As humans, we are all prone to make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes are more than simple mistakes, they are actually sins. When we commit sins- we may feel embarrassed and remorseful, sometimes even hiding our sins from others. We cannot, however, hide those sins from God.
Why do Catholics go to confession? Catholics go to confession to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, normally receiving penance from the priest. This is a sacrament given to us by Christ and is a healthy spiritual practice for believers. Here they reflect on how well they live a “Christ-like life”.
Confession is simply admitting that we have sinned, what those sins are, and being given a way to heal our relationship with God through penance.
What does confession really look like?
There is always the question- what does it really look like? Does confession happen like we see it in the movies? The answer is yes and no. I feel like the movies cut out a good portion of what normally happens in the confessional for dramatic effect.
When a Catholic attends confession, it can last for an extended period, unlike the quick down and dirty confessions we see in the movies.
The confessional itself is a small room, reminiscent of a closet. In churches without these “stalls” they may just use a private room that has been pre-designated. The confessor will kneel or sit, and they may speak to the priest through a screen or face to face, unlike the movies.
Once “inside” the concessional, the individual can make a symbol of the cross and begin by saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” In some cases, the person just starts to speak without the formality. As times have gone on, some of the formality has been taken out of some churches as a way to make confessions more “user-friendly”.
As in fictional confessions, there will be a discussion on how long it has been since the last confession before an individual begins. There are times when someone downplays their sins, and it is up to the priest to gauge their sincerity and ask questions of the sinner.
Some priests will take time to try and help the sinner to look more deeply into their behavior. Many, however, will not delve past the actual sin itself.
After the confession is complete, the person will say a prayer, such as the Act of Contrition- which expresses sorrow for their sins.
At the completion of the prayer, the priest will hand out “Penance”.
If the sins are normal, everyday sins- the priest may assign more prayers- such as having a person say several “Our Fathers.” The more serious the sins, the more stringent the penance. The performance of penance occurs directly after, or in the days following, the confession.
At the conclusion, the priest absolves the sinner using a prayer absolving them of their sins.
The act of confession is not some magical hocus pocus that “fixes” a sinner. The benefits of confession come only if the sinner is truly repentant.
Have Catholics always gone to confession?
Confession came about early in the life of the church.
It became apparent that baptism did not make believers “immune” to sin. The church decided that some sins could be forgiven through fasting, prayer, works of mercy, and participation in the Eucharist. This was left up to the individual.
However, those bigger sins could not be forgiven as easily.
When committing more serious sins in those earlier times, sinners were more publicly exposed, and the entire community prayed for their absolution. This, however, could only happen once. Because it was such a long process, its practice did not last.
The next step towards modern day confession was confession to a “spiritual advisor” who was able to give penance and a prayer of absolution. This was a person specified by the church.
When the entire church decided to go forth with the practice, the confessor became a priest as opposed to a spiritual advisor. The process has been refined over the years but has never varied away from the need for an actual priest to hear your confession.
How does confession help to heal our relationships with Christ?
As the Catechism states:
The sinner wounds God’s honor and love, his own human dignity…and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone. To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin, and nothing has worse consequences for the sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world. (CCC 1487, 1488)
Sin affects not only our relationship with God, but our relationship with others and our community as well. Only through asking for forgiveness and reestablishing our bonds can we improve our relationships with both.
Confession is a healthy practice and dedicated Catholics use this practice to hold themselves to the standard set forth by Christ. Using this reflection every month or two helps to keep them solidified in their faith.
Confession is a gift given to us by the church as a way to gain a relationship with God, and to re-establish that relationship when we have backslid.
With Christians around the world facing persecution, some people denied their faith in the face of self-preservation. This sin, known as apostasy, can be a serious one. What can the church do for those who left the church to protect their very existence?
The question was, should these individuals be welcomed back, rebaptized, or ostracized from the church? True confession of our sins and participation in the Eucharist is the only way to cleanse ourselves from mortal sins.
Jesus’s life and death was a gift to sinners to allow God to forgive our earthy sins. In the words of our Lord: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
As He walked the world, Jesus preached about the forgiveness of sins through parables such as the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the teaching that “There will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 96 righteous people who have no need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
Jesus forgave sinners throughout His life. The woman who was accused of adultery, and the woman who washed his feet with her tears. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Jesus suffered, died and rose again to free us from sin and death. Jesus took sin seriously. In His teachings, he expressed that sin was a crime against God and the community. However, He also allowed us to be forgiven of those sins to improve our relationships with the Lord.
Through confession, the sinner must be repentant in order for his sins to be forgiven and reconcile his relationship with God.
“Thus, it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise
from the dead on the third day. In His name penance for the remission of sins
is to be preached to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses
of this.” (Luke 24:46)
Jesus was placed on Earth to forgive us our sins. He gave the Church a sacrament through which priests have continued to act as ministers of the reconciliation. St. Paul wrote, “God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18) St. Cyprian said, “Let each confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession can be received, while satisfaction and the forgiveness granted by the priests is acceptable to God.”
The Church mandates the practice of confession at least once a year. Catholics should reflect on how they have lived a “Christ-like life” and followed the commandments and teachings of Christ. When we look at the practice of confession, we should remember that Catholics participate in this practice to ask for and receive forgiveness, strengthen their relationship with God, and participate in reflection.
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