More about the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
1.) Reconciliation is a Sacrament of Healing; this sacrament restores us to friendship with God and puts us in good standing with God’s people (namely, the church) after we have done something (sin) to hurt our relationship with God and others. The forgiveness we receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation heals our relationships with God and others.
2.) Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We read about this in the Bible:
“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah . . . I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:18-20)
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were . . . Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:19-23)
3.) Important parts of the Sacrament of Reconciliation:
- CONTRITION (being sorry): Contrition means that we must be sincerely sorry for what we have done wrong. This includes an awareness that we have offended God whom we should love and an intention to try not to commit the sin again.
- CONFESSION (telling our sins to a priest): As part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we must tell our sins to the priest. It is good to include some explanation of the circumstances in which you committed the sin. Confessing our sins to a priest helps us to be clear about what we have done wrong and about our sorrow for having committed sins.
- PENANCE (making up for what we have done): The sins that we commit offend God and hurt ourselves and others. Our penance is something that we do to help make up for the hurt we have caused. The penance also helps us gain better control over ourselves so that we can try harder not to sin again. Penances often include doing things for others, saying special prayers, and denying ourselves some of our usual pleasures.
- ABSOLUTION (God forgives the sin): The central moment of the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes when the priest, acting as God’s representative, says the prayer of absolution and God forgives your sin, heals the relationship between you and him, and restores you to good standing in his church.
4.) When Should You Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Catholics are expected to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation whenever they are aware of having committed a serious sin (a mortal sin). Catholics are required to receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter Season (this is known as one’s Easter Duty). We are not permitted to receive Holy Communion unless we have first confessed any serious sins; therefore, serious sins must be confessed no less than once each year.
5.) Outward Sign of Reconciliation:
The outward sign of reconciliation is the prayer said by the priest. While saying this prayer, the priest may extend his hand toward us as a sign of the hand that God stretches out to sinners to draw us back.
6.) What is sin?
Sin is an offense against God and humanity. When we sin, we fail to live up to our duty to love and respect God, ourselves, and others.
Sins can be classified as MORTAL (very serious) or VENIAL (less serious). In order for a sin to be classed as a MORTAL sin, three conditions are required: (1) the sin must actually be very seriously wrong, for example, something which violates the 10 Commandments, (2) we must know that the sin is seriously wrong, and (3) we must freely choose to commit the sin—you cannot commit a mortal sin by accident.
Sins can also be classified as PERSONAL (sins we commit as free individuals, for example, lying to our parents or stealing money from someone’s purse) or SOCIAL (offenses committed as part of a community or institution, for example, citizens allowing their government to adopt policies which are racist or that take advantage of the poor).
7.) When we sin, who is offended (who gets hurt)?
- The victim of our sin (the person we were unkind to, who we stole from, etc.)
- Ourselves (we become less than we could be)
- The Christian Community (we fail to set a good example and let down our brothers and sisters in Christ).
- God (who loves us, asks us to follow his ways, and deserves our respect).
8.) Why should we go to confession?
- Confession helps us to come to grips with our sins.
- It is a chance to be told how much God loves us.
- Absolution is a guarantee of forgiveness.
- It is a chance to be reconciled with God and Christian community.
9.) Some more resources:
- The US Catholic Bishops web site on Reconciliation
- 2 Short pages on God’s forgiveness and how to go to confession
- Examination of Conscience
Rev. Msgr. John N. Fell, Pastor
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish
Bernardsville, NJ 07924