The Sacrament of Confession


The world you and I live in is mess! The majority of the horrible things that happen in the world since the time of Adam and Eve are caused by sin(s) which each of us commit.

Each time we sin we are causing misery to another, whether it is a small lie, or some horrible act against another person or humanity.

Each time we sin we are not a loving child of God, which God expects us to be. God made us because He loves us and He expects us to share his love for us with each other. To do otherwise is to sin, which greatly offends God and causes great damage to our souls.

By sinning we turn away from God. The more serious the sin the greater the distance we are from God. God never turns away from us, He is always waiting for us to come back to Him and He has given us the way back to Him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Jesus His Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who suffered and died for our sins gave to us that we may return to God.

When Jesus told the apostle “whose sins you shall forgive in my name they are forgiven, whose sins you shall not forgive they are not forgiven.”

Many Catholics treasure the sacrament of Reconciliation.

The peace of mind and soul which this sacrament imparts to us is one for which there is no substitute. It is a peace that flows from a certainty, rather than from an unsure hope, that our sins have been forgiven and that we are right with God.

Although many converts to the Catholic Church initially fear it, they quickly come to love the sacrament of Reconciliation once they get over their nameless fears—fears which come from a misconception of what the sacrament really is.

The sacrament of reconciliation can be referred to by some other names: Penance, Confession. Confession is part of the sacrament in that we confess/tell our sins to the priest, who represents Jesus in this sacrament, through the sacrament he receive in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Penance is another part of reconciliation in that we are given a penance by the priest to do some reparation for our sin(s).

Common Misunderstandings:

Confession is one of the least understood of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. In reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, and Catholics are encouraged to take advantage of it often.

What is a Sacrament?

A sacrament is an outward instituted by Christ to give grace. The grace we receive in the sacraments is a participation in the life of God. The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the Sacraments.

Confession, Penance & Reconciliation:

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also known as Penance and Confession, among other names. (There is an explanation of some of these names in the Catechism’s section on the sacrament of Reconciliation).

Although often called Reconciliation in common usage, the term “penance” best describes the essential interior disposition required for this sacrament.

In fact, there is a virtue of penance. This is a supernatural virtue by which we are moved to detest our sins from a motive made known by faith, and with an accompanying purpose of offending God no more and of making satisfaction for our sins. In this sense the word “penance” is synonymous with “penitence” or “repentance.”

Before the time of Christ the virtue of penance was the only means by which people’s sins could be forgiven. Even today, for those outside the Church in good faith, not possessing the sacrament of Penance, it is the only means for forgiveness of sins.

Continuing the work of redemption

The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament in which the priest, as the agent of God, forgives sins committed after Baptism, when the sinner is heartily sorry for them, sincerely confesses them, and is willing to make satisfaction for them.

By his death on the Cross, Jesus Christ redeemed man from sin and from the consequences of his sin, especially from the eternal death that is sin’s due.

So it is not surprising that on the very day he rose from the dead, Jesus instituted the sacrament by which men’s sins could be forgiven.

A power granted by Christ

It was on Easter Sunday evening that Jesus appeared to his Apostles, gathered together in the Upper Room, where they had eaten the Last Supper. As they gaped and shrank back in a mixture of fear and dawning hope, Jesus spoke to them reassuringly.

Let St. John (20:19-23) tell it: Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, ‘Peace be to you!’ And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord. He therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’

To paraphrase our Lord’s words in more modern terms, what he said was this: As God, I have the power to forgive sin. I now entrust the use of that power to you. You will be My representatives. Whatever sins you forgive, I shall forgive. Whatever sins you do not forgive, I shall not forgive.

 What is Confession?

The Sacrament of Penance, commonly called Confession, is one of the seven sacraments recognized by the Catholic Church. Catholics believe that all of the sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ himself. In the case of Confession, that institution occurred on Easter Sunday, when Christ first appeared to the apostles after his Resurrection. Breathing on them, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).

