The Christian religion including the Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches is known as Christianity. Within the Christian faith there are many beliefs and acts for one to follow. Such acts consist of the sacraments, for which there is seven. Believed by many to be one of the most intricate and difficult to understand of all the sacraments, is the sacrament of Reconciliation. Those who approach the sacrament of Reconciliation, 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 there sins. There are also two different types of sin. The consequences of sin also vary. This sacrament can also be referred to by many different names. Many wonder how this sacrament came to be or how it evolved. The evolution of it goes back to the time of Jesus Christ who instituted all the sacraments to symbolize or confer grace. This sacrament also consists of many parts or actions, which take place throughout the act of Reconciliation. There are also many spiritual affects which come out of this sacrament.
There are many different names of Reconciliation, three of the names are penance, confession, and forgiveness. It is called the sacrament of Penance because this is the part of the sacrament that consecrates the Christian sinners’ personal steps of conversion. There are three forms of penance. These forms are fasting, prayer and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to all others. It can be called the sacrament of Confession do to the act of revealing ones sins to the priest. This is an essential element of this sacrament. Last but not least, it can be known as the sacrament of forgiveness, do to the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the Penitent pardon. The truth is Reconciliation encompasses all these aspects. All of these aspects are needed to be fully reconciled with God.
Sin is before all else an offense against God, a break of communion with Him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. In the eyes of the Church, no evil is worse than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves and for the Church. The sinner wounds Gods honor and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, of which each Christian ought to follow. That is why there is the sacrament of Reconciliation so ones sins can be wiped away.
There are two types of sin, venial and mortal. Mortal sin destroys kindness in the heart of man by a serious violation of God’s law. It turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his complete happiness, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows kindness to exist, although it offends and wounds God’s law. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met. “Mortal sin is a sin whose object is grave matter which is also committed with a full knowledge and deliberate consent.” (Catechism 455) Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man, ” Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” (Mk 10:19) The gravity of sins is more or less great. Murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account the one who is hurt. Violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger. Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It is assumed before hand that the sinful act, which offends Gods laws, is done knowingly. With this knowledge, one will continue to deliberately commit the act and go against God. One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, when one disobeys the mortal law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without committing the act purposely. Deliberate and unrepented venial sins disposes us little by little to commit a mortal sin. However, venial sin does not break the covenant with God.
Sin itself has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, this is also known as the eternal punishment of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to man, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the temporal punishment of sin. These two punishments must not be viewed as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God, but from the very nature of the sin. The reconciliation of the sinner can help one attain the purification so that no punishment will remain. The forgiveness of sin and restoration of the communion with God entail the pardon of the eternal punishment, but the temporal punishment of sin remains. Christians must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. They should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance to start a clean slate.
The church teaches that “Only God forgives sin.” (Catechism 362) This shows that when the priest absolves one from their sins they are doing it on behalf of God. The Sacred Scripture speaks of reconciliation and states when Jesus grants through the Holy Spirit the power to forgive sins upon ordinary men. When Jesus appeared to the Disciples after His resurrection He said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:22-23) This is one of the most inspiring innovations of the Gospel. He gives this ability to the apostles for them to continue their mission as proclaimers of the Gospel and ministers of Christ’s redemption work. In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners to the Church. He gives this power to act out in his name. When celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Samaritan who puts together wounds and of the just and impartial judge whose judgement is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner.
Priests are not initially granted the ability to forgive sins in the name of God. Every priest must be trained for the ministry of the sacramental penance from his years in the seminary, not only through the study of dogmatic, moral, spiritual and pastoral theology, but also through the study of human sciences, training in dialogue and especially in how to deal with people in the pastoral context. ” 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.” (Catechism 368)
Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry, the Church declares 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. This secret, which admits with no exceptions, is called the sacramental seal because of what the penitent has made known to the priest remains sealed by the sacrament.
There are many parts or actions, which take place during each act of Penance. Three of these acts are from the penitent himself. These include the acts of contrition, confession and satisfaction. The act of the priest is called absolution. Among the penitent’s acts, contrition occupies first place. Contrition is ” sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (Catechism 364)
The confession of sins frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Confession to a priest is essential part of the sacrament of Penance. Through such an admission, man looks at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the Church in order to make a new future possible.
Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible to repair harm. For example, return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone abused or pay compensation. Sin injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationship with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin but it does not fix all the disorders sin has caused. The sinner must recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin. He must make satisfaction for or forgive his sins. This satisfaction is called penance. The penance the priest gives to the penitent must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond with nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, and offering, works of mercy, services of neighbor, sacrifices and above all the patient expectance of the cross. Such penances help lead us to Christ, who forgave our sins once for all.
The priest, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has the ability to forgive the sins of others in Gods name. When ones sins are officially absolved the priest will say the formula of absolution toward the end of Penance. The formula states: “God, the father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism 364) It is at this moment when this is said that the sinner encounters the power and the mercy of God. The absolution that the priest, the minister of forgiveness, grants to the penitent is a strong sign of the intervention of the Father in every absolution. “The priest by virtue of his sacred office appears as the witness and representative of this ecclesial nature of the sacrament.” (John Paul II 83)
In 1551, when Julius III was the Sovereign Pontiff, he put together The Council of Trent and wrote The Fourteenth Session. This contains the Canon Laws, which concern the Sacrament of Penance. There are fifteen laws, but the one, which concerns confessing sins to a priest, is Canon VI. It states: “If anyone denieth, either the sacramental confession was instituted, or is necessary to salvation, of divine right; or saith that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the church hath observed from the beginning, and doth observe, is alien from the institutional and command of Christ, and is a human invention; let him be anathema.” (Julius III 6) What this is basically stating is that if a person, denies that there is a need for him to confess his sins to a priest, denies that this sacrament is needed for salvation, this person will be banned or excommunicated from the church.
There are many spiritual effects of the sacrament of Reconciliation. One is reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace. There is also, forgiveness of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins. Forgiveness of temporal punishments resulting from sin is also an outcome. Peace and tranquility of conscience, and spiritual comfort also effect an individual during Reconciliation. In addition, there is an increase of spiritual strength. Furthermore, there is reconciliation with the communