Why does confession work this way?


I have a question regarding confession. Please correct me if my understanding is incorrect. The basis for my question is that the sacrament of confession is to be used when one needs forgiveness and absolution after committing a mortal sin. I also understand that forgiveness for a mortal sin can be attained through a perfect act of contrition. However this is very rare and hard to determine. I guess what is confusing to me is how all this fits together:

If a priest can forgive someone in spite of imperfect contrition, then why can’t/doesn’t God do the same when sins are confessed to Him directly? What would happen to a person who desired to confess but didn’t have access to a priest, and was not able to give a perfect act of contrition? If they died would they be damned?

I do believe that Jesus set the stage and wants us to confess, its just the requirement to do so in order for the average lay person to be absolved that I don’t understand.

Please help clear this up, I wasn’t able to find anything that addressed this on the internet and was hoping someone here could set me on the right path.


"What would happen to a person who desired to confess but didn’t have access to a priest, and was not able to give a perfect act of contrition? "

If getting to a priest for confession is actually beyond their control then they can only say an Act of Contrition and ask the Lord for His Mercy. But this would be very rare and only in extreme circumstances. And as SOON AS they could get to a priest they would be required to.

I once heard that we NEED confession to a priest to HEAR those words “I absolve you from your sins”. It is for our hearts and souls that this is needed.


Thus speaks the non-Catholic.

Christ established a Church and a priesthood.


First and foremost: reconciliation between an individual and God is always to some extent going to be a mystery for us, because mortal creatures aren’t privy to the interior of a soul and the Holy Spirit working in them towards their salvation.

Perfect contrition is a gift from God and not something a person can manufacture through an act of the will. A person should pray for the grace of perfect contrition, now and at the moment of their death. It is reported by various saints that God works in a soul to the very end, including when they might not be able to give any visible sign of contrition to the outside world. So to your question of whether a soul be damned if they can’t confess to a priest: it comes down to that person and God. If a person is damned, it isn’t something that occurs by bad luck or accident. It is impossible to go to hell by being unlucky.

All of the sacraments are “public” sacraments in the sense that there are always three people or more gathered. Even in Reconciliation, there is always you, the priest, and Christ. “Jesus and me” is not to its full extent compatible with Catholicism. It was God’s will to institute the sacrament of Reconciliation, and it was foreshadowed through the Levitcal priesthood. The sacraments also provide an assurance to the penitent that otherwise would not exist. With a personal confession, you’re left with the question, “Well, was I sorry enough?”. Some people might be presumptive and say, “Sure, I was sorry enough”, and they will be affirmed based on their feelings. The problem is that feelings don’t really mean anything. The purpose of feelings are to motivate you towards certain actions. They are the sails on your ship. They are not designed to be your compass. If you use the sails as your compass, you will simply be blown about the sea in whatever direction the wind takes you. Feeling forgiven on the inside doesn’t make you forgiven, and not feeling forgiven on the inside doesn’t mean that you aren’t in fact forgiven.


Non-Catholics are allowed to post here. They come here fully knowing that they are a minority on this forum.


The issue is that since the new board has done away with having each post show a person’s religious affiliation, the poster may be mistaken for Catholic unless he or she states they are not Catholic.
This causes confusion when people are actually trying to find out the Catholic position on an issue.

In this case, the OP is asking about the Catholic sacrament of confession specifically, and how it works. An opinion from a non-Catholic is not much help. It is also useful for someone to point out that the opinion given is not the Catholic one, to avoid confusion about what the Catholic church actually teaches.


You just click on their picture to see their religion (if they put it in their profile).


People do not necessarily know to click on the picture, especially if they don’t spend a lot of time here.

Also, the person in question whom the other poster noted was not a Catholic has religion listed as “Follower of Christ” which tells me absolutely nothing about whether they are Catholic or former Catholic or what (I too am a “Follower of Christ”), and would tell someone unfamiliar with the Catholic faith even less. So please don’t pick nits. Nobody told the person not to post here, but it is important to note when someone who is non-Catholic decides to inject their own opinion into a question where the OP has specifically asked about a Catholic sacrament, Catholic teaching, or Catholic perspective.


Thank you for your reply. I agree that the sacraments are a mystery, there are some things we may never know and we must trust in Him to guide us.

I also agree that reconciliation gives an assurance to the penitent. But my question is why does that assurance have to come almost exclusively through the priest? Can the same assurance not come from direct confession and remorse to God? Don’t priest absolve mostly all those who confess regardless of whether or not the penitent performs perfect contrition? Couldn’t we be fairly certain God would forgive with the same consistency?

The only edge I may gained in terms of assurance is that you audibly hear the priest absolve you of sin.

I’m not saying we should not confess our sins to each other or that the sacrament is of no use. I believe the sacrament of reconciliation to be a great gift from God. I just don’t get why it is something we must do in cases of mortal sin. I would very much like to understand this.


