It says to confess our sins to one another. What does this mean, because from a blunt reading of it, it seems something we don’t really do (outside of confession). Unless this verse is talking about confession? I’m confused as to what this is referring to? Confessing to people in general or does this have anything to do with the sacrament of reconciliation?
I would say this counts for both. For confession in private to a priest, but also to our fellow citizen. I mean I feel myself obligated, that when I’ve done something wrong to a person (and also to God I would say) I would have to apologize for this. I guess you could see confessing also as a form of apologizing.
We do confess to one another at Mass in the Penitential Rite if the longer version is used, when we say, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters,…”
This section of James is discussing the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and therefore one should read these words in the context of presbyters or elders (priests) attending to the sick.
Since the administration of a sacrament is being discussed, this text is often used to highlight the principle behind the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But the section is actually referencing all healing sacramental actions which the Holy Spirit has assigned to be distributed through the hands of the priesthood. Therefore the confession of sin and resulting forgiveness should be seen as no different a healing action of the Church, performed only via her ordained ministers that have been empowered through Christ to perform these actions.
When you are in distress and you need to find comfort in speaking to someone who is willing to listen to you than this is what is good for anyone when they find themselves in any trouble. This verse is not specifically telling us to go to confession every time to a priest because the norm of someone’s life living in a humble state is to lower yourself to seek help in any circumstances. If someone is doing this at the time when it counts he or she will grow much better than one who is not willing to seek help. This verse does not imply one to confess to another every time or all the time to everyone but to recognize the need to put yourself into the hands of someone else who is more qualified to listen to you and to help you. The Apostle is not saying to confide to everyone but to confide to someone who you can trust. In cases where your problems needs a priest than this is something you can do as well. Confession of sins to God in the presence of a priest and what the Apostle is saying is not entirely the same thing. What the Apostle is trying to say is to bite the bullet before it becomes sin or before it becomes something more serious. Whenever you can talk about your weaknesses to someone you can trust with, it actually frees you of the distress which it can bring to you if you were only handling it by yourself. This is something we can learn to do in every day life. I would suspect the Sacrament of Confession is on another level of understanding and needs not to be the vocal remedy of our lives when it concerns our everyday sins. The problem with people only attending to the Sacrament of Confession is they would not confide to other people when it will count. Since these people will only seek out a priest it puts more work of the priest to understand you better. The point what the Apostle is saying is there is more confidence in your handling of your life when you can confide to certain people you can trust. The Alcoholics Anonymous program is a perfect example of what the Apostle James is trying to relay to us.
D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:
Ver. 16. Confess, therefore, your sins, &c. Divers interpreters expound this of sacramental confession, though, as the authors of the annotations on the Rheims Testament observe, this is not certain. The words one to another, may signify that it is not enough to confess to God, but that we must also confess to men, and not to every man, but to those whom God appointed, and to whom he hath given the power of remitting sins in his name. I cannot but observe that no mention at all is made, “in the visitation and communion of the sick,” in the Protestant common prayer book, of this comfortable passage out of St. James, of calling in the priests of the Church, of their anointing him with oil…and that his sins shall be forgiven him. Perhaps having laid aside that sacrament, it seemed to them better to say nothing of those words. But such a confession as is practised by all Catholics, is at least there advised. “The sick person,” saith the book of common prayer, "here shall be moved to make a special confession of his sins…After which confession, the priest shall absolve him after this sort. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners, who truly repent, forgive thee…and by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, " &c. Here is a special confession, or a confession of particular sins; here is a power of forgiving sins in God’s name, acknowledged to be given to the Church, and to priests; here are the very same words used by every Catholic priest in the sacrament of penance. This is clearly ordained in their liturgy: how far it is complied with, I know not. (Witham) — One to another. That is, to the priests of the Church, whom (ver. 14.) he had ordered to be called for, and brought in to the sick: moreover, to confess to persons who had no power to forgive sins, would be useless. Hence the precept here means that we must confess to men whom God hath appointed, and who, by their ordination and jurisdiction, have received the power of remitting sins in his name. (Challoner) — Pray for one another. Here is recommended prayer in general, as a most necessary Christian duty. He encourages them to it by the example of Elias[Elijah]. (Witham)
The epistle of James is very Jewish in content. In modern Jewish spirituality and in ancient Jewish spirituality as well (I presume), the understanding of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, requires one to reconcile with one’s neighbor, before seeking reconciliation with God. (Maybe I have this mixed up with the traditions for Rosh Hashannah.) The idea is that we must be reconciled with our neighbor who we have injured in any way before we attempt to reconcile with God.
The covenant law required reconciliation with one’s neighbor, but not with one’s enemies. Jesus updates the law to say that we must love even our enemy. The Jewish understanding requires a Jew to approach his neighbor over and over and over until the neighbor relents. What James is saying certainly has that understanding in view.
We would only approach our neighbor over and over and over again, only if we were serious and wanted to repair relations with our neighbor.
And, such an experience, of approaching our neighbor for forgiveness, raises our consciousness about sinning to a whole higher level, and reinforces how serious our commitment to God’s law should be. Once you’ve ever done this, you would want to think a whole lot before doing anything against your neighbor again, in the future.