"In this Sacrament of healing we are reconciled to God and the Church." (CCC 1420-1498)
Sins committed after Baptism are forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Confession or Penance). Reconciliation is one of the sacraments of healing. The primary sacrament of reconciliation is however the Eucharist. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is reserved for the forgiveness of serious sin.
In the Sacrament or Reconciliation, the penitent (one seeking forgiveness) meets one on one with a priest to confess their sin(s). With sincere contrition and intent to not sin again, they will receive formal absolution and often pastoral encouragement concerning the Christian struggle with sin.
Is There A Scriptural Basis For Confession?
The Sacrament of Penance has significant biblical roots. After his Resurrection, Jesus told the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). The Letter of James says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (Jam 5:16). Perhaps most significant is that Jesus saw his ministry as that of reconciling the sinner with God. The statement “your sins are forgiven” was spoken by Him over and over again.
During his earthly life, Jesus was a visible sign, a sacrament, of God’s love and forgiveness. After Jesus’ Ascension, the Church continues that sign, although imperfectly this side of heaven. The Sacrament of Penance flows from Jesus’ Incarnation.
Can't I Pray to God And Simply Ask For Forgiveness?
The problem with sin is that often it is multi-dimensional. Sin affects the relationship between the sinner and God. Often it affects the relationship between the sinner and the person to whom the sin was directed. For example with stealing, there is the person from whom the item was stolen. Also affected is the reputation of the Christian community in which the sinner is a member. Their sin reflects on the entire community.
So yes God can and will forgive the sinner of one who is truly sorry. But what about the others affected by the sin? How does praying to God deal with them?
Confessing to a priest provides several benefits. When absolution is given the sinner is physically, emotionally and spiritually assured that the sin is forgiven by God. The Priest is an official representative of the Church. As such he can forgive the sin on behalf of the Christian Community, the Church. The priest is often the only person to whom the sinner can talk with to get advice on how to break the grip of sin in their life and to reconcile with one to whom the sin is against.
If I tell a priest about my sins can he tell anyone else?
No. Priests are sworn to uphold the seal of the confessional. They are not allowed to break this seal to save their good name, their own life or even the life of another. There are no exceptions to this oath without the express permission of the penitent. "A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if he does so only indirectly, he is to be punished in accord with the seriousness of the offense." (Canon Law 1388.1)
It's been a long time since my last confession and I've forgotten how. How much or what do I confess?
Rejoice in your desire to participate in the sacrament. It is a grace filled moment. Do not worry. The priest will be happy to help you. Here at the Cathedral there are prayer cards or booklets available to assist you with the examination of conscience and with a formal prayer of contrition. There is no shame in asking for help. If it has been years perhaps for the first time you might make a private appointment with one of the priests. You will have more time then for pastoral advice and assistance.
It is not important to come to the priest with a laundry list of all the sins one has committed. What is important is to let him know that it has been a long time and to present to him those sins that you feel are affecting your relationship with God.
If you have been away from the Church for some time and are considering a return to the Church, we welcome you! (Take a moment and visit our Landing’s page where you will find a community and support for your return.)
When is the Sacrament of Reconciliation offered at Old St. Mary’s?
The sacrament is offered by appointment at any time. Call the Parish Office: 415-288-3800