Confession & Eucharist in the Early Church

We know that in its earliest days, believers could only receive confession once. Was reception of the Eucharist rare because of this?

Good question. I’d like to know, too.

What about all those people who put off baptism because individual confession was, practically speaking, not yet available? Obviously they couldn’t receive the Eucharist for the vast majority of their lives.

Who was commonly receiving communion back then?

I don’t believe so, because it was also the case that that the only sins that required the penitent to go to confession were adultery, apostasy, and murder.

I wish this were still the case.

Somebody’s been reading Tertulilan. . .and I believe that according to the Catholic Encyclopedia that confession was NOT limited to only those 3 sins, nor was it once only. I mean, Tertullian was writing the above in AD 200, Then he became a Montanist who apparently believed that the Church couldn’t forgive certain sins, or couldn’t forgive more than once.

Okay, so what was the standard then in the early Church?

I’m relatively ignorant on this matter. All I’ve learned/been taught is that Sacramental absolution was a far more public affair that involved confessing one’s sins to the whole community and doing public penance.

Was there any kind of limit placed on the number of times one could be absolved of one’s post-baptism sins? What had to be confessed? All mortal sins, as today? If not, why not? If so, what would happen if a person committed, say, fornication? How would that person have obtained forgiveness if not through a priest or bishop absolving him or her?

The Sacrament of Penance or Confession which Jesus gave us has had various forms down through the centuries.

Yes at least in some regions and in certain periods certain *particular * mortal sins were absolved only once (i.e. apostasy, murder, adultery)…but this does not mean that confession per se was only permitted once.

This does not mean other mortal sins were not confessed…or could not be confessed more than one time…but yes in certain regions…for certain very serious sins (like idolatry) …there was but one going through that process to be reconciled… (though one could still “do penance and pray etc”) … but one should remember too that the Christian of those days was very aware of the reality of martyrdom that could happen to them …and was thus often very serious about following Christ by the Holy Spirit …otherwise he did not become a Christian…one really was always conscious of the reality of baptism…the reality of being a Christian…

Of course then as now…‘daily sins’…venial sins could be forgiven in many ways…such as prayer (such as the Our Father)…etc

Catechism of the Catholic Church**: (the smaller print…for more info on such read the intro to it): (with emphasis added)

The sacrament of forgiveness

1446 Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. the Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."47

1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this “order of penitents” (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in *certain regions *only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the “private” practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.

1448 Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same fundamental structure is to be discerned. It comprises two equally essential elements: on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God’s action through the intervention of the Church. the Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction, also prays for the sinner and does penance with him. Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion.

CA article (more detailed in Jimmy’s book “The Fathers Know Best”.

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