Explaining Holy Orders and Confession

Greetings All,

First, feel free to move this or tell me to post this elsewhere if this is not the best forum for my question.

Second, I want to say a quick word of thanks. Catholic Answers and Forum have been very helpful in my journey. I entered the Church just two weeks ago at the Easter Vigil 2014!

On to my question, though. I have a protestant buddy who I have been chatting with over the past few months. One of his biggest issues with the Catholic Church is the sacrament of Reconciliation (really, I think his issue is with church authority and the priesthood not with Confession, but I digress). He says that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation the Catholic Church places the priest between the believer and God. This is so because the believer is required to confess to a priest in order to have his Mortal sins forgiven.

Now I understand where he is coming from but honestly I have never seen it like this. I explained to him that confession is only required under normal circumstances and only for mortal (that is grave) sins. That even in the case of mortal sins, if the believer is truly sorry for his sins, with the intent to walk in purity from then on, that the sins are forgiven even before the believer confesses. I also pointed out that, if someone is unwilling to confess, that very fact, at least to me, suggests he may not be truly sorry; or at least he is unwilling to face the consequences and reality of his sin on some level. I pointed out the scriptures where Christ gives the power to forgive sins to the apostles, where James and John tell us to confess our sins (I realize protestants understand those differently) and that the practice is ancient! The Didache makes mention of it and all through out the history of the church, there is this need to be reconciled to the church not just to God. Even Luther kept the practice (though with a different understanding).

None of this seemed to satisfactorily answer the question for him. So I promised I would look into it more.

Problem is, I don’t know any other way to approach the question. Does anyone have any thoughts on a different angle or a different way of explaining the doctrine. In particular to an Evangelical, Spirit blows where it will, House Church attending Protestant?


I think you should focus on your first instinct and concentrate what the guy really objects to: the authority of the Office. Stick to John 20:23, where Jesus clearly gives the authority to forgive sins. Go from there to discuss how that authority is exercised.
[BIBLEDRB]john 20:21-23[/BIBLEDRB]
This is not Pentecost - this happened on Easter Sunday. Note the language about “breathed on them” - there is only one other place in Scripture where God breaths on something (a lump of clay to animate Adam).

Check Post 46 of this thread, I think this may help you respond:


But if he wants to read more, and for you also, I would recommend this book by Scott Hahn: Lord Have Mercy: amazon.com/Lord-Have-Mercy-Healing-Confession-ebook/dp/B000FCKGL6/ref=sr_1_1/181-0078860-2529512?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399046628&sr=1-1&keywords=lord+have+mercy+scott+hahn

Here is another I would suggest also: Ask your buddy, if he is familiar with the story of King David and his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, ask your buddy how King David confessed his sin and how was he forgiven?

Answer is here: 2Samuel 12

The Sacrament of Reconcilliation does two important spiritual things: forgives our sins (mortal, venial, and those we do not acknowledge), and gives us divine grace to avoid temptation. A blessing is standing in line for confession because it allows us to examine our conscience with the Trinity to form a stronger conscience. It is here we examine our thoughts and behavior against the 10 Commandments and Beatitudes (what we have done, and what we have failed to do). We are also called to pray for our other brothers and sisters to make a good confession while we wait. Since I have never heard how other denominations view forgivness I wonder how they come to peace with God and each other. I know many people go to God directly in thought (we do too), but how often do they examine their conscience? How do they make penance with God and with each other (do they administer their own penance or do they forget they have to do this)? I will have to admit, confession seems to have made many Catholics forget the practice of asking forgivness to each other and offering ways to make up how we have wronged others (penance to our brother & sisters in Christ) I think they mostly believe in final judgement where they will sit face to face with Jesus to answer for their wrong doings. IMO practice makes perfect, so I don’t get why they are not exercising the practice by speaking wrongdoings outloud to a person (preferably a person picked by God through Sucession). I guess we should pray for them.

The important reason behind Confession is so we can recieve the Holy Eucharist and recieve the full graces with the Holy Eucharist. It’s kinda like, “wash your hands befor dinner” (to keep it simple stupid). This is also a major perceptual difference between our groups. Catholics believe the Holy Eucharist IS the body, blood, soul, & divinity of Jesus Christ while other denominations believe it is only symbolic (which is probably why they don’t feel they have to wash their hands before they eat)

St Teresa of Calcutta went to confession daily. Now, ponder why this woman desired to recieve this sacrament daily. I believe JPII (we love u) also went to the Sacrament of Reconcilliation daily. Priests are encouraged to goto confession every two weeks. The lay faithful are encouraged to goto confession monthly; minimum of once a year (during Easter) to maintain practicing. Our family likes to say an act of contrition for a bed time prayer: just in case.