Christ knew the mans heart. Christ was God, that is why he could just forgive him. But in John 20-21-23 Christ said “Peace be with you. As The Father sent me so I send you. And he breathed on them and said “Receive The Holy Spirit” whoevers sins you forgive are forgiven. Whoevers sins you do not forgive are not forgiven.” This is why we believe Christ instituted The Sacrament of Confession. Yes, God forgives us but he wanted us to confess to His Clegry. That is why a priest needs to hear the sins because he cant instantly know someones sins like God can. We believe we are forgiven whenever we are truly sorry. But God also wants us to confess. It shows true contrition and regardless if newer denominations (and non-denominational counts as a denomination) like it or not, we know from recorded history that The Early Christian Church always had the sacrament of confession.


I believe we should confess all our sins, mortal or venial, actual or personal.

The reason we must confess to a priest, is because that’s the way we work & that’s the way most beneficial to your immortal soul. That’s the way He created us.

Surely He could have made it possible for Him to forgive us our sins directly, but he didnt (well, actually he did. Many sins are forgiven through the course of the Mass, prayer, & intercession). Confession is more about healing the temporal effect of forgiven sins. Be holy, for He is holy.


Read Mark 2:5 as well as Luke 5:20 and 7:48. These are incidents in scripture where Jesus directly forgave sins. In each and every recorded case where Jesus forgave sins, He told the sinner in so many words: “Your sins are forgiven.”

The Priest acts in persona Christi, with the authority of Christ, (Whose sins you forgive are forgiven") so just as Christ told the sinners, the priest also tells them that they are forgiven. Saint Paul forgave sins in the person of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 2:10 in the KJV, the Douay-Rheims or even the New Living Translation for a clear translation).

When you ask forgiveness by yourself, what do you hear?

Crickets. No words of forgiveness, no spiritual direction. Just crickets. How do you “know” you are forgiven?

Christ did not leave us orphans.


I have no problem with you being here.
I also have no problem with someone else who is a regular poster pointing out that your statement above was not the correct view in the eyes of the Catholic Church.
The OP asked specifically about how the Sacrament of Confession works in the Catholic Church, and you reply with some Bible verse suggesting that he doesn’t need the priest at all.
This is incorrect from a Catholic viewpoint; unless it is a dire emergency such as being on the point of death.
Therefore it was appropriate for the other poster to note that your view is not a Catholic one.

We already have a problem in the Catholic church with poor catechesis which causes people to be not sure what the Catholic view is. Therefore, it is prudent to guard against people getting any more misinformation about what the Church actually teaches, as opposed to something that is the personal belief or opinion of a non-Catholic.

You are welcome to post but it would be good if you made sure to note when you are giving your personal opinion or belief, rather than giving the Catholic teaching. I would not go on a Muslim board and start giving my Catholic beliefs in a thread asking about a specific Muslim teaching and why the Muslims do it that way. That just muddies the waters.


My point is very clear.
You are missing it deliberately in order to get on your soapbox, so I’ll leave you to having your non-Catholic say.


Well, you can keep looking through this thread for explanations, and they may be helpful.

But, there is a caveat, which is that Christianity is a revealed truth and its origins are supernatural. It is more than an organized system of philosophy, in the way the Greeks and Romans tried to invent their own religion after their traditional gods were reduced to the level of abstractions or metaphors among the highly educated of the time. While the Romans were attempting to create their own faith systems, the prophecies of the East (the Jews) were shrouded in mystery and ancient rite (such as the Passover meal, that was a precursor to the Holy Eucharist). and had origins going back for centuries upon centuries. While other pagan belief systems were localized and often undemanding, by the time Christ walked the Earth there were already far more Greek-speaking Jews living abroad than there were Jews living in Palestine. The faith had such powerful attraction that it had spread, even in spite of the old covenant being tied through heritage and blood, and before the Apostolic Age that opened the gates of the faith to the entire world.

So although our understanding and appreciation can be enriched & deepened with different insights, you are not going to ever find a totally complete, formulaic answer to, “Why did our Lord institute Confession? Why is it like such and such?”, or “Why did our Lord institute Baptism? Why does it need to be with water?” To some extent it’s something we need to accept as it is, and we have the Magisterium to preserve those elements of truth which are indispensable to the ancient Church.

Some ways to deepen our understanding would be through deeply reading the Old Testament and seeing the connections between it and the New Testament. The Levitical priesthood is especially important here, since we are on the subject of the Sacraments. Reading a book dedicated to Confession and its historic development would also be helpful. It is up to you. There isn’t a limit to how much you can learn.


Confession is the normal means Jesus gave us to obtain forgiveness; we are obligated to it, but he is not bound to make it the only means by which he can forgive us. In the case of death of a repentant soul who couldn’t reasonably make it to confession (say, for instance, car accident on the way there), Jesus can still operate on the intentions of the individual. The problem with “perfect contrition” is the uncertainty of it. Even if perfect contrition was present, a person should still take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation as soon as possible.

I once heard it explained that the thief on the cross didn’t confess - just was contrite and forgiven, but had there been some miraculous opportunity to be released from his cross/death, Jesus would have thought a confession to be the next logical step as it demonstrates the resolve to change one’s life and live it anew.



So you’re here to convert us?


On the old CAF, coming to the forum with an agenda of proselytizing non-Catholic beliefs was generally forbidden.


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