The Sacrament Of Reconciliation
Fr. Bart Pastor
It is one of the "healing sacraments" entrusted by the Risen Christ to His Church to continue His ministry of healing and reconciliation. According to its various facets, this sacrament is known by different names.
The Sacrament of Confession stresses our need to acknowledge our sins and to ask for God’s forgiveness. In this Sacrament of Forgiveness God grants us "pardon and peace" through the priest’s sacramental absolution. Likewise, this Sacrament of Conversion makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the very first step in returning to the Father from whom we have strayed by sin. Moreover, the Sacrament of Penance primarily focuses on the personal and ecclesial conversion process of contrition, repentance and satisfaction. Finally, the Sacrament of Reconciliation serves to restore our graced relationships of love and friendship with God and our neighbor.
In the Parable of the Lost Son (Lk 15:11-32) our Lord demonstrates the "heart" of this sacrament: of Reconciliation. We find in this story a four-step process of conversion leading to reconciliation between God and the sinner: a situation of conflict; the sinner’s close encounter with the evil effects of sin, which eventually brings him to self-discovery; and the amazing grace that leads the sinner to personal transformation in the loving embrace of the Father.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation always requires conversion. This means a commitment to an ongoing process of constant turning away from sin and the occasions of sin, and towards renewing our spirit by acknowledging our sins to our Father, being truly repentant, and having a firm purpose to ever stay with Him. For one, it entails a moral conversion consisting in ordering our imagination, feelings and emotions toward the good in God who is love. It includes too an intellectual conversion redirecting our understanding and judgment to God. Above all, it must be a religious conversion that simply means a "falling in love" with God, who is our loving Father, so rich in mercy.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, therefore, can be understood properly in terms of a person-to-person encounter between the Father of mercy and the sinner in utter need of the Father’s loving mercy. It must not be taken as a mere mindless recitation of a list of sins. Nor should it be considered a fault-finding procedure leading to God’s harsh judgment of our offenses through a priest-judge. Ideally instead, fear must give way to childlike trust in the Father’s compassion; condemning guilt to forgiving mercy; confession to absolution; confusion to peace; and separation to reconciliation.
Role of the Church
In confession then, we affirm our faith-conviction that we are sinners, needing God’s mercy, which comes to us through Christ and His Church. In the sacramental ministry of the priest, acting in Christ’s name and empowered by the Spirit, our Father brings us peace and reconciliation.
The Church not only calls us to humble repentance, but also intercedes for us and helps us toward ongoing conversion. In so doing, she proclaims her faith in Christ’s victory over sin, gives thanks to the Father for the freedom Christ has won for us, and offers her life as a spiritual sacrifice in praise of God’s glory. Through the sacrament, the Church calls all her children to be reconciled to God and to one another, so that we all can become once again a holy and happy family of our Heavenly Father.
Some Practical Considerations
- For the sacrament to be truly efficacious three factors are essential: (a) a true sorrow for sin with purpose to amend, (b) the humble confession of sins and priestly absolution, and (c) being restored to fellowship in the Christian community.
- True sorrow for sin means considering sin as it really is: not merely the breaking of some impersonal law in a book or a guilt feeling, or as something we cannot avoid; but rather a moral attitude, power, action, or refusal to act that leads us into evil, and alienates or separates us from our true selves, our neighbor, the community, and God. Despite its often glamorous cover, sin actually injures, destroys, dishonors, poisons, and corrupts.
Sin can be personal, as committed by the individual person, but always in relation to others and the community; also social, as pervading negative moral attitudes infecting the interactions among individuals and groups; likewise structural, as economic, social or political patterns or systems that produce injustice and harm among peoples. We confess our wrongdoing in these different aspects of sin in order to be fully reconciled with God and with our brothers and sisters.
- Sin may be classified as Mortal or "sin unto death" that kills our basic love relationship with God and others. For a sin to be considered mortal, there must be a grave matter, sufficient knowledge and full consent. Venial sin, on the other hand, is "excusable sin" which does not involve our fundamental core freedom, but undermines and weakens our love relationships with God and others. Some venial sins can deeply hurt our relationships with God and others, and should be confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- The major parts of the Sacrament of Penance are (a) contrition, (b) confession, and (c) penance or satisfaction. The absolution granted by the priest is the efficacious sign of God’s pardon, which reconciles us to God and the Christian community.
- Finally, indulgences are gained in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Indulgences are the remission of all (plenary) or part (partial) of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven in view of the merits of Christ our Redeemer, the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.