The Sacrament of Penance is another name (rarely used today) for the Sacrament of Confession. Whereas “Confession” stresses the action of the believer in the sacrament, “Penance” expresses the proper attitude with which one should approach the sacramental” with sorrow for one’s sins, a desire to atone for them, and a firm resolve not to commit them again.

The Catechism tells that reconciliation is the sacrament by which sins committed after Baptism are forgiven through the absolution (forgiveness)of the priest.

Also Known As: The Sacrament of Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Examples: “In the past, the Sacrament of Confession was often called the Sacrament of Penance.”

The Biblical Basis of Confession

First, the more you learn about the Catholic faith, the more you will learn that Catholicism is Bible Christianity par excellence.

Confession is very clearly set forth in Scripture.  See Matt. 9:8 where the authority to forgive sins “was given to men.”  See also John 20:21-23 where the Lord, after the Resurrection, breathes on the apostles and says “whose sins you forgive are forgiven; whose sins you retain are retained.”  Jesus gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins.

See also James 5:14-16. This is a verse Protestants also ignore because it doesn’t fit anywhere in their theology.  First, in the first two verses (14-15), James is talking about the sacrament of the sick.  The priests are called and they anoint the sick person with oil and pray over him and forgive his sin (another example of man having the gift of forgiving sins).  Then, in verse 16, James says “Therefore, confess your sins to one another…”  By using “therefore,” James is connecting verses 14-15 to 16.  This means that, just as the priests are called upon to forgive sins in the sacrament of the sick, the priests are also called to forgive sins in the sacrament of confession.  No Scriptural support?  It is amazing how so many Protestants ignore these passages.  That is because they all support the 2,000 year-old Catholic teaching.

Yes, by virtue of our baptism in Christ, we are all children of God. However, Jesus Christ established one Church which He built upon Peter (Matt. 16:18), to whom He gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt.16:18-19).  Whatever the Church binds or looses on earth is bound or loosed in heaven.  When you seriously study history, and the teachings of the early Church Fathers, I believe that you will see the truth of the Catholic Church as the true Church founded by Christ.  You will also see where the Baptist faith came about (1,600 years after the Ascension).  We don’t say you are all wrong.  What we believe is that the Catholic Church gives us the FULLNESS of the truth.  Because of this, we have the fullness of the means of salvation (i.e., we have the seven sacraments Jesus gave us, not just one or two).

If there is anything else I can help you with, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Necessary after Baptism

Jesus knew well that many of us would forget our brave baptismal promises and commit grave sins after our Baptism. He knew that many of us would lose the grace, the sharing-in-God’s-own-life which came to us in Baptism.

Since God’s mercy is infinite and unwearying, it seems inevitable that he would provide a second chance (and a third and a fourth and a hundredth if necessary) for those who might relapse into sin.

The Marks of the Sacrament:

Catholics also believe that the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace. In this case, the outward sign is the absolution, or forgiveness of sins, that the priest grants to the penitent (the person confessing his sins); the inward grace is the reconciliation of the penitent to God (which is why the sacrament is also sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation).

A power of the priesthood

This power to forgive sin which Jesus conferred upon his Apostles was not, of course, to die with them; no more so than the power to change bread and wine into his Body and Blood, which he conferred upon his Apostles at the Last Supper.

Jesus did not come upon earth just to save a few chosen souls, or just the people who lived on earth during the lifetime of his Apostles.

Jesus came to save everybody who was willing to be saved, down to the end of time. He had you and me in mind, as well as Timothy and Titus, when he died on the Cross.

It is evident then that the power to forgive sins is a part of the power of the priesthood, to be passed on in the sacrament of Holy Orders from generation to generation.

It is the power which every priest exercises when he raises his hand over the contrite sinner and says, “I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” These are called “the words of absolution.”

The Purpose of Confession:

If someone was baptized why do they need to be reconciled to God? This question poses some serious responses and these responses are not short. Fortunately, Jesus left the Catholic Church with an answer.

