The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation
The Sacrament of Confession is also called the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. We use these names to describe the different aspects of this sacrament because it does not only involve confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness.
It is called the Sacrament of Penance to describe the restoration of our hearts through the expression of our sorrow and cooperation in our healing.
It is also called the Sacrament of Reconciliation because it not only restores our relationship as children of God, it also reconciles us with one another restoring our union with the Body of Christ, his Church.
Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1422)
Common Questions About Confession
We celebrate the Sacrament of Confession regularly at the following times:
Saturday Morning from 8:00am to 9:00am
Saturday Afternoon from 3:00pm to 4:00pm.
During His public ministry, Jesus forgave the sins of many people. (see Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11). It was such a prominent part of His ministry that it can rightly be said that He either had this ability or he was a liar. During His public ministry Jesus gave his apostles the authority to cast out demons and to forgive sins. In John 20:21-23 the risen Lord Jesus appeared in the locked upper room and told them: “As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
This power to pardon did not cease with the Apostles, because they consecrated bishops to continue the work of the Church until the end of time. This handing on of the authority given to the first apostles to each generation is called apostolic succession.
It is difficult to imagine how the disciples were to determine which sins were to be forgiven and which were to be retained unless the person seeking forgiveness confessed his sins to the one charged with the power to forgive in the name of God. This understanding not only has Biblical roots, but can also be traced to some of the very earliest documents written by Church fathers during the apostolic period.
When a person confesses his sins to a priest and receives absolution, through the promise of Matthew 18:15-18, the repentant sinner encounters Christ Himself.
No. Due to what is called the seal of confession the priest cannot ever tell others about the sins he hears in the confessional or even imply through his speech any connection between a person and any sins they confess. Throughout the history of the Church many priests have endured prison or worse at the hands of civil authorities who tried to get them to reveal what they heard in confession because they refused. In fact, Church law requires this of priest and the penalty for revealing someone’s sins heard in confession is the permanent loss of faculties (they can no longer validly perform any sacraments).
“Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to people every confessor, without any exception and under very severe penalties, is bound to maintain ‘the sacramental seal’ which means absolute secrecy about the sins revealed to him in confession.” (Compendium of the Catechism, 309)
“The effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living.” (Compendium of the Catechism, 310)
How to Make a Good Confession
Prepare beforehand by starting with prayer, asking for God’s help using a traditional prayer or prayer of your own.
Make a good examination of your conscience. You may find it helpful to use a prepared list to help you with the formation of your conscience inspired by the 10 Commandments or a list of virtues and vices.
As you enter the confessional the penitent makes the sign of the cross and prays “In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” to initiate the sacrament. The priest then offers a greeting and may even read a short passage of scripture.
The penitent then indicates how long it has been since their last confession.
Then you confess your sins in kind and number (don’t worry if you have to generalize the number of times, especially if a lot of time has passed since your last confession). It is generally best to list any mortal sins first and then venial. If you are not certain of the gravity of each sin, simply confess them as they come to mind. You are not required to confess venial sins in the sacrament, but it is a good thing to do nonetheless, especially if you would like some advice about a habitual venial sin.
If it has been a while since your last confession don’t worry the priest will help you. As you say your sins it may be helpful to mention your state in life to the priest (married, single, line of work, etc.). It is best to simply state what you did, convicting yourself and not blaming your actions on other people or confessing the sins of others. This is not the place for excuses. It is the place to be rid of guilt in sincerity and honesty.
Once you have finished saying your sins you may indicate that you are finished by saying “I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life” or “these are all my sins.”
Then the priest may ask you some questions to help him understand anything that you said that is unclear. He may offer you some advice about how to avoid temptation and/or make suggestions to invite you to develop a particular virtue to avoid sin in the future.
The priest will give you a penance which may be a prayer or action intended to join your sufferings to the Cross of Christ to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24) and offer reparation for the effects of your sins.
He will then say the words of absolution, acting in the person of Christ, speaking the words of forgiveness and reconciliation at the heart of this sacrament. At the end of the words of absolution answer, “Amen.”
You should do the penance as soon as reasonably possible. It will diminish the temporal punishment of sins already forgiven.