Please help clarify a term for me


As a protestant inquirer, I have heard of the sacrament of Confession. Earlier in my life I heard Catholic friends say they were going to Confession and I remembered seeing traditional confessional booths (sorry if that is the wrong term) in older churches in Europe when I took a tour. However, when I looked online on some local Catholic parish websites and looked in the section on sacraments trying to find the word ‘Confession’, I could not find it. However, I saw ‘Reconciliation’ which sounded similar.

Could someone briefly explain the similarites and differences between Confession and Reconciliation and if Reconciliation incorporates Confession into it? I assumed it might but don’t know for sure. I realize this sacrament is only for Catholics and does not apply to me, but I was curious nonetheless if someone wouldn’t mind explaining the difference.


The Sacrament of Reconcilliation is confession. They are the same.


Thanks, Bowljr. I figured it might be. However, if it is just another name for Confession, why isn’t it still called Confession? Are there different aspects to Reconciliation that weren’t in the traditional Confession? Once again, forgive my ignorance because I’ve been to neither a Confession or a Reconciliation but know I am not supposed to as a protestant. .


Sometimes we use different terms to refer to the same thing. For example, marriage and matrimony are the same thing.

In this case, confession, reconciliation, and penance are the same thing. So people may refer to any of them and mean the same sacrament.

It kind of depends on what aspect of the sacrament you emphasize.

The catechism – available at – says this (abbreviated):

I. What Is This Sacrament Called?

1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion…

It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.

1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament…

It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”

It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles…


Thanks, Suscipe!


Same sacrament, same graces, just different names.

Confession is the term that was in use in my youth, and I have also heard the term Penance. These two terms also refer to steps involved in receiving this sacrament. One first examines ones conscience, is truly sorry on ones sins, confesses those sins to a priest (who is acting in the person of Jesus Christ), receives a penance, which is a prayer or work to perform, says an act of contrition prayer, and finally receives absolution for the sins confessed.

Reconciliation is the ultimate result of receiving this sacrament. You are reconciled to God, Your relationship with God which was weakened through venial sin or even broken through mortal sin is repaired.

We are so blessed to hear the words of absolution, and to go and sin no more. Reconciliation is healing for the soul. Frequent Reconciliation and frequent reception on the Eucharist are the greatest gifts of “spiritual medicine” we possess.


I love the prayer of absolution and it occurs to me that Tommy might also find it of interest. I often think of it before I go to confession, especially the first line, “God, the Father of mercies…” because that’s what it’s all about, that’s who you’re confessing to, and that’s whose love you are receiving in the sacrament.

God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


Thanks, OneHolyCathAp. Very understandable explanation. It makes a lot of sense the way you describe it.


Thank you, SuscipeMeDomine. That was very helpful, as well. It helps me better picture what happens during the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Follow up question:
Is Reconciliation done by talking to the priest face-to-face or is it done anonymously in a booth or something like that? Also, is it guaranteed that the priest won’t mention your sin to others in the congregation privately or use it as an example in an upcoming homily, such as “Based on listening to recent confessions, I think we have an epidemic of sin XYZ in our church and I think we should address it.” In other words, is the Confession experience truly guaranteed to be confidential?

By the way, may I ask what SuscipeMeDomine means? It sounds latin and I assume it means something about God and me. Just curious. :slight_smile:


Reconciliation can be done either face to face or anonymously behind a screen. It is 100% guaranteed that the priest will not mention your sins to others as he is bound by the seal of confession not to do so. :thumbsup:


You can do either. The more traditional way is in a booth divided, but with a small grille so that the priest and the penitent can hear, but not see, one another. However, in more modern times, you can also elect to sit face-to-face with the priest. I, personally, don’t have a strong preference either way - if I know the priest well and confess to him regularly, I don’t mind. But if I’m visiting a parish, I’ll usually stay behind the grille. Not all confessionals have a way to sit face-to-face either; many just have the grille.

:bigyikes: Gah, that would be terrifying if a priest said that in a homily!!! No, the seal of the confessional is absolute, that includes pain of death, jury duty, and pretty much anything else you can think of. In fact, they can’t even mention it to you again unless you give them permission to. (Hey Father, remember that thing I confessed last week? Do you give me permission to discuss it with you?) I believe there is an instant excommunication associated with violating this seal. This also applies to laity who, by happenstance, accidentally overhear someone confessing. Don’t mention it, ever.

Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.

§2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.

Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

§2. A person who has been placed in authority cannot use in any manner for external governance the knowledge about sins which he has received in confession at any time.

Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.

§2. An interpreter and the others mentioned in ⇒ can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication.

Also, “Suscipe me Domine” is indeed Latin, and, like many (almost all, really) Latin prayers, it’s just the first word or phrase of the prayer. It means, “Receive me, Lord.”

“Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam et non confundas me in expectatione mea.” Receive me Lord, according to your word and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in the promise you have given me. (Psalm 118:116)


Thanks, Sariaru. That’s good to know and a relief because I would hope what was said in confidence during Confession would remain that way.


Hahaha, don’t we all? :thumbsup: One of my old confessors (when I was living in Florida) actually shared that he had a very special grace wherein he would forget everything said in the confessional, so that it wouldn’t stain his thoughts about his penitents! Much like how when Christ forgives our sins, they are totally obliterated and forgotten! I don’t think all priests have this grace (although if a priest wants to pop in and give his opinion, us laity are all dying to know), but I thought that was very cool and special.


Thanks, Ophelia23. I’m glad to hear that it is truly confidential.


That would be a special grace indeed to forget everything that was said in the confessional because – otherwise – I would think that the natural reaction for a priest might be to be disgusted and down on his congregation for all of its shortcomings.


Sariaru is correct about the meaning and where it comes from. By way of background, I’m a Benedictine Oblate. An oblate is someone affiliated with a monastery who follows the Rule of St. Benedict but who lives in the world.

When a Benedictine monk or nun professes vows or an oblate makes his or her oblation, the prayer from Psalm 119 is recited. So my name here is kind of a reminder of my commitment to that way of life.


Thanks for expounding on that further, SuscipeMeDomine. May the Lord richly bless you (sounds like He already has and is continuing to do so) :slight_smile: .


Sorry for stealing your thunder about your username! I should have been more patient and waited for you to reply. Eeep. Anyways, what’s it like being an oblate? Are you consecrated single lay, then? (Is that terribly rude to ask?!) Can the Rule be undertaken by, say, a married couple? I’ve only been Catholic for a little over a year, myself, so I’ve still got buckets to learn!


Definitely not a problem!

Anyways, what’s it like being an oblate? Are you consecrated single lay, then? (Is that terribly rude to ask?!) Can the Rule be undertaken by, say, a married couple? I’ve only been Catholic for a little over a year, myself, so I’ve still got buckets to learn!

Oblates are not consecrated. We’re laypeople who make a commitment to following the Rule of St. Benedict as much as we can. Oblates can be single or married, young or old, working, retired, students, etc. They can be in any way of life. In part, we bring the idea or spirituality of being Benedictine into the world – kind of like Jesus called for us to be salt and light in the world. And at the same time we carry the peace and prayers of the monastery in our hearts.


I would like to think that most confessor-priests have a great love for their work. Of course, hard to tell for sure; I’ll never be on the “far side of the grille,” as it were, but I would like to think that they have a great and Christ-like compassion for us penitents who come to them with sorrow and contrite hearts.

I did a very brief Google search on “what’s it like to be a Catholic confessor” and found a very good resource online here: with an older priest discussing the virtues and boundless patience needed to be a good “soul doctor.” I’ll leave some choice quotes from Ch. 1 here:

After a few years, dragging tendencies begin to show themselves. Like other holy things, the confessional can become monotonous, even distasteful. The time for hearing confessions comes round with a boring regularity; it “interferes” with other work; it deprives one of pleasant recreations. Long lines of penitents sap one’s energies; intervals between confessions fray one’s nerves. Listening to the repetition of big sin provokes a sort of disgust, yet on the other hand the frequent recital of small sin appears very drab. And - if I may conclude this list with a spiritual anti-climax - it is not easy to go to the confessional week after week on just the afternoon or evening when one’s favorite team is advancing toward a thrilling championship.

One helpful form of meditation is a consideration of the doctrines that have a special pertinence to the confessional. The meaning of sanctifying grace and its sublime effects in the soul; the reality of the sacraments and their grace-giving efficacy; the special power of the sacrament of penance to destroy sin and its effects and to implant in the heart a barrier against future sin.

Anyways, the whole first chapter is a great read and very enlightening for me as laity. Hope it helps! :smiley:

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