The Sacrament of Reconciliation

I am throwing this question out because I am having questions myself about not necessarily what the Church teaches, but about how the Church goes about teaching it. I see the Church as one big family and the leaders of the Church essentially as parents. But I often wonder whether the leaders within our Church appear as “overprotective parents” when it comes to the faithful. I also often wonder whether the bishops should trust their flock a little more.

My thoughts are on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In it’s present form, the penitent confesses to the confessor, the penitent offers an act of contrition, the confessor absolves his sins in persona Christi, and the penitent is given a penance. The Church has done it this way because of what Jesus said in the upper room: “What sins you forgive are forgiven, what sins you retain are retained.” How else can a priest forgive a sin which he has not heard? This also implies that he can, if he wishes, refuse to forgive a sin. It makes sense to me…*somewhat.

*Why does the church hold on to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this form? The objection to the sacrament has often been that you should not have to confess your sins to another man, but go straight to the source, namely Jesus. In the past, I have used the argument that Jesus’ transmission of the power to forgive in the upper room indicated the need for a confessor. But did it really? Could not the power to forgive indicate the need for absolution, but the power to retain indicate the need (desperate need, nowadays) for excommunication?

As I reflect on this, I think of the parable of the sower. The sower throws his seeds all over, not caring at all where it will land. Should not the Church throw the seeds of forgiveness and not concern itself on where the seeds lie? In other words, should not the church concern itself whether a person is worthy of forgiveness, thus eliminating the need for a confessor?
If you look at modern society’s ills, it reflects a society that has a very low sense of worth. Just the fact that we “are” gives us worth. People’s sense of their own and other’s worth is so low that people are preventing themselves from reproducing and trampling on others right to be born or die with dignity. Given these conditions, why would the Church even imply that a person could be unworthy of forgiveness, or of *any *of God’s graces for that matter?

I think it is time for the Church to consider changing the form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. A form that encourages prayer, a more personal relationship with God, a deep examination of conscience, and most of all - offers unconditional absolution.

I look forward to hearing what people have to say.

Well, I disagree with your view for a need for change at least 110%; perhaps more.:tsktsk:

And I think your commentary is indicative that you truly do not understand what the Sacrament of Penance is all about. You can name it and describe it with a textbook explanation, but it is obvious that you don’t have a clear understanding of the personal relationship with Christ that is present within the Sacraments.

I suggest a change is needed not within Christ’s Church but inside the minds of those who feel they know better.

Peace be with you,


We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right.
What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.
these current fashions it is not really a question of the religion
allowing us liberty; but (at the best) of the liberty allowing us a
religion. These people merely take the modern mood, with much in
it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is
merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut
down to fit that mood. --G.K. Chesterton

I think the latter way you described does away with the humility of obedience we should show to others in their station in life. Tim

The Church retains the right to refuse absolution if the priest feels that the penitent is not in the proper state to recieve absolution. For example, a person who is not contrite for their sins cannot recieve absolution. Some circumstances demand that an act of penance be carried out before absolution is given.

The Sacrament of Penance is recieved through the Church, not on one’s own. Like all the Sacraments, the institution of the Church is necessary for Confession to be administered. It was the Apostles, their successors (the Bishops of the Church), and the priests (who recieve the ability to absolve and retain sin through their local ordinary) that Christ charged with administering this Holy Sacrament.

Au contraire - people’s sense of self-worth and self-entitlement is, if anything, too high. You just need to watch something like how auditionees behave on ‘American Idol’ every week to see this.

This is shown in the tiny numbers of people who actually do go to confession compared with 50 years ago. And the correspondingly huge proportion of parishioners who will receive Communion every single Sunday (or worse still, more often) as though it is an entitlement, regardless of the fact that so many are knowingly in a state of unconfessed mortal sin.

I think women are aborting and contracepting more often mostly out of a selfish desire to be without the perceived encumbrance of a child rather than because they lack faith in their self-worth or abilities as parents.

I offered the topic up for discussion as a discussion, and nothing more. If you read my post, I said the Church needs to consider the change, and consider the times. If I “truly do not understand”, I think it would have been more fruitful to pray for my enlightenment, or provide further instruction and clarification, rather than point out my deficiencies.

I admit I am not an expert, so I am open to instruction.



That’s what I tried to address. Why does the Church care if a person is in the proper state to recieve absolution?

Allow me to use an analogy to explain my point. A poor man comes up and asks for a quarter. Chances are he is poor because he cannot help it or he is poor because he chooses to be poor and makes a living at being a beggar. If I gave out the quarter regardless, that would be pleasing to God because it was a charitable act. If the poor man was unworthy because he chose to be poor, God’s judgement would be on him for he abused my generosity. But what if I refused to hand over a quarter out of fear that he didn’t need it? I run the risk of witholding money to someone who did need it. This would be unpleasing to God.