That reconciling of man to God is the purpose of Confession. When we sin, we deprive ourselves of God’s grace. And by doing so, we make it even easier to sin some more. The only way out of this downward cycle is to acknowledge our sins, to repent of them, and to ask God’s forgiveness. Then, in the Sacrament of Confession, grace can be restored to our souls, and we can once again resist sin.

First, full Christian initiation has not taken place until someone receives Baptism, Confirmation and his/her first Eucharist. This is not to say that Baptism alone cannot cleanse a person, but full Christian initiation was added to demonstrate a point. Our new life received in Christian initiation does not abolish the frailty and weakness of human nature nor the inclination to sin due to Original Sin.

The baptized can work to overcome this by the grace of Christ that they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. Yes, that is correct, Christian life is a struggle, not a one time deal of receiving God spiritually and suddenly one’s life is okay. There will always be the temptation to sin and humans will always occasionally succumb to temptation.

Scripture warns us that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” (1 John 1:8). Obviously sin “stains” us or else we would not need a baptism to “wash” us. Since it has been established that we have the ability to sin after baptism or the reception of the Holy spirit and since the Bible tells us that nothing unclean can enter heaven (Revelation 21:27) then that must mean that Jesus left us a way to cleanse ourselves of sin after baptism and before death. This way is the sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance.

What Is Required?

Three things are required of a penitent in order to receive the sacrament worthily:

  1. He must be contrite—or, in other words, sorry for his sins.
  2. He must confess those sins fully, in kind and in number.
  3. He must be willing to do penance and make amends for his sins.

How Often Should You Go to Confession?

While Catholics are only required to go to Confession when they are aware that they have committed a mortal sin, the Church urges the faithful to take advantage of the sacrament often. A good rule of thumb is to go once per month. (The Church strongly recommends that, in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty to receive communion, we go to Confession even if we are aware of venial sin only.)

The Church especially urges the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Confession frequently during Lent, to help them in their spiritual preparation for Easter.

Why Is Confession Necessary?

Non-Catholics, and even many Catholics, often ask whether they can confess their sins directly to God, and whether God can forgive them without going through a priest. On the most basic level, of course, the answer is yes, and Catholics should make frequent acts of contrition, which are prayers in which we tell God that we are sorry for our sins and ask for His forgiveness.

But the question misses the point of the Sacrament of Confession. The sacrament, by its very nature, confers graces that help us to live a Christian life, which is why the Church requires us to receive it at least once per year. Moreover, it was instituted by Christ as the proper form for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore, we should not only be willing to receive the sacrament, but we should embrace it as a gift from a loving God.

Confession is necessary because when we sin, it is an act of the will, which creates an injustice. God wants the injustice remedied by a contrary act of the will. So when we go to confession, we are engaging our will to do something contrary to the sin, that is, confessing the sin, which restores the equity of justice. That is a Thomistic explanation for confession.

Jesus Christ instituted the sacrament so that we would humble ourselves before God by confessing our sins to His ministers, and by knowing for a certainty that we have been forgiven when we hear the words of absolution. Jesus knows what is best for us. Remember that the Council of Trent dogmatically declared that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. They don’t just “nourish” us on our “faith journey.” They are necessary because they provide sanctifying grace to the soul which is necessary for eternal beatitude.

Regarding sex before marriage, the Scriptures condemn fornication and adultery, which are sexual acts outside of the marriage context. By implication, then, the Scriptures teach that sex must be in the confines of marriage. Jesus goes all the way back to Genesis when He says that the two become one flesh – referring to the marriage covenent between Adam and Eve. It is our duty to warn souls who are living sexually immoral lives and pray for them. Our Lady revealed at Fatima that the sins of the flesh send the most people to hell. But you must do this in a charitable and loving way, not brooding it over people, but making them aware that it is an unnatural act.

