Many protestants, and close to 50% of Catholics, do not understand why it’s necessary to go to confession. When a Catholic goes to confession, he is truly sorry for the sins he has committed, goes to a priest, confesses those sins, and receives pardon for them.
The question here is, “why do we have to confess to a priest, a fellow man like us?” Can’t we just confess our sins to God directly from the quiet of rooms? Does the priest even have the power to forgive sins? Wait! Are Catholics blaspheming?!
Let’s start with “sacraments”. Jesus Christ Himself instituted these practices to give certain graces to our souls.
A sacrament is an outward sign of inward grace, ordained by Jesus Christ, by which grace is given to our souls.
– Catechism of the Christian Doctrine (Penny)
There are seven sacrament, and with time, we’ll cover all of them here on Youth DIVE. They are Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist (this is “communion”), Reconciliation (this is the one with confession), Anointing of the Sick, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders. Jesus Christ instituted each one of them to draw us closer to himself. For instance, baptism was instituted in Matthew 28:19.
Every time Jesus did something, He did it purposely and purposefully. He didn’t do anything ‘just for the sake of it’. Jesus planned everything and did it the right time.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
This sacrament goes by a few other names: the sacrament of reconciliation, because by it we are reconciled back to God; penance, because there is an outward expression of the remorse we feel after sinning against God; and confession, because you say out loud your sins.
Why the priest?
Let us first know who the priest is. The priest is Christ’s representative here on earth. He is a successor of the Apostles whom Christ appointed commissioned to continue His public ministry here on earth (Matthew 10:40).
The ministry the priests receive on the day of their ordination is not knew to the Church. The first place we see an apostolic succession is in the bible, where Matthias replaced Judas (Acts 1:12-26). St. Paul received Holy Orders through the laying on of hands (Acts 13:2-3) – the exact same way as the priests do today – before he began his ministry. It was in this same way that Popes succeeded Peter, who was the first Pope of the Church (Matthew 16:18). The pope is the visible head of the church: The Vicar of Christ.
Fun Facts: Around the time St. John Finished writing the book of Revelation, the Church was already in its 4th pope.
The Church is currently in its 266th pope: Pope Francis.
Since the priests come from a long line of apostolic succession, they have all the powers given to the Apostles by Jesus Christ.
The power to forgive sins
Catholics believe that the priests have the power to forgive sins in the name of Jesus Christ. This believe is deeply rooted in the words of Christ to His Apostles after the resurrection:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said,“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
– John 20:21-23
Like you already know, you cannot just walk up to a person and say, I do not forgive you your sins, and their sins would be retained. No. The power to forgive or retain sins applies only to the Apostles and their successors. Jesus didn’t give them His power to read hearts and minds, even though He gave them the power to forgive sins. For a priest to know what sins to forgive, he has to hear them; you have to tell him.
Can I still go directly to God?
Like we see with all the other sacraments, when God gives us a gift, He expects us to use it. God, for instance, didn’t make the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and say, “Oh, by the way, you can have sexual relations with any woman of your choice as long as you pray to me about her first.” No. Since He instituted Holy Matrimony, He commands that this sacrament must happen before the person is married. The same applies for Holy Orders. Unless there is a laying on of hands from an Apostle or their successors, the ordination is not legal in the sight of God. The Eucharist is still celebrated each and every day in Catholic churches all over the world, because this is the will of God.
In the same way, since God has given you the gift of the sacrament of reconciliation, he expects you to use it, no cutting corners.
You can only pray for venial sins
Most people don’t agree with the Catholic Church when it teaches that there are two kinds of sin. The average protestant would say, “All sin is sin. There is no big or small sin. Catholics invent mortal and venial sin.” But what does the bible say on this topic?
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he should ask God, who will give life to those who commit this kind of sin. There is a sin that leads to death; I am not saying he should ask regarding that sin. All unrighteousness is sin, yet there is sin that does not lead to death.
– John 5:16-17.
The Catholic Church teaches what the Bible teaches: there is a sin that leads to death (mortal), and there is one that doesn’t (venial). For venial sins, you do not need confession. For mortal sins, however, the bible says you cannot just pray them away. You need to confess them.
A mortal sin is one you deliberately commit knowing that it breaks the commandments of God. In other words, if it breaks the commandments of God, you know it breaks his commandments, and you deliberately do it, you have committed a mortal sin.
How do you know you’ve broken the commandments of God? Click here.
But the priest is just a man like me!
Exactly! And he cannot forgive sins in his name. He forgives sins in the name of Christ, who has the power and authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10-12). It is Jesus who forgives your sins, not the priest. Jesus uses the priest just like when the priest baptizes and officiates wedding ceremonies.
When the priest forgives your sins, the uses a set of words known as “The Words 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.
In the last few words of the above formula, it is clear under whose authority the sin is forgiven.
But, what if the priest tells other people what I’ve done?
I always had this fear growing up. The priest was so close to my mother and father that I thought he would tell them EVERYTHING. I was prepared to die at the hands of my parents for my faith; domestic martyrdom. Lol. Later on, I learnt something really nice. In the church, there’s something called “The Seal of Confession”.
Under Roman Catholic law, it is forbidden for a priest to disclose information — under any circumstances — obtained in the form of religious confession. If a priest breaks what’s called “the sacred seal of confession,” he will be subject to excommunication from the church.
– ABC News
This means that sins from lies to murder and equally secret. There’s nothing to fear. God calls us to freely come to confession where Jesus our Lord waits for us.
Please, share this article on Facebook to teach more people about this beautiful gift of God. Thank you. 🙂