This is an apologetics cheat sheet. Scroll down to “priesthood”.


As to confession, in the Old Testament, people confessed their sins directly to God. Then starting with John the Baptist, that began to change.

Matthew 3:6 John the Baptist’s converts confess their sins outloud.

The main scripture verse to support confession to a priest is this one:
John 20:21-23** **Jesus breathes on the apostles and says, Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

Notice that Jesus didn’t give this authority to just anyone, just his few chosen representatives.

Now, had Jesus wanted us to continue confessing directly to God, why did he take all the trouble to breathe on them, giving them this power were it only later to be rendered “unnecessary”?

Also see Acts 19:18 where penitents confess sins aloud and divulge their sins.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 Paul has the ministry of reconciliation, forgiveness of sins.

James 5:16 James says to confess your sins to one another.

The early Christians confessed their sins aloud.

Now, we may ask why God needs an intermediary. He probably doesn’t, but that’s the system Christ, himself, set up. Who are we to argue with Christ?

The Biblical Basis for Confession of Sins to a Priest

On the evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appeared in the midst of the apostles and said to them:

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:21-23)

Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells the apostles that the Father has sent him into the world with “all authority”. In like manner, Jesus commissions them with the authority He has been given – authority the apostles will need to carry out the mission He has entrusted them with.

Notice that Jesus prefaces his remarks about forgiveness by saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Fr. Dowling rightly notes here that the capacity to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is a far greater thing than the ability to forgive sins. If the former is possible, the latter does not seem impossible.

Unless we assume that Jesus has also given the apostles the ability to read minds, this passage presupposes that there is a hearing of the sins in order for a judgment to be made as to whether the sins should be forgiven or retained, depending on whether or not the person is truly sorry for his or her sins. Without sorrow for sins, there can be no forgiveness; even God cannot forgive an unrepentant sinner or hardened heart. In saying “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”, Jesus precludes the possible argument that He was merely giving the apostles the authority to preach the message of forgiveness. Clearly, the apostles were to judge and forgive or retain the sins of men.

Matthew’s Gospel provides another important passage revealing God’s intention for the power Jesus shares with His Church:

“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:2-8)

The central focus of this story is not the healing of the paralyzed man but the revelation of the authority of Jesus. Why does this passage indicate that this authority has been passed on to the Church? Verse eight says, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew records correctly that the authority to forgive sins had been given not to a single man, Jesus, but to men. We can know this because he is not quoting the comments of the crowd in this verse but ascribing to them the proper reason for why they were filled with awe. Additionally, we know that Matthew wrote this passage some 15-20 years after the event described thus giving us the assurance that he had plenty of time to reflect upon the truth of what he has just written and had seen the forgiveness of sins through confession in actual practice in the early Church. If this were not the case, then Matthew would not have written as he did.

Paul also talks about the ministry of forgiveness that has been passed on from Jesus. In his second letter to the church in Corinth we read:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Here Paul speaks of both the message and the ministry of reconciliation. Forgiveness of sins is proclaimed as part of the good news; actual reconciliation through confession and absolution is administered through the sacrament. In this way, the Church completes the mission of Jesus by preaching, by baptizing, and by forgiving sins.

Note, too, the use of the pronouns “we”, “us”, and “you” in this passage. When speaking strictly of the ministry of reconciliation, Paul says that God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” and that “we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us.” Then, he says “We implore you” to be reconciled. Clearly, there are two groups: those who have the ministry of reconciliation and those to whom he is speaking of being reconciled. The “you” – his audience – to whom he is speaking does not share in that ministry. Therefore, we can understand that some have the responsibility to reconcile men to God and some do not. This ministry is consistent with the function of the priesthood. For example, consider the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

“When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)


In this passage, we see that Jesus healed the man of leprosy, but He still directs the man to show himself to the priest at the temple and to offer the sacrifice commanded by the law. Why? First, in doing so, the man’s cure gave testimony about Jesus because the miracle performed was a sign of Christ’s divine nature. Second, the priest confirmed the healing and reconciled the man to society which he was then allowed to re-enter.

Confession to a priest is very similar to this. As Patrick Madrid notes in his book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, “No [one] can make a good sacramental confession without first confessing directly to God. Only then can one properly receive the sacrament of confession, receiving sacramental absolution from the priest, who ministers in persona Christi (in the person of Christ).” This refers back to the ministry of reconciliation Paul described above. Once the penitent has confessed his sin to God, shown himself to be truly contrite and received absolution (offering the sacrifice or penance prescribed by the priest), he is reconciled to both God and the Body of Christ and, in the case of grave matter, allowed to re-enter the sacramental life of the Church.