How to Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Steps in Preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation: 

  1. Examine our conscience.
  2. Be really sorry for our sins
  3. Have a firm resolution of not sinning again
  4. Tell our sins to the priest
  5. Perform the penance the gives us

How to Examine our Conscience:

  1. Kneel down in the church pew and make the sign of the Cross: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
  2. Ask God to help us remember the ways in which we sinned and help us to confess them with true sorrow
  3. We than go through the Ten Commandments and the precepts (laws) of the Church one by one asking ourselves how we have sinned against them.

What to do when we go into the Confessional: 

  1. We kneel behind the screen or sit facing the priest.
  2. Say the Following: Bless me father for I have sinned. It is _______time since my last confession.
  3. Than tell the priest yours sins and how many times you have committed each one and the circumstances around the sin(s) If you can’t remember the number of times you have committed a sin, tell the priest you are not sure of how many times you did it.
  4. When you have finished telling the priest your sins, end with the following: “For these and all of the sins of my past life I am heartily ”
  5. The priest will give you some advice on how to not to commit these sins again, and will give you a penance to do.
  6. When he has finished you say the “Act of Contrition” while the priest gives you Absolution.
  7. ACT OF CONTRITION: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the unnecessary occasions of sin. Amen
  8. When all is finished the priest will say “go in peace”, you respond: “Thank you Father” and leave the confessional.

What to do after you Leave the Confessional

  1. Kneel in the pew and do the following:
    1. Thank God for the grace you received in the Sacrament
    2. Do the penance the priest gave you. If they are prayers do them in Church, if it is an action, do it as soon as possible after leaving the Church.

Countless benefits

It may be that at one time or another we have found the sacrament of Reconciliation a burden. Perhaps we even can remember an occasion when we said, “I wish I didn’t have to go to confession.”

But certainly in our saner moments we find Reconciliation a sacrament that we love, a sacrament we would not want to be without.

Just think of all that the sacrament of Reconciliation does for us!

First of all, if a person has cut himself off from God by a grave and deliberate act of disobedience against God (that is, by mortal sin), the sacrament of Reconciliation reunites the soul to God; sanctifying grace is restored to the soul.

At the same time, the sin itself (or sins) is forgiven. Just as darkness disappears from a room when the light is turned on, so too must sin disappear from the soul with the coming of sanctifying grace.

When received without any mortal sin on the soul, the sacrament of Reconciliation imparts to the soul an increase in sanctifying grace. This means that there is a deepening and strengthening of that divine-life-shared by which the soul is united to God.

And always, any venial sins which the penitent may have committed and for which he is truly sorry are forgiven. These are the lesser and more common sins which do not cut us off from God but still hinder, like clouds across the sun, the full flow of his grace to the soul.

What are the effects of this sacrament?

Reconciliation is the act or state of re-establishing friendship between God and a human being, or between two person. When one sins, after baptism, this sacrament is needed to restore one’s relationship with God. Also, since all Christians are connected together through the body of Christ this sacrament reconciles one with the church. Belive it or not, but when one sins not only does one destroy one’s relationship with God, but one also destroys one’s relationship with other Christians. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. This sacrament restores it. In list form the spiritual effects of this sacrament are:

  • Reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
  • Reconciliation with the Church;
  • Remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
  • Remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
  • Peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
  • An increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1496)

What does one do in confession?

The penitent is the one confessing his/her sins and seeking forgiveness. There are three things that the penitent must do for reconciliation with the Lord. The penitent must make an act of contrition and that means to be fully sorry for the sin(s) committed and to firmly resolve that he/she will not sin again. The penitent must confess his/her sins to a priest. The reason for this is given in the answer to question number 2. Also, the penitent must make satisfaction for the sins.

Crime & punishment

The restoring or the increasing of sanctifying grace and the forgiving of mortal and venial sins—is there anything else that the sacrament of Reconciliation can do for us?

Yes indeed!

If it is a question of mortal sin, Reconciliation wipes out the eternal punishment which is the inevitable consequence of mortal sin. It also remits at least part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

The temporal punishment due to sin is simply the debt of satisfaction which I owe to God for my sins even after the sins themselves have been forgiven. It it a matter of “repairing the damage,” we might say.

