Prayers after confession

I have a question which was brought to me by a non-Catholic, and had no real answer.

I understand where the basis for going to confession comes from. Jesus told the Apostles that whoever sins they forgive are forgiven and whichever they retain are retained. I get that. But where does the idea of reciting prayers come from? Why I have to recite X number of prayers to be forgiven? For instance, he didn’t see, and now I’m having trouble seeing how reciting the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary undoes my sins.

The prayers are usually “assigned” as penance. They don’t undo the sins. The reason is two-fold.

  1. Spending time in prayer recalls your mind to your contrition and reminds you to be thankful for forgiveness. Giving up a small amount of time to pray is a tiny sacrifice that demonstrates atonement for the sin. Sacrifice for attonment is a very old biblical concept.

  2. It’s a head start on working off your time in purgatory for the temporal effects of sin.

But an assigned penance doesn’t always involve recited prayers. Sometimes the penitent is assigned a penance of doing a good deed, reading some spiritual book, spending time in adoration, etc.

When you leave Confession your sins are already forgiven. You are given prayers or something else to do as penance. If you break a window while playing baseball the owner may forgive you for breaking the window (like Jesus forgives you for sinning) but you still have to pay to replace the window. The sin is forgiven but temporal debt must be paid. This is why souls are in Purgatory. Even if they are clean of sin God’s Justice demands that all the temporal debt be paid, be it in Purgatory or by doing penance while still alive. So saying the prayers doesn’t undo the sin, it helps pay retribution to God’s Justice.

Yes, but you seem to be missing the point of what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is. It’s not just “confession”…

I translate from the Spanish book “La Confirmacion” (RCIA) by Fr. Ricardo Fernandez:

The authority to forgive sins that the Church has is judicial: that is, the power conferred by Christ to the Apostles and their successors implies a true judicial act: there is a judge, there is someone being judged, and there is a guilt. A judgment takes place, a sentence is pronounced and a penalty is imposed.

This means that when the priest gives the forgiveness, he is not doing so as if he “declared that the sins are forgiven, but as a judicial act in which the sentence is pronounced by he himself as the judge” (Council of Trent cf. Dz 902)

The acts of the penitent: contrition, confession, and satisfaction.

Satisfaction is the final act of the sacramental sign, that in many places is called precisely penance. It is a sign of the compromise that the man takes to begin a new life

…being difficult that the dispositions be so perfect as suppressing all temporal penalty, the confessor imposes a penance that helps attenuating this penalty. It belongs to the substance of the dispositions (of the penitent) to accept the satisfaction imposed by the confessor in order to repay the divine justice; these works acquire supernatural value, because they are inserted within the effectiveness of the sacrament.

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