If God indeed forgives our sins when we ask, as Scripture attests to, and forgets our sins when they are forgiven, why is it necessary to go to the priest? Is God not sufficient enough to forgive sins?
A couple of thoughts.
If I confess my sins to a priest (in persona Christi) and he gives me absolution I know that my sins are forgiven. If I am sorry for my sins and I pray to God that they are forgiven, How do I know that they are.
When I go to confession there is often a dialogue that the priest asks me questions, may give me advice or sometimes a bit of counseling, how would this very beneficial part of my spiritual life be accommodated without confession.
Also partaking of the sacraments give us grace, if we did not go to confession we would be missing out on graces that we need to live good Catholic lives.
It is necessary because Our Lord told us to confess our sins to another, and He gave his apostles authority to forgive sins.
And let’s not kid ourselves. From a human perspective, most people generally do a much better examination of conscience, and own up to sins better, when they confess to a priest. Otherwise, we too readily count on God to give us a pass. The priest gives us penance, and possibly counsel, to help us grow in holiness.
That’s because when we sin, even private sins, we harm the ‘Communion of saints’ which is the whole family of man in Christ. The Priest in his role is a human ‘specialist’ of sorts in the communion of saints.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1475* In the communion of saints, "a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things."87 In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.*
**950 **Communion of the sacraments. "The fruit of all the sacraments belongs to all the faithful. All the sacraments are sacred links uniting the faithful with one another and binding them to Jesus Christ, and above all Baptism, the gate by which we enter into the Church. The communion of saints must be understood as the communion of the sacraments. . . . The name ‘communion’ can be applied to all of them, for they unite us to God. . . . But this name is better suited to the Eucharist than to any other, because it is primarily the Eucharist that brings this communion about."483
We experience our relationship with God through the whole communion of saints.
Jesus never intended for forgiveness to be automatic, but expected the Church to exercise a certain amount of discretion in this regard. When he empowered the Church with the ability to forgive sins, he said,
Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. [John 20:23]
We know we have obtained forgiveness when the priest pronounces absolution, and we will know otherwise if he does not.
How is this supposed to work if we just go directly to God?
“When we confess our sin to a priest, we mortify the pride of the flesh and deliver it up to shame and death through Christ. Then through the words of absolution we rise as new men, utterly dependent on the mercy of God.” In other words, we are trusting in God in not in our image of who God is. We become more like the plebeian in the Gospel parable who humbled himself and less like the pharisee who exalted himself.
In in his book, The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Boehoeffer, a Lutheran minister who died under Hitler referred back to Martin Luther’s referring to confession as God’s remedy to for “self-deception and self-indulgence.”
By actually stating our sins aloud to another human person, we more fully acknowledge the gravity of the sin committed and how it has harmed the Body of Christ.
There’s more to the Sacrament of Reconciliation than simply stating our sins out loud. There is also grace and guidance. As shepherds standing in the place of Christ, each priest has been given specific gifts, or charisms through the very Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation he is able to use his gifts as he guides each penitent. The priest generally speaks words of encouragement as well as absolution.
The final thing to consider is if person is unable to acknowledge his/her sins before a mere mortal, how will he/she bear the scrutiny of the King of the universe?
I think this question is also misleading. The issue is not “could he?” The sacrament of Reconciliation is the normative form of how he wants to absolve us of our sins, as attested to in scripture and tradition. It’s how we reconcile ourselves with him and with the community of our church. It allows us to hear and know our absolution through the priest acting in persona Christi. It allows us to get counseling and discipline (through penances) for our sins, to better help guide us back to Him and away from sin.
Again, it’s not a matter of putting limits on God, but of God knowing what’s best for us.
This is a good example of the ‘red herring’ fallacy. It raises a separate topic (i.e., the means by which forgiveness/absolution happens) as if it’s still the same topic (i.e., the fact that God forgives sins).
The truth is that ‘auricular confession to a priest’ is simply the means which God has ordained by which His forgiveness is obtained. So, it’s not an ‘either/or’ situation, it’s a ‘both/and’ one: both ‘God forgives our sins when we ask’ and ‘we go to the priest (to ask for forgiveness)’. See how that works? Cool!
I would not want to miss the experience of “looking into the face of love” and knowing that I have been forgiven. There have been many times I really, really, really did not want to go to confession – dreaded it and resisted it – but I went anyway. And don’t you know it, those have been the times that I have received the greatest blessing from the Lord through the ministry of the priest.
I have found a grace in the confessional that goes beyond simply forgiveness. There are sins that I no longer need to confess because somehow by going to confession three or four times (confess, fail; confess, fail; confess, fail … then somehow I am set free), I have been given the grace to sin no more (at least with that particular sin). I don’t look at this as “have to go”; I look at this as “graced and privileged to go”.