Paul also wrote:

2 Corinthians 2:10 (KJV)
10To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;

2 Corinthians 2:10 (Douay Rheims)
And to whom you have pardoned any thing, I also. For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned any thing, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ.

Clearly, the Apostle Paul himself forgave the sins of others acting in persona Christi or “in the person of Christ” – just as the Catholic Church teaches concerning the sacrament of reconciliation.

Can we go directly to God for the forgiveness of our sins? Of course, but the scriptures just presented suggest that the normative means of forgiveness is by confession to a priest, and while it is true that only God can forgive sins, the Bible teaches that He has chosen to do so through the ordained priesthood and the Sacrament of Reconciliation that He Himself instituted. We see this in the Letter of James (which Martin Luther called an “epistle of straw”):

“Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:14-16)

“Presbyter” is the word from which we get our English word “priest”. It means “elder”. James encourages us to call a priest to pray and anoint someone who is ill – a passage from which we get the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. The prayer of this righteous man will not only heal the sick, but will forgive any sins that they may have committed. This passage confirms the ministry of forgiveness of sins which the Church carries out in Christ’s name.

my mother is a devout Baptist and opposes confession to a priest. i explained to her that Christ is there and the priest is acting in persona Christi. but i went on to explain to her that all sin, no matter how small, is a sin against the church body as well and that we are also asking forgiveness for offending the whole church.

Thanks guys! This gives me a little to chew on and think about. I had another conversations with dude and yeah, his issue is with Holy Orders. He can’t reconcile the sacraments being in any way necessary for salvation and then only being valid for a church with a legitimate Apostolic succession.

So for example, if the Eucharist or Confession is necessary and only valid when done by Catholics (or EO) then how is it we have such good Christians outside of those communities? It’s a good question. Probably one for another forum topic though.



Here’s another gone question for that person:

If Jesus is necessary for salvation why do are there so many good Muslims who don’t believe in him.

The answer is both Christ and the Catholic Church are necessary and we can’t get to heaven by just being “so good”.

Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance for those who sin after Baptism, this Sacrament is necessary for them who sin mortally after Baptism in the same sense that the Sacrament of Baptism is for all men

An act of contrition before the Sacrament of Penance is equivalent to the Baptism of Desire before the Sacrament of Baptism, it is not a de facto means of salvation like the Sacrament but rather de jure, for we can never truly know if we have perfect condition in God’s eyes or whether or not we desired strongly in God’s eyes.

I’ve mentioned this before. His response is to reject the notion outright. He says when referring to “good” Christians, what he means is, he sees the “fingerprints of God” on their life. I asked him to describe what that was like, and he looked at me like “Oh you should know!”. I mentioned this was all very subjective. He seemed to be fine with that.

I failed to mention it was also question begging. It assumes that the Holy Spirit is necessary to be good or that Mormons do not have it. The latter point the Mormon would dispute and the former the Muslim (I presume).

But back on topic; I read St. Thomas Aquinas on the Eucharist and salvation and he argues that 1. A true desire for the Eucharist is sufficient for salvation and 2. that John 6:53 was fulfilled in the minimum by Baptism. Because Baptism incorporates one into the Church (Christ’s Body) and thus on some level makes you a participant in that body apart from the Eucharist. Thus you can have life and salvation. He takes his argument from Augustine.

So, for the well meaning Protestant, who has not been convinced of Catholic teaching regarding the validity of the Sacraments outside a legit Apostolic Succession, would the above argument apply? Would there desire for and intent to receive the Eucharist inside of their Community (invalid though it be) count as the desire described? Their baptisms obviously fulfilling argument 2.


People who deny the real presence cannot possibly desire the Eucharist, but only God truly knows if we desire strongly enough for something so we should never depend on desire :slight_smile:

St Augustine taught: “He who is separated from the body of the Catholic Church, however laudable his conduct may otherwise seem, will never enjoy eternal life, and the anger of God remains on him by reason of the crime of which he is guilty in living separated from Christ.” [Epist. 141 (CH 158)].

And: No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have the sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church." (Sermo ad Caesariensis Ecclesia plebem)

St Thomas Aquinas taught: “There is no enterning into salvation outside the Church, just as in the time of the deluge there was none outside the ark, which denotes the Church.” (Summa Theologiae)

St Thomas and Augustine are correct, while Baptism is necessary for all, the other Sacraments are only necessary for those who should recieve them at the right time, for example the Eucharist is not for children which is why they recieve it later.

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