The Sacrament of Confession

“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

John 20:23

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus paints a picture of a truly loving father. In spite of his son’s behavior, when the prodigal son returned home, his father not only forgave him, he ran to embrace him, and threw a celebration (cf. Lk 15:24). This story is an analogy for the unlimited mercy of God the Father. His love goes beyond forgiveness; it actually reaches out to welcome sinners back home. When he instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus was reaching out to us in the same way. We too can “return to the Father’s house” by approaching this sacrament. Christ established this ministry of reconciliation and healing when he gave his own power of forgiveness to his apostles and their successors (cf. Jn 20:23, Mt 18:18, 2 Cor 5:18, CCC #1441). We sinners have a part too, however. Like the prodigal son, we need to decide to return to God. The resolution to abandon our sin and the desire to restore our friendship with God is called “contrition.” This repentant state of mind, along with the verbal description of our sins to the priest (confession), make up the first two elements of the sacrament itself. Then, the priest offers Christ’s forgiveness (absolution) and gives direction for making some amends for sin (penance), such as prayer, works of mercy, or self-denial. Through this sacrament of mercy, we are reconciled to God and the Church, given peace and consolation, and empowered to face future spiritual challenges (cf. CCC #1496).

“Open your lips then, and confess your sins to the priest. Confession alone is the true gate to Heaven.”

St. Augustine