sacrament of confession
Penance is the sacrament instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is obtained through the priest’s absolution to those who with true sorrow confesses their sins and promise to satisfy for them and never to go back to that. This is called a sacrament not simply only a ceremony or a mere function performed by the ordained because it represents an outward sign instituted by Christ to impact grace on a soul. Therefore as an outward ceremony, it comprises the process of the penitent to present himself to the priest willingly, accusing himself of the sins and the priest listening to them after which he pronounces absolution and imposes satisfaction. This process is usually and commonly called “confession” and it takes the form of a judicial process in which the penitent is the accuser, the accused and at the same time the witness while the priest is the one to pronounce the judgment and as well the sentence.
However, the penitent does not make a confession within his heart, nor to a layman friend as an advocate, neither to any human authority or a representative; but to a duly ordained priest under the right authority with the power and “keys” to forgive sins, keys which Christ himself granted to his church. In this regard therefore, it is important to correct some wrong and negative impression and misinterpretations about this sacrament:
• Penance is not just a mere human invention by the church aimed at manipulating and securing the feeling of emotional relief over troubled souls and consciences from the guilt of sins, rather, it is a a means appointed by Christ to remit for our sins. As humans, we are bound by the weakness of our body to fall into temptations of sin, but it is only through Christ that we can show that we are deeply sorry for our sins and obtain pardon not on conditions of our own chosen but on those appointed by God. All these is embodied in the holy sacrament of penance.
• No catholic believes that a priest as an individual has the power on his own to forgive sins and grant pardon no matter how pious the priest might seem or learned. This power alone is shared by God and is exclusive to Him alone. But God does this through the ministration of men he had appointed during ordination as priests. Since God removes our sin through this sacrament, it is then beyond the ordinary perception that it is performed by just humans but by God who is the institution that established it.
• It is not true for the catholic that a mere confession of sins without a deep feeling of sorrow and remorse for the sins committed would obtain mercy and forgiveness. Without sincere heart of sorrow and a desire for amendments, the act of confession amounts to nothing and the pronouncement of absolution by the priest have no effect also while the guilt of the sinner becomes much greater than before.
While this sacrament of confession obtains for us Divine mercy from God, it does not in any measure render sin less hateful nor makes its consequences less dreadful, nor does it guarantee permission to commit further sins in the future. As a means of gaining back and obtaining grace for the atonement of sins; mortal sin and venial sins, sacrament of reconciliation is at all times necessary. Christ himself instituted this sacrament when after his death and resurrection; He breathed upon his disciples and said to them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). This therefore established the authority of the ordained to perform the sacrament of reconciliation for the sins of the faithful committed after baptism, through the Holy Ghost breathed upon them by Christ during ordination after His disciples their predecessors. Christ grants power to forgive sins. He charged his disciples with this responsibility among others to work after him in carrying out these functions. Hence the forgiving of sins is among the responsibilities charged to the ordained.
Christ paid the steep price for us all and our sins on the cross, actually the greatest of all sacrifice ever in the human history. Christ foresaw also that those who received faith and baptism during the lifetime of the apostles or later might fell into the temptations of sins and hence would need forgiveness in order to be saved, he then instituted this sacrament by extending the power to forgive from his apostles to their successors. It is also true that in baptism, sins are forgiven but this does not depict that the power to baptize is the same as the power to forgive. The power to forgive also bears the power to retain, as cited in the passage above where Christ clearly made it obvious to them that they could forgive as well as retain the sins of the faithful. This bears with it a judicial action but that is not obtained in the power to baptize.
Sacrament of reconciliation prepares us to meet Christ anew after we have passed through penance and reconciled with Christ and the church. It is through this that we meet the loving Jesus who offers himself to us in forgiveness of our sins committed against God and neighbor. We often offend God and this distances us from his graces. We therefore need our sins to be forgiven and renewed into a new life. We need to know that our sins are forgiven, not just to satisfy our human conscience but really through faith be assured that our sins are actually forgiven after confession which is the visible manifestation of God’s mercy.