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The Sacrament of the Reconciliation


Matthew 9:3-8 "And behold some of the scribes said within themselves: He blasphemed. And Jesus seeing their thoughts, said: Why do you think evil in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee: or to say, Arise, and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then said he to the man sick of palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house. And he arose, and went into his house. And the multitude seeing it, feared, and glorified God that gave such power to men."

John 20:19-23 "Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."

The Sacrament of Penance is such a gift! It can be very hard to do -- it can be intimidating, embarrassing -- but once absolution is given, you will walk out of that confessional feeling like a trillion bucks. Christ, in His most Holy Wisdom, gave us this precious Sacrament to literally and truly bestow His grace upon us through His priests as a means of forgiving us and assuring us of His mercy and love for us. This psychological benefit of "feeling assured" and "clean again" stems not only from the supernatural fruits of the Sacrament, but from our human nature and our need to purge ourselves of those things that plague our consciences. Christ, the Great Physician, knows us well and knows that "confession is good for the soul," in both a supernatural and psychological sense.

The Catechism of the Evangelical Catholic Church teaches "The forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament, called the sacrament of conversion, confession, penance, or reconciliation."

The Catechism explains, "To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God, who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.

"The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future, and is nourished by hope in God's mercy."

The Ritual of Confession

The Sacrament of Penance is a liturgical action instituted by the Church for the reconciliation of sinners to communion with God and with the Church. Catholics are obliged to go to confession to receive the sacrament of penance at least once a year or whenever they are conscious of serious sin. Receiving this sacrament is encouraged at other times, as a means of restoring full unity with God and His Church, and for spiritual growth.

The sacrament consists basically of four acts of the penitent and the priest:

Contrition: First the penitent (the repentant sinner -- the root word in "penitentiary"), must be aware of their sinfulness and must be truly sorry (contrite) for their sins. Another word for repentance is "contrition". They must repent their sins, and seek the sacrament of penance -- that is, to go to confession to a priest.

Confession: The penitent confesses to a priest all the sins they can recall -- after examining their conscience -- that they has not confessed before. The confession is entirely private and confidential. Traditionally confession takes place in the "confessional", a small room where the priest and penitent are separated by a screen to assure complete privacy and anonymity. It is also permissible, if both the priest and penitent agree, to administer and receive the sacrament of penance "face to face" in another room in the church reserved for this purpose. The sacrament can take place elsewhere, in an emergency.

Act of Penance: The priest-confessor proposes certain actions -- penance -- for the penitent to perform. This may be saying certain prayers and/or performing some other fitting action. The person who performs this penance thus shows their sorrow for their sinful acts. This helps them to overcome their faults, and the harm their sins have caused others -- to be reconciled with them and with the Church, and to return to behavior consistent with being a disciple of Christ.

Absolution: After the penitent accepts the acts of penance, the priest, by the authority that the Church has given him or her, absolves the sinner; that is, he or she grants God's pardon for the sins.

Structure of Confession/ Absolution Rite

The normal practice for administration of the Sacrament of Penance is in private -- with only the penitent and the priest present. On occasion, as during penitential seasons, a parish may hold a "communal penance service", where the congregation may pray and reflect together with the priest before each person individually goes to confession. (Only in extreme cases of emergency, such as on a battlefield, may a priest give "general absolution" to all at the same time; and that with the stipulation that the individual penitents go to confession individually as soon as possible.)

To begin, the penitent kneels and, by custom, says: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned", and may add, "It has been [time] since my last confession." The priest greets the penitent. Then crossing himself, the penitent says "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" and begins their confession.

The priest may help the penitent with an examination of conscience, perhaps by asking questions. During the confession, the priest may read Scripture passages and offer spiritual counsel.

After hearing the confession, the priest assigns a penance, and the penitent accepts the penance with the following prayer:

Act of Contrition

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The priest then extends his or her hands in blessing over the penitent, and prays the prayer of absolution:

Prayer of Absolution

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


National Church Office
Post Office Box 178388  Chicago Illinois  60617-8388
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