The Sacrament of Forgiveness or Reconciliation
The sacrament of confession unmasks our penitence or recalcitrance.
This sacrament used to be called Confession in my younger days as you confessed your sins privately to the Priest in the in the Confessional. Now it is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation reconciling the Sinner to God himself by the process of the Sinner reciting his sins and the Priest granting absolution. The Sinner may repeat the action of the same sin post the Confession – will he have to return to the Confessional? – Probably. Does that relapse show he was not really sorry? – Arguably yes.
2. The Practice of Confession
The penitent must make a good, succinct and brief examination of his conscience before entering the Confessional. I argue that wrong done to another where possible should be admitted to that person by the penitent before going to Confession. Confession should not become hackneyed and should occur with proper intervals. A mortal or cardinal sin should be confessed promptly both to the party wronged and the Priest or the Confession becomes a machination and a sham. Confession should not hide sins away – they do not have to be made public but the party sinned against should have the sin acknowledged to him or her by the Sinner particularly with serious and grave sins despite adverse legal consequences.
This means sorrow for our sins or as the Bible speaks to us, repentance. This sorrow leads us to wish to make restitution to the one sinned against and the plea to God for another chance or mercy upon us the Sinner. There can be no Confession unless we wish to repent i.e. admit our sinning and confess to the Priest and the individual wronged. Both limbs are vital or Confession becomes a charade. God does not want ‘penitents’ who will not frankly put right their misdeeds with those they have denigrated and trespassed upon. He is not two faced. He is fundamentally sincere and He expects the same of us: His creation in His image. Contrition has to be worked on to understand our mischief and the ill-feeling within us and the actions resulting. It also has to be worked on for the contrition to drive the Sinner to confess to the innocent party his failings and wrongdoings. Finally the contrition if worked upon drives the Sinner to confess in the Confessional. The sacrament is then fulfilled and carried out. Clearly it may not be feasible to confess every wrong done in a person’s life to the persons at large who have been ill-treated and then the Priest himself. Time is limited and space also. Essentially each Confession is representative of a number of sins by one sin actually confessed. The various other sins may not be specifically mentioned or recalled. I have known Priest say the words of absolution to cover all sins even those were not specifically confessed. I have also known a Priest only absolve the sins or sin actually confessed. Another Priest detected my admitted unbridled lack of contrition for some sins yet I confessed my sorrow for not feeling sorry for those sins. He gave me conditional absolution only to have effect if i was sorry and wished to make amendment of life to change my ways. A tall order.
4. Absolution by releasing the Sinner from His Sins
This is the reconciling of the penitent to God and therefore vital – essentially the Priest as God’s agent absolves you in the name of God Himself and thereby the grace of God comes down on the penitent and he make his penance to seal his Confession. The penance is the prayer laid down by the Priest to the penitent at the end of Confession. The penitent says that prayer.
The linkage between Confession and Holy Communion is of great importance and substantially so. One always receives Holy Communion to capitalise upon the act and sacrament of Confession. The Confession makes the way for receiving Holy Communion by a good Confession of the sins of the penitent even of a mortal or cardinal sin against the Holy Spirit Himself. The communicant is cleansed to rightly receive the Host in Mass. The Sinner in Confession will have to satisfy the Priest he or she has confessed the full magnitude of his or her grave sin if it be serious and is truly sorry for it or absolution will be withheld until a later date or altogether. No one save the penitent may divulge the Secrets of the Confessional. The Priest is bound to secrecy until he dies. If a Roman Catholic dies with a mortal or cardinal sin on his conscience and soul and he has not received absolution for that serious sin he must face God in immediate and severe jeopardy of damnation on his death. This is the meaning of “gravitas” to understand the gravity of sinning and its consequences for that soul in eternity and to discern sinning in Sinners and the impact of that sinning upon those individuals in their lifetimes.
The combination of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion causes an act of great goodness by God and Heaven to come upon the believer. It can only be achieved if the penitent and communicant are in the right state of mind. If the right mental state is attained God’s great goodness and mercy will be delivered to the Catholic and he or she will be thoroughly renewed in body, mind, heart and soul whether he be Priest or layman. That is a state of grace and the renewal is built on humility in the Roman Catholic and great charity by God our Father. The benefits that come to this believer thereby are inestimable and long lasting for him and all close to him and indeed all who know him.
Deo Gratias – Thanks be to God.