On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, Jesus showed himself to his apostles. He breathed on them, and said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (John 20:19, 22-23)
Sacraments of Healing: Penance and Reconciliation
Reconciliation (officially called the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation or Confession) is the Sacrament in which we receive forgiveness from Christ. We repent and confess our sins, and are absolved of sin through the ministry of a priest, who acts in the person of Christ when he pronounces the words ‘I absolve you from your sins in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.
Sin damages our relationship with God, with the Church and with each other. Confession is important because it is the normal way we can be forgiven for serious sins committed after Baptism. It is this Sacrament that reconciles us once again with God. At the same time, we are reconciled with the Church because it is also wounded by our sins.
The Church Fathers (a popular title for early Christians whose personal holiness and doctrine won general approval in the Church) described the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the ‘second plank’ we can count on when we get shipwrecked by sin and the loss of grace (CCC 1446), the first being Baptism.
Regular confession is important because it helps us to come close to Christ and develop a mature conscience. The act of confessing itself bestows healing and a sense of release from the burden of sin. The Sacrament helps us stay close to the truth that we cannot live without God: ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).
Not only does the Sacrament of Reconciliation free us from our sins but it also challenges us to have the same kind of compassion and forgiveness for those who sin against us. We are liberated to be forgivers. As St Francis of Assisi once said: ‘It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.’
The four parts of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
- Contrition: A sincere sorrow for having offended God, and a firm resolve not to repeat our sin.
- Confession: Confronting our sins in a profound way to God by speaking them aloud to the priest. For a fruitful Confession, you can prepare by making an Examination of Conscience, reflecting on what sins you have committed and why.
- Penance: An important part of our healing is the penance (some form of prayer or sacrifice) which the priest gives us in reparation for our sins.
- Absolution: The priest speaks the words by which we are reconciled to God and are absolved from our sins.
There ought to be no fear in Confession. It is an encounter with God’s loving mercy and rightly described as a sacrament of healing.
‘... we cannot comprehend the goodness of God towards us in instituting this great Sacrament of Penance. If we had had a favour to ask of Our Lord, we should never have thought of asking him that. But he foresaw our frailty and our inconstancy in well-doing, and his love induced him to do what we should not have dared to ask’ (St Jean-Marie Vianney)
Want to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)?
- You have been baptised or received into the Catholic Church
- You are sorry for your sins and intend to sin no more
- Parishes generally offer Reconciliation 15-30 minutes before Mass or at other set times
- Contact your parish for its Reconciliation times, or to book an appointment with a priest
Click here for a Liturgy Office leaflet on how you might prepare for the Sacrament (note: it says 'during Lent' but the elements are the same no matter which time of year).
‘When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.’ (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 3)