Monday, April 15, 2019 at 9:03 AM
Holy Week Schedule: Thursday, Mass of the Lord's Supper 5:30 PM at Holy Trinity, Johnstown...Friday, Celebration of the Lord's Passion 5:30 PM at Holy Trinity, Johnstown

Reconciliation and Penance

The Healing Sacrament of Confession


Jesus revealed to St. Faustina:

"When you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls." (Diary entry #1602)

There are four steps in the Sacrament of Reconciliation:

  1. We have contrition (sorrow) for our sins and resolve to change our ways.
  2. We confess our sins to a priest.
  3. We receive and accept forgiveness (absolution) and are absolved of our sins.
  4. We celebrate God’s eternal, infinite love for us and commit to live a Christian life.

Sin wounds our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. 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)

A mature understanding of sin includes reflecting upon our thoughts, actions and omissions as well as examining the patterns of sin that may arise in our lives. With contrite hearts, we are also called to reflect upon the effects of our sins upon the wider community and how we might participate in sinful systems.

Only God forgives sin, but He uses His Church as the instrument of reconciliation

Contrition and conversion lead us to seek a forgiveness for our sins so as to repair damaged relationships with God, oneself, and others. We believe that only ordained priests have the faculty of absolving sins from the authority of the Church in the name of Jesus Christ (CCC 1495, John 20:23). Our sins are forgiven by God, through the priest (CCC 1442).

As the Catechism states, Christ willed that His whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that He acquired for us at the price of His blood. But He entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry (continued by bishops) which he charged with the "ministry of reconciliation." The apostle (a bishop with his priests) is sent out "on behalf of Christ" with "God making his appeal" through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God."

Reconciliation with the Church

During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also showed the effect of this forgiveness: He reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God's forgiveness and the return to the People of God. (CCC 1443)

In giving His apostles His own power to forgive sins (John 20:23), the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This is expressed especially in Christ's solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19) The service of "binding and loosing" which was given to Peter was also assigned to the other apostles as a group (now the bishops) united to its head (Peter and his successors, the popes). (CCC 1444) The words "bind and loose" mean: Whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God. (CCC 1445)

The sacrament of forgiveness

The sacrament has two equally essential elements: on the one hand, the acts of the person who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit (namely, contrition, confession, and penance); on the other hand, God's action through the Church. The Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of penance, also prays for the sinner and does penance with him. Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion.

THE MINISTER OF THIS SACRAMENT

The Catechism also states (1461-1467): Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation (John 20:23), bishops (the apostles' successors) and priests (their collaborators) continue this ministry. Bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Forgiveness of sins brings reconciliation with God, but also with the Church. When the priest celebrates the sacrament of Penance, he acts as the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner.

The priest is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. He should unite himself to the intention and merciful love of Christ. He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy.

Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church requires that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the "sacramental seal," because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed" by the sacrament.

THE EFFECTS OF THIS SACRAMENT

The Catechism (1468-1470) teaches that "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with Him in an intimate friendship." Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation." Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.

This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks this communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it. In this sense it does not simply heal the one restored to communion in the Church, but has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members. Re-established or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger. This reconciliation with God leads to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the Church. He is reconciled with all creation.

In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by freely choosing to commit grave sin. In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and "does not come into judgment."

The spiritual effects of the Sacraments of Reconciliation include:

  • reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace
  • reconciliation with the Church
  • remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins
  • remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin
  • peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation
  • an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle (CCC 1496)

Individual confession with a priest is the ordinary and principal means of absolution and reconciliation of grave (mortal) sins within the Church. The Sacrament of Reconciliation frees us from sinful patterns of behavior and calls us to complete conversion to Christ. Reconciliation heals our sins and repairs our relationships with God and with others.

 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated at the Church of the Holy Spirit every Saturday at 3:15 PM or by appointment.

Communal Penance Services are celebrated with the other parishes in Fulton County during Advent and Lent.
 

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