I hope you don’t think that I implied that the church should have no role. They do have a role. A priest or bishop is needed for absolution. My only question is (and I am sincerely trying to understand this, and appreciate your input) why is it necessary to have a confessor? I mean, is the act of hearing the confession what is meant by in persona Christi or is it the act of granting absolution?

I am laughing at the American Idol comment. Seriously though, I think the opposite can be said. You obviously recognize your worth and seek to nourish your mind and soul with stuff that really matters. Likewise, people with low self-worth or who see themselves as totally unworthy - choose to fill their lives with things that really don’t matter - like unchaste sex, drugs, pop-culture, etc.

Well, I must have misread the OP because I thought you were suggesting that the Church repair Her error and not asking why we confess to a priest.:wink:

                John 20:23 - Jesus says, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If                      you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In order for the apostles to                      exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents must orally confess their                      sins to them because the apostles are not mind readers. The text makes this                      very clear.

                1 Tim. 2:5 -"There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human,who gave himself as ransom for all."    (Christ is the only mediator, but He was free to decide how His                      mediation would be applied to us. The Lord chose to use priests of God to carry                      out His work of forgiveness.)

James 5:16 - James clearly teaches us that we must “confess our sins to one another,” not just privately to God. James 5:16 must be read in the context of James 5:14-15, which is referring to the healing power (both physical and spiritual) of the priests of the Church. Hence, when James says “therefore” in verse 16, he must be referring to the men he was writing about in verses 14 and 15 – these men are the ordained priests of the Church, to whom we must confess our sins.

and from the Catechism:

**1441 **Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: “Your sins are forgiven.” Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.

**1442 **Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the “ministry of reconciliation.” The apostle is sent out “on behalf of Christ” with “God making his appeal” through him and pleading: “Be reconciled to God.”

You need to understand that when we sin, we are not just hurting ourselves and God. We hurt everyone. Hypothetical situation: A woman cheats on her husband. He is filled with anger and hurt and it affects his job and relationship with his extended family. His coworkers are affected, those who supervise him are affected, etc. The stain of sin goes on and on. When the wife confesses to the priest, he is standing in for Christ. He is a representative of the community.

Going to a confessor, rather than confessing one’s sins on one’s own, is very helpful. For one thing, it promotes the virtue of humility. It is much more humbling to actually recite a list of one’s sins out loud to a priest rather than to simply make a “mental apology” to God.

Additionally, the thought that one may have to later confess one’s sins will often keep a person from committing a particular sin. Now we should not sin out of love for God, but as humans we can use every bit of help out there! If the thought of having to confess a particular sin keeps one from doing it, then that is a good thing.

Additionally, confessors are very helpful in helping one sort out one’s spiritual life. They can help the overly scrupulous who are in the habit of seeing sin in everything, and they can help the … er … less scrupulous who don’t think much of anything they do is a sin. Self-deception is a very human trait. :wink:

A good confessor will often provide good advice in helping someone overcome a particular sinful habit.

My advice would be to stop looking at confession as merely a means of attaining forgiveness for sins committed, and look at it as a way to grow spiritually.

There are some cases where absolution should be denied. An example would be if someone who has commited a serious crime comes to recieve the Sacrament of Penance, the priest could withold absolution until the penitent turns themself in to the authorities. Another situation would be where the confessor believes that a penitent has come to confession for the wrong reasons (and thus is not properly prepared to recieve absolution), in which case they would be commiting a sin of sacrilege, so he may deny that person absolution. Or if the penitent suffers from scruples the priest may decide not to grant absolution.

Giving absolution is not an act of charity on the part of the Church- it is the duty of the Church to do so. But the Church also posseses the authority and the wisdom to deny someone absolution for the right reasons.

You used the example of giving money to a beggar. But lets assume that this beggar then uses the money we give him to buy drugs, thus endangering his life and supporting the drug trade. Would it still be right to give him money for the sake of acting in a charitable manner if we did not consider the possibility he might use the money to harm himself? Or should we pat ourselves on the back for giving money with no questions asked while the street beggar lies dying in the gutter because he overdosed on something? And remember, in the confessional there are not mortal lives at stake, but immortal souls!

I hope you don’t think that I implied that the church should have no role. They do have a role. A priest or bishop is needed for absolution. My only question is (and I am sincerely trying to understand this, and appreciate your input) why is it necessary to have a confessor? I mean, is the act of hearing the confession what is meant by in persona Christi or is it the act of granting absolution?

