Hello. This is my first real post. I just joined this forum yesterday, and as my first post, I’m sure this is something that has already been posted before, but I couldn’t find it, I wanted to understand the foundations of confession to a priest. Since I had accepted Jesus, I was always told that repentance can be achieved merely by one coming to the Lord through prayer and asking for forgiveness. Since I’ve become interested in the Catholic church, I’ve learned that you must confess mortal sin to a priest to be absolved, and this is the ONLY way to be absolved of those mortal sins. Is it only mortal sin that must be confessed? From where did the practice of confession to a priest originate?
One of the earliest that I can find is
Origen/ “albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, “To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity”’” (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]).
Others here will have better answers for you.
Welcome to the forums
Short answer: Confession to a priest (and remember it’s Christ doing the forgiving through the priest) for a mortal sin is normatively the only way to receive restoration of sanctifying grace. It’s not absolute however. One could be forgiven if they had perfect contrition. Meaning they were sorry purely because it offends God and not because of other motives like fear and shame.
A few things:
*]When you confess to a priest, you ARE confessing to Christ, not instead of Christ. The priest sits “in the person of Christ” by his office.
*]Mortal sins are to be confessed in the confessional.
*]Any sin can be forgiven by way of “perfect” contrition, on the condition that the person intends to get to confession when able.
*]We are encouraged to confess even venial sins in the confessional, although not absolutely mandatory.
*]Here is the section in the Catechism on Confession.
p.s. Confession to a priest originated when Jesus told His apostles “whose sins you forgive are forgiven”…it also has Old Testament roots as well.
From the Catechism:
Only God forgives sin
1441 Only God forgives sins.39 Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: "Your sins are forgiven."40 Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.41
1442 Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the "ministry of reconciliation."42 The apostle is sent out “on behalf of Christ” with “God making his appeal” through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God."43
Reconciliation with the Church
1443 During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God.44
1444 In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."45 "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head."46
1445 The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.
In the book of Genesis we read all about the fall of Adam and Eve and about Cain killing Able. While God knew exactly what had happened and what sins had been committed, God still asks Adam and Eve [see Gen 3:11-14] what they had done. Again, when Cain kills Able in Gen 4:10, God asks Cain “What have you done?” God wants us to confess and it is therefore necessary for us to do so.
**So where does the priest fit in? **
In Leviticus 5:5-6 we have a solid prefiguring/foreshadowing of confession and this is carried over into the New Covenant. In Lev. 5:5-6 it says, “When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord for the sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” Note how the penitent must confess and take his sin offering to the priest, and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin. This requires knowledge of the sin on the part of the priest.
In the New Testament we have a number of verses that refer to the authority to forgive sins. In Matthew 9:6-8, we read “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he then said to the paralytic --“Rise, take up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to MEN." Notice how scripture says that such authority had been given to men. This is significant and is not merely a coincidence. This is the inspired word of God.
The question of authority and power to forgive sin is given obviously to Jesus and this is further affirmed in Matthew 28:18 where we are told, "And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
So just how is this authority transfered to the apostles and their successors? In John 20:21-23 "Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” ( the authority that was given to him in Mt 28:18 is given to the apostles) And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is an incredible set of verses. They are rich in meaning and power. Notice that Jesus sends the apostles in the same way that the Father sent Him. The Father sent Jesus with all power and authority which included the power to forgive sins. So also Jesus sends the apostles. Jesus breathes on the apostles and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.” There is only one other time in all of scripture where God breathes on man, and that is in Genesis when God breathes life into Adam. This is a significant moment in the upper room and it is at this moment that Jesus says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any they are retained.”
How can men forgive sins if no one is confessing to them? And how can they forgive or retain if no one is confessing to them?
And in context to the Jewish community of that day they knew full well that it was God who forgives sin (Is 43:25) But they also knew God founded a priesthood and threw the priesthood they made atonement for the people. Well Jesus is God and He too just as He did in the Old Testament founded a priesthood given them the authority to forgive sins. This would have been no surprise to the apostles who were Jews.
Later in the new testament scriptures we find additional verses that speak to confession and reconciliation. The most significant are the following:
2 Corinthians 5: 17-20
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
I really appreciate all the answers I had received. They really helped me to understand the meaning and foundations of confession to a priest. Thank you.
What the Bible says about dealing with sin in the Church…
See Matthew 18…in this case, it seems that all of God’s children have this authority of binding and loosing as forgiveness is the foundation of Christianity…
1st stage: Matthew 18:15…Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother…
2nd stage: Matthew 18:16…But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established…
3rd stage: Matthew 18:17…And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican…
Matthew 18:18-20…Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
A confrontation of the sin of another in the church happens in each indivdual case and escalates as we continue through. Binding and loosing, as shown, is applicable in each case…as Christ being in the midst is also the case in each stage of this “procedure”.
