a hearty embrace. (Luke 15:20).
(a) This sacrament is indeed the manifestation of the infinite compassion, mercy and love of Jesus in receiving sinners back to him through this sacrament!
(b) It sets a sinner free from his sin and guilt, and restores peace in his heart.
(c) It restores and repairs our relationship with God, with the Church and with our neighbour, damaged or destroyed by our sins.
(d) Sets us free from the eternal punishment in hell due to our serious sin.
(e) The Holy Spirit grants us more spiritual energy to reject and resist all evils and temptations. And more.
The worthy use of this sacrament assures us all these effects. This is the very reason why the Church exhorts us to use this sacrament regularly; and why many Catholics go to confession frequently.
How have you prepared yourself before your confession (with careful examination, sincere contrition and promise to amend your life)?
– Have I made the “contrition” truly from my heart?
– Did I ever hide any serious sins in my confession?
– Have I carefully done the penance given by the priest?
– Did I thank God after confession for the forgiveness I received?
– Did I make real effort to amend my life and avoid sin?