Sacrament: An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
#1422: "Those who approach the sacrament of penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."
Sin is communal as well as personal. My sin sffects the entire community. The entire community prays for my turning from sin back to a life of grace, conversion.
#1424: "It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" — acknowledgment and praise — of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man."
As humans, we experience the world through our senses. We need to hear ourselves admit our sinfulness out loud. The first step to healing is admitting we are sick. We need to hear the words of absolution to know that we are forgiven.
#1424: "It is called the sacrament of reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God." He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother."
Sin is a break in our relationship with God. When we break our relationship with God, we also break our relationship with our faith community. This reflects the two great commandments of Jesus.
The priest presides at this sacrament in two capacities:
- In persona Christi — through his ordination he represents Christ.
- As a representative of the whole community — which means we do not have to confess our sins publically in front of the whole church, which was once the practice.
What are the steps of confession?
- Step 1: Awareness of your sin
- Step 2: Remorse for your sin
- Step 3: Desire to reconcile
- Step 4: Freely and completely stating your sins
- Step 5: Contrition: stating your sorrow and willingness to avoid sin
- Step 6: Forgiveness: the words of absolution
- Step 7: Penance: rebuilding relationship with God and his church
- Step 8: Grace: living in the light of Christ
How do I got to confession?
- Remember, the priest is there to help you. Most begin with an informal greeting to help you relax.
- Begin by making the sign of the cross. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
- Then say, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was _________ (weeks/months/years) ago."
- If this is your first confession say, "This is my first confession."
- The priest may or may not read a passage from holy Scripture.
- If not, just start saying what is on your mind, in your own words, as plainly and straightforward as possible.
What happens next?
- After you have finished confessing your sins, the priest may talk to you about some of them.
- After that, he will assign you some penance.
- Doing the penance will diminish the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.
- Penance may be in the form of prayers, some act of charity or another demonstration of your reconciliation with God and the community.
- You will then be asked to say an act of contrition: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because I have offended you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.
- Other forms of acts of contrition are available. This is only one example. Most confessionals have printed copies for you to read.
How does the sacrament conclude?
- As you listen to the words of forgiveness (absolution), you may make the sign of the cross with the priest.
- If he closes by saying, "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good," you answer, "For His mercy endures forever."
What happens after the sacrament?
- Give thanks to God for forgiving you again.
- If you recall some serious sin you forgot to tell, rest assured that it has been forgiven with the others, but be sure to confess it in your next confession.
- Do your assigned penance.
- Resolve to return to the sacrament of reconciliation often.
- We Catholics are fortunate to have the sacrament of reconciliation. It is the ordinary way for us to have our sins forgiven.
- This sacrament is a powerful help to get rid of our weaknesses, grow in holiness and lead a balanced and virtuous life.
From the Catechesim of the Catholic Church and Catholic Online.
To read more about the sacrament of reconciliation in this Year of Mercy, check out the February 25, 2016, issue of The Catholic Accent.