With Jesus Christ himself. Here’s a short article that you will find very helpful:
Some practical considerations:
All sacraments of the Catholic Church require valid form and valid matter. A sacrament (baptism, penance or confession, Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, anointing of the sick) is a sense perceptible sign (ie. we can see, hear, smell, touch, taste) that effects what it signifies.
Baptism is a good example. In baptism the matter is water, and the form is given to us by scripture; “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. The sense perceptible sign is the washing with water - the effect, the washing clean of the soul.
In confession, the main sense is hearing.
The matter of the sacrament is provided by the penitent (the person making the confession). To be valid matter, three things must be present:
- Sincere repentance - The penitent must be sorry for their sins
- A firm purpose of amendment - the penitent must be willing to change to avoid the sin in the future
- An integral confession - this means the penitent must confess all mortal sins they can recall. If the penitent deliberately does not confess something they know to be a mortal sin, the confession is not integral and absolution is not obtained.
The form of the sacrament is provided by the priest, in persona Christi as others have said, and normally consists of the words, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.
Now, both form and matter have to be present. Just as you cannot baptize without water, you cannot have a valid confession without both form and matter. The difference here is that the “matter” of the confessional lies within the penitent. The priest may say the words of absolution (the form) but if the penitent is not sorry for their sins, or plans to continue committing them, or has deliberately left out a mortal sin, then no absolution is obtained.
This, I think, is often misunderstood by non-Catholics.
Hope this was helpful as an insight into the reality of this beautiful sacrament.
Man moves through faith in stages, and Christ recognized that intitially many would be motivated to confess by fear of the Lord and the effects of sin on us personally as well has the loss of God. God sees this has good, but not the ideal, and has provided for these people a means for absolution by form of an imperfect contrition. So we can see that until such time that a person is motivated solely by the love of God evidenced by a movement toward a perfect contrition, God in His infinite mercy shows us once again he is the Patient Provider.
This is not directed at you but rather at protestants in general…
As a general rule Protestants seem to balk at confession as a sacrament. That’s ok… alot of Catholics do too. Generally it really isn’t based on biblical reference although some try to make it so… usually it is based on fear… the fear of going and telling some up close human being our secrets… fear of what others will think of you… etc. But if we truly understand the graces… we would be there as often as possible.
As for Biblical reference:
[quote=Jesus to apostles in Matthew 18]18 Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.
But back to the real crux of the problem… our fear of disclosing our frailties. Instead of thinking in those terms, think of it as a person who you can tell your deepest secrets to and you won’t be judged… Until you experience the tangible graces you receive in reconciliation, you won’t understand how awesome confession is. Literally, you can feel the Holy Spirit come upon you… Think about humbling yourself before God and feeling the love of our Heavenly Father as he forgives you.
What is the Redemption?
For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.
Sin separates us from God
You might hear a Christian say, “Jesus saved us all.” What the person is really referring to is something Catholics call the redemption of humanity. Catholics believe that Jesus Christ willingly sacrificed himself on the cross for the redemption of human sins on the behalf of all humanity.
Our beliefs tell us that through one man, Adam, sin entered the world in the form of original sin. Since that time, humans have been cursed with original sin, the results of our first parent’s defiance and rejection of God’s love. Original sin is harbored in every descendant of Adam, the entire human race, from the very moment of conception. It is original sin that weakens the will of man, and creates a tendency in man to embrace evil and selfish passions. Original sin places a barrier between God and us, and the effects of original sin are so devastating that no man, by his own willpower, can overcome the selfishness inherent in original sin.
St. Paul tells us that, “For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting, in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).” Sin, both original and personal, separates man from God. Because God is the perfection of all that is holy, just and good he cannot tolerate sinful humanity in the fullness of his presence. Sin places a chasm between man and God that cannot be overcome by human religions, good works without grace, and man’s attempts to “try their best to live a good life.” In essence no created person can bridge the gulf of sin between God and man.
God promised the coming of the Messiah to the Jews
We are very fortunate to have a loving and merciful God. No human can reach across the chasm of sin by his own power; fortunately God could. In fact, following the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, God began his divine plan to redeem humanity from the suffering of sin. God’s plan of salvation began with the Jewish people, the children of Abraham. Based on Abraham’s faith, love and hope for God, God proclaimed Abraham the father of a new nation, the Jews. As God’s chosen people, they received prophecies and teachings of the Lord from the prophets. Israel was given hope from God, who promised to send a messiah for the redemption of sin. The Jewish prophet Isaiah prophesied the coming of the messiah, the suffering servant, “Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses (Isaiah 53:11-12).”