I no longer look at sins as this strict evaluative process – is it mortal, is it venial, is it a serious matter, did I do this with deliberate knowledge and consent. I look at is as “does this displease my Lord” and “does this grieve the Holy Spirit.” If there is anything within me that doesn’t please him … then I don’t want that thing in my life. A collection of small sins can choke out my life/ my relationship with God just as easily as a large sin can.
It may be a “relatively small matter”, but if I don’t deal with it, sooner or later, it is going to become a very big deal. By the time I kneel at the confessional, I am nearly through the process … and this (the sacrament of confession) is that last step.
I will say: what I have done that is wrong, why it was wrong, how it hurt myself, others, and my Lord, how it damaged relationships, what it is that I need to do differently, that I am committed to doing things differently … the sorrow, the grief over my wrong is already there … and I am done … I want to be that new creation, that holy and perfect person whom my Lord wants me to be. I walk out of that confessional free indeed.
I would miss out on all of this if I were to do it “the Protestant way”. I was Methodist at one time in my life, and I like the Catholic way much, much better. An added bonus, by the way, is humility. I can’t confess and keep my pride – it doesn’t work that way!
Thank you for your thoughts and references. How then does the famous Scripture then come to bear when we read if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness? (This is also our assurance that we are forgiven, because Holy Writ says so). The inference and context is one on one confession to Christ. Believe me, I find great solace in the Sacrament of Confession, however, I do not see in Scripture where we are forbidden to approach Christ with our sins and confess them, nor are we told not to go directly to God.
I think you are missing the point, and I think you are missing a few scriptures about confession and forgiveness in your one scripture quote. Try adding these scripture passages as well:
Matthew 9: 2-8
Matthew 18: 18
John 20: 22-23
2 Corinthians 5: 17-20
James 5: 13-16
I John 5: 16
What I do in preparation for confession is this: along with the examination of conscience, I pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show me what it is that I need to ask forgiveness for and what sins I need to bring up when I go into the confessional. I do not examine myself in a vacuum … I examine myself in the presence of the Lord …
No, we are not “forbidden” from going directly to the Lord. Again, it is not either/or. It is both/and. Many times, prior to confession, I am praying, “Dear Lord, I am so very sorry that I did X, Y and Z … I never want to do these things again … please help me not to do them again … I do not want to grieve you like that ever again …”
And if I just left it at that (the preceding paragraph), I would be missing out on a blessing. I would be missing out on “Christ’s response through the person of the priest.”
Yes, He is faithful and just and will forgive us when/if we confess our sins to Him. And if one is Catholic, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the usual means of accomplishing that process of confession. I find that my understanding of scripture works better if I look at it as a whole and not as one single verse.
God always does forgive us for our sins, but Confession is the means by which we accept His forgiveness.
We have to keep in mind how God has deemed to extend the grace of absolution to us. Initially, the ordinary means by which God forgives sins is through the sacrament of baptism. Seeing as a person can only be baptized once, it makes sense for God to provide another sacrament for absolving those who sin after baptism. Of course, we believe that there are what we call “extraordinary means” which God can use to deal with the sins of people, but we do not exactly how these means work. Simply put, our concept of them is based mostly upon theological speculation. The sacraments, however, take a lot of the guess work out of it. People who make a good confession to a priest and receive the Prayer of Absolution from him have the assurance that their sins are forgiven in the eyes of God. Note that this is the case even if a person is not fully contrite for having sinned, because the power of the sacrament fills in whatever is lacking in this regard (i.e., it suffices to be at least somewhat contrite).
Confess our sins to whom? Confess our sins, how? There is nothing in John’s letters that suggest this is a one-on-one confession to Christ.
The inference and context is one on one confession to Christ.
According to whom? John never suggested this. And James said we must confess our sins “to one another” (James 5:16). The practice of those receiving John’s [the Baptist] baptism was public confession (Mt 3:6) and so it was also for believers after Christ rose (Acts 19:18). In fact, it is the very same John that wrote 1Jn1:9 who ALSO tells us about mortal sins leading to the death of our soul (1Jn 5:16). Where in those do you see a one-on-one confession with God alone?
God set it up from the beginning to go through His Priests (Lv 5:5-6; Nm 5:5-10) and continued this when He gave the Apostles the authority to bind and loose “whatever”, even our sins, in the ministry of reconciliation (Mt 9:2-8; Mt 18:18; Jn 20:21-23; 2Cor 5:17-20).
Believe me, I find great solace in the Sacrament of Confession, however, I do not see in Scripture where we are forbidden to approach Christ with our sins and confess them, nor are we told not to go directly to God.
No one said you are forbidden to go to Christ alone with you sins. No one said He won’t forgive you. No one said you can’t go directly to God. But GOD set it up so that we should go to His Priest. I love to go to God alone with my sins as well. But I also submit to His Will and do things the way He set them up…because He’s God.
Well said again.:amen:
I think this is very well said.