What is the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, more commonly known as Confession or Penance, is a Sacrament whereby Catholics confess their sins and receive God's forgiveness.  It is one of the two Sacraments of Healing (the other being the Anointing of the Sick).  

During the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a person confesses their sins to a priest who is acting "in persona" of Christ.  Therein, when the priest says, at the conclusion of the rite, "I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit", it is God, Himself, speaking absolution though the priest.

Why Do I Have to Confess My Sins to a Priest?

Other Christian denominations are often critical of this rite.  Often non-Catholics will pose this questions to Catholics: "Why do you have to confess your sins to a priest?  Why not just confess them straight to God?"

It need only be pointed out that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is, in fact, biblical.  During Jesus' commission to the Apostles before ascending into heaven, he said, "Receive the Holy Spirit", adding, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whos sins you retain are retained" (John 20:22-23).  

What Can't I Confess My Sins Directly to God?

You can.  And you should.  Here is what you need to know ...

Reconciliation is the normative way that we receive forgiveness for serious sins -- what we call mortal sins in the Catholic church.  For minor sins -- called venial sins in the Catholic Church -- it is perfectly appropriate to confess your sin directly to God.  In fact, you should do this for all instances of sin, mortal and venial.  But if you do commit a mortal sin, you should go to confession as soon as possible thereafter.

But Catholics are encouraged to go to confession regularly, even when no mortal sin has been been committed.  The reason is that the Sacrament of Reconciliation, like all Sacraments, is a conduit of God's grace.  In the Sacrament you receive grace to combat sin in your life.  

And it works!  Weekly confession, when possible, is a excellent way to build resiliency to sin.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, that hearing the frequent confession of nuns that came to him to receive the Sacrament was akin to "being stoned to death with popcorn".  It is a humorous, and even beautiful, testament to the efficacy of confession.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation Deep Dive

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is hard for many Catholics.  Its not easy confessing the worst things you have thought, said, or done to a priest.  But confession is undeniably cathartic.  There is power in the words of absolution:  "I absolve you of your sins".  The magnitude of the guilt of sin only increases the power of those words.  

The Sacrament can be humbling, but that's not a bad thing.  Honestly and openly confessing your sins to a priest proves your contrition to God.  It requires the penitent to spiritually look at themselves in the mirror. 

Far too often we, as human beings, will simply sweep sin, especially minor sins, under the rug of our conscience and not think about what we have done, how that sin affects us, other people, and God.  But penance makes us examine our conscience.  It gives sin no place to hide.  And that leads to living a Godly life.

And for the record, the sins you confess are bound to the confessional.  This means that a priest may never divulge your confessed sin to another person.  We, as Catholics, call this the seal of confession.  It is a critical and never-to-be-retracted component to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  

Bottom line: Nobody likes confessing their sins to a priest.  But doing so tells God how truly sorry you are for your sins.  Moreover, the Sacrament is truly cathartic.  It relieves the guilt of sin, great and small.  And always remember: God is in the Sacrament, listening, loving, forgiving

Like any loving Father, he's disappointed in our failings, but He is proud when we own up to the things that we have done.  Through His limitless mercy and by His empowering grace, we can then grow in faith and love. 

And while we will never completely root sin out of our lives in this life, we can, through participation in the Sacraments, to include the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to the point that confessing our sins to a priest is akin to "being stoned to death with popcorn".  

The Sacrament of Reconciliation at Sacred Heart

Here at Sacred Heart Rockne, confession is available by appointment.  Even better, it is offered half-hour before Mass on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  If Father isn't there exactly thirty minutes before Mass, don't worry.  He'll show.