A simply example to illustrate this would be that of an angry boy who kicks at the table leg and knocks a piece of pottery off onto the floor. “I’m sorry, Mother,” he says repentantly. “I shouldn’t have done that.” “Well,” mother says, “if you’re sorry, I won’t punish you. But get down and pick up the pieces, and I’ll expect you to buy a new dish out of your allowance.”

Mother forgives the disobedience and absolves from the punishment—but she still expects her son to make satisfaction for his rebellious outburst.

It is this satisfaction which we owe to God for having offended him that we term “the temporal punishment due to sin.” Either we pay the debt in this life by the prayers, penances, and other good works which we perform in the state of grace, or we shall have to pay the debt in purgatory. And it is this debt which the sacrament of Reconciliation at least partially reduces, in proportion to the degree of our sorrow.

The more fervent our condition is, the more is our debt of temporal satisfaction reduced.

Restoring lost merits

Still another effect of the sacrament of Reconciliation is that it restores to us the merits of our past good works if these have been lost by mortal sin.

As we know, every good work that we perform in the state of grace and with the intention of doing it out of love for God is a meritorious work. It entitles us to an increase of grace in this life and an increase of glory in heaven. Even the simplest actions—kind words spoken, thoughtful deeds performed—have this effect, not to mention prayers said, Masses offered, sacraments received.

However, mortal sin wipes out this accumulated merit, much as a man might lose his life savings by one reckless gamble.

God could with perfect justice allow our past merits to remain forever lost even when he forgives our sins. But in his infinite goodness he does not make us start all over again from scratch. The sacrament of Reconciliation not only forgives our mortal sins; it also restores to us the merits which we had so willfully cast away.

Additional graces to strengthen us

Finally, besides all its other benefits, the sacrament of Reconciliation gives us the right to whatever actual graces we may need, and as we need them, in order that we may make atonement for our past sins and may conquer our future temptations.

This is the special “sacramental grace” of Penance; it fortifies us against a relapse into sin.

It is a spiritual medicine which strengthens as well as heals. That is why a person intent upon leading a good life will make it a practice to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation often. Frequent confession is one of the best guarantees against falling into grave sin. It would be the height of stupidity to say, “I don’t need to go to confession because I haven’t committed any mortal sins.”

All these results of the sacrament of Reconciliation—restoration or increase of sanctifying grace, forgiveness of sins, remission of punishment, restoration of merit, grace to conquer temptation—all these are possible only because of the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, which the sacrament of Reconciliation applies to our souls.

Jesus on the cross already has “done our work for us”. In the sacrament of Reconciliation we simply give God a chance to share with us the infinite merits of his Son.

“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:20)

Who can administer this sacrament?

Since the power to forgive sins was given to the apostles by the risen Christ (Cf. John 20:21-23) thn the bishops of today’s Church also are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20) as successors to the apostles. The bishops and their collaborators, the priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders do not forgive sins in and of themselves, but “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” as it is written in 2 Cor. 5:20: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

What is the form and matter of this sacrament?

This sacrament’s form is the words of absolution and the matter is the confession of the penitent and his/her penance which is the satisfaction made for the sins.

THE WORDS OF ABSOLUTION ARE: “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 sin; 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.”

What is the sacramental seal of confession?

The sacramental seal of confession is that the priest cannot reveal anything told to him, about the confessor, during the confession. There are no exceptions to this rule and the priest is “bound under severe penalties” to uphold this seal. Not even the highest court of any nation has the power top break this for God’s laws are higher than that of anyone else’s.

What is communal celebration and when does it happen?

“In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each penitent’s confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their grave sins in the time required. The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not the conditions required for general absolution exist. A large gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not constitute a case of grave necessity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1483).

Act of Contrition

O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because of your just punishments but most of all because I have offended you, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love.

I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin.



See also: The Sacrament of Confession (2)

Back to: Basics of Catholicism

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