Which is harder for a person to do- go into a room alone and pray silently for God’s mercy for our sins, then go to Church and recieve a General Absolution (which is only allowed in times of great emergency- ie. on a sinking ship with only a few minutes to live, a priest gives a general absolution to the remaining passengers); or go to a confessional, kneel behind the screen, and tell the priest (who is a living icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ) our sins and beg him for absolution and penance? Of course it is far harder to tell another person our sins. But if we were to merely pray for God’s pardon we would start to take absolution for granted- we might even start to expect it and presume God’s mercy (which is one of the unforgivable sins against the Holy Spirit).

Aside from the wonderrful words of absolution spoken directly to the individual penitent, thee is the fact that most of us are very well skilled in self deception. I think having to own up in front of a priest helps to keep us honest.

In line with this thread, last night a lapsed Catholic was telling me that her husband learned in seminary (which, according to Sean Hannity, means one is more qualified to discuss Catholicism, but I digress) that VCII did away with the need to confess to a priest.

Obviously, he is incorrect (I cited the CCC 1460 ff. for her), but does anyone have any inkling where that notion would have come from?

I don’t know if you misread, or if I was in the wrong frame of mind. I did try to get rid of these doubts by asking myself “what do I have to lose” and I went to confession. I don’t know if it’s me, but going to confession is like going to see the doctor. For some reason, I procrastinate for both. Do I sound like a typical male? :smiley:

One part of the Bible that is not as well understood as others, is Matthew 12:31-32:

Therefore, I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What most scholars believe this to mean, when you think about “What sin would God never forgive”, is that it can only be a blasphemy of not ASKING for forgiveness - not repenting of sin. Any other sin is forgiven, now matter how heinous.

Therefore we have to ask for forgiveness of someone whenever we sin, and the Bible is pretty clear that the power to forgive sins was conferred only to the Apostles (and hence those that they later conferred it to), not everyone. Now our Tradition is even clearer that Jesus created this sacrament, like others, to give us the basis of grace to achieve our salvation, which is clearly evident in the readings of the Early Church Fathers.

As a note, the Church teaches that Reconciliation also gives us the grace to help us not sin again - it makes us stronger is resisting temptation in the future. As Bill Murray once said “So I have that going for me - which is nice” :smiley:

OK, here is another question. If a person genuinely forgets a sin - which I am sure has happened to everybody. The act of absolution covers it, right? Am I being too scrupulous if I bring them up the next time I go? I do have to account for the priests time.

If you honestly forget a sin it is forgiven - mortal or not.

Some people will say that if it was mortal and you forgot it, you should/must confess it next time. I do not believe this is true, but it’s not a bad practice. I thin kthis is not true because it could drag on forever, for example (and I asked a pastor about this): A person falls away from the Church for a very long time, and their formation was not very good. They eventually come back, start to build their faith, and go to confession. They tried very hard to do a proper search of their recollection to see what sins they had, but it has just been so long they can’t remember them all. They could in fact, as they go through life, continue to have things come up so that they may remember a new mortal sin from their past time every month! This pastor told me that Jesus does not want us looking back, he wants us looking forward. If you have truly searched your soul and consciousness, and truly been sorry when you confessed, ALL sins are forgiven. There is certainly no scriptural support for any other doctrine IMHO.

So be thankful our Savior loves us infinitely, and go on to life your life glorifying him!

You are incorrect here. Yes, forgotten mortal sins are forgiven. BUT - you are required to mention them in confession the next time you go after remembering them. Why? Because all mortal sins need to be confessed. It’s quite easy - you just say “Father, I have remembered a sin that I forgot to confess.” Then mention the sin and how ofter you committed it. That’s all.

It doesn’t go on for very long - mortal sins are serious. They re-surface quite easily when you have tilled the soil with a good confession! Within about 6 - 12 months you are likely to have uncovered all the remaining dung piles! :wink:



[/list]That is incorrect. Father Peter Stravinskas in his “The Catholic Response” series has stated a number of times that absolution is NEVER to be conditional on the penitent performing a penance.

When a person walks out of the confessional, their sins are either absolved or retained. There are no “if”.

Now, if a person fails to perform a penance given to them in this life, they will have to make restitution in purgatory. And it has been reveiled by a number of saints that we can pay our debt in this life with pennies on the dollar when compared to compensation that will be required of us in purgatory.

Therefore, no matter how difficult we may perceive a penance to be (i.e., turning oneself in to the authorities for a crime), it will be numerous times worse in purgatory if we fail to perform it in this life.

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