Explanation of Confession in the Catholic Church


by Terry Rogers 

One of the tenets of the Catholic religion is confession, also known as reconciliation. According to Father Anthony Giamello of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church, confession is based on Psalm 32 which states “happy is the man whose offense is forgiven, whose sin is remitted.”

“The Psalmist goes on to tell us in Psalm 32 that hiding his sin has caused him physical  and mental distress as well as spiritual separation from God,” Father Giamello said. “It is only in confessing his sins that the Psalmist is relieved of the burden of a guilty conscience and reconciled with God. Parishioners confess their sins for the same reasons, to relieve their guilty consciences and to be reconciled with God. The reason parishioners go to a priest to do this is because of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John quoted above, wherein Jesus gave priests the authority to forgive sins in his name.”

Confession dates back to 30 AD, the beginning of the Church when Jesus, on the day of His Resurrection, appeared to the Apostles and said. “Receive thy Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are retained,” in John 20:22-23. Confession is again mentioned in the Didache, a document written between 70 and 110 AD as well as the Epistle to the Corinthians, which was written by Pope St. Clement I, the fourth Pope in history, in 99 AD.

“In accord with the tradition of the time, the both documents state that a sinner is to publicly confess his or her own sins in front of the congregation and afterward the priest would absolve them of their sins,” Father Giamello explained. “Confession, at this time, was primarily for serious or mortal sins, such as adultery, apostasy (the rejection of Christianity) and murder. This practice of public confession continued until the 4th century when monks developed the practice of privately confessing their sins to a priest. This practice of private confession then spread throughout the whole world and is what is practiced to this day.”

Father Giamello explained that the official name of confession is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, it is also known as the Sacrament of Penance, confession or reconciliation because each describes a different aspect of what happens during Confession. The name Sacrament of Confession comes from the penitent’s confession of sins to the priest. Sacrament of Reconciliation comes from the reconciliation of the penitent with God. Sacrament of Penance relates to the act of penance the penitent must perform as a sign they are truly sorry for their sins.

“The only sins that need to be confessed are mortal sins,” Father Giamello said. “Catholics are also encouraged to confess their venial sins to receive God’s grace to help them avoid these sins in the future. A good template to use for sins that must be confessed are the Ten Commandments. Serious or grave violations of the Ten Commandments are considered mortal sins and, when a person commits a grave sin, that person willfully cuts themselves off from God and rejects His grace. The Sacrament of Reconciliation acts as the means by which a baptized person is reconciled with God, returning us to what Catholics call a “state of grace,” wherein the Holy Spirit again dwells in our souls.”

Members of the Catholic faith are required to attend confession at least once each year during the Easter season. Other than that requirement, they should visit confession whenever they commit a mortal sin. Many develop a habit of going to Confession more frequently, such as once each month, which is a practice the Church encourages but does not require.

During Confession, a priest acts in what is called “in persona Christ,” or “in the person of Christ.” That means the penitent is really confessing their sins to Jesus Christ  Himself with the priest acting as an observer and the conduit through which God’s grace and forgiveness is bestowed upon the penitent.

“Confession is an entirely sealed conversation,” Father Giamello said. “A priest is not even allowed to say that a particular person had confession with him and is never allowed to even hint at the contents of a particular confession. This total secrecy is referred to as the “seal of confession” and, if a priest violates the seal, the priest is automatically excommunicated, a process called latae sententiae, and his excommunication can only be overturned by the Pope.”

Confession is offered at St. John’s every Saturday at 4 PM, on the first Saturday of each month at 1 PM or by appointment. It is offered at St. Bernadette’s on Wednesday at 6:30 PM or by appointment.

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