The ‘Suffering Servant’ fulfills the Jewish law
Jesus Christ, the suffering servant, fulfilled the Jewish prophecies and perfectly upheld the Old Covenant of the Jewish people to the extent that it was perfected in the New Covenant. Christ brought a new perfection to the Jewish law, and this is best explained by Jesus two commandments, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40)”. Jesus both preached and upheld the new spirit of the law with absolute, perfect love for God. He did not abolish the old Jewish covenant but rather fulfilled it and correctly interpreted the Jewish law as only the Messiah could. The Jewish circumcision eventually gave way to Baptism by grace and the sacrifice of animals gave way to the perfect offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Christ fulfilled the Passover banquet of the lamb through the ultimate sacrifice of himself, the paschal lamb, for the life of the world. Jesus also fulfilled and perfected the Jewish laws of ritual cleansing, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.” Christ’s new teachings of sin are placed in the context of love for God. Christ teaches that sin is not breaking rules and rituals, but the rejection of the perfect divine love of God himself. Only Jesus Christ could have perfectly explained, fulfilled and lived according to the Law.
Jesus Christ Suffered and Died for the redemption of the sinful
God’s love sent Jesus Christ into the world to teach his people the spirit of the law as well as to perfectly atone for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father (John 15:13-15).” He laid his life down, “to serve and to give his life as ransom for many (Mk 10:45).” Indeed, Jesus Christ, true man and true God, willingly accepted the crucifixion at the hands of the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Those who feared and hated him had him crucified for false charges of inciting discord among the Jews and uttering what seemed to the Jewish leaders to be blasphemous words, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM (John 8:58).” Thus Jesus testifies that he is God, and that “he who sees me sees the Father also. Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? (John 14:8-11)” Christ reveals to the Jews that he not only is the human messiah but also God himself, for “I and the Father are one (John 10:30).” The Jewish leaders, who expected a political messiah, could not accept Jesus’ divine words of truth and had him crucified.
Because Jesus Christ was both true God and true Man, he served as the divine and human sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of mankind. His perfect fulfillment of the law, the agony of his Passion, and his death on the cross, paid once and for all for the sins of man. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).” God’s justice demanded expiation for sins that could not be paid for by any human. Only the perfect, willing and loving sacrifice of the Son of God could atone for sin and bridge the gap between man and God. Jesus himself “by his obedience unto death accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who ‘makes himself an offering for sin,’ when ‘he bore the sin of many,’ and who ‘shall make many to be accounted righteous,’ for ‘he shall bear the iniquities (CCC 615).” Because Christ was truly righteous and truly human, he could sacrifice his life in love for the redemption of all mankind. Thus Christ’s death was an act of the purest love, for his death and resurrection allowed us to die to sin and rise with him in the new life of grace.
Did Jesus die so all humankind could be saved?
Yes, God gave his only son so that all humans, be they believers or unbelievers, could be redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. Christ did not die for a predestined elect. The Church tells us “Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer (CCC 605 and Council of Quiercy).” The Catholic Church does not agree with the Calvinistic doctrine that Jesus died for the salvation of a predestined elect, or that certain people are destined to damnation. Church Tradition preaches in unity with Holy Scripture, “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey them.”
The justice of God demands that no human being can be predestined to hell. God desires all to be saved, but only the individual can reject God’s love and his gift of redemption.
Then all people are guaranteed salvation?
God has given us the gift of free will. The death of Christ on the cross opened the gates of heaven so that all people might be saved, but because of free will we can choose to reject Christ’s free gift of redemption. Christ’s death on the cross cannot force anyone into heaven, and it is conditional. Only those who return the love of Christ and obey his conditions can justify their place in the kingdom of heaven. We call this process justification.
What are the conditions?
Christ preaches that, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit (John 3:2).” We are also told, “[Circumcision] prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).” St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost further explains, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).” St. Peter refers to the gift of grace, the free gift of God imparted on all baptized believers. Grace, merited by Christ’s death on the cross, breaths supernatural life into the soul, cleanses the soul of sin (both original and personal sin) and allows the baptized person to live a life of Christian holiness (provided they do not choose evil over grace by sinning mortally). It is grace that justifies us and allows us to have supernatural faith, hope and charity. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).”
A rich, young man also asks Jesus, “what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replies, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments (Matthew 19:16-17).” Christ also tell us of his two great commandments, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).” Jesus makes it clear that we are justified firstly be the free gift of grace through baptism and secondly by obeying the commandments out of faith, hope and charity. Notice Christ’s exact wording, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This not only means that we refrain from evil toward our neighbor, but that we obey the positive spirit of Jesus two commandments and the beatitudes he preached at the Sermon on the Plain and the Sermon on the Mount. Not only are baptism, repentance, faith, and obeying the commandments necessary for justification, but also good works for love of God and neighbors.
The love and mercy of God has redeemed humanity, but it is the responsibility of the individual to justify their salvation by responding to Christ’s grace in baptism and obeying his words of truth. How can we know what the truth is? St. Peter says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).” It is the words of Christ that the Catholic Church preaches, for the “Church of the living God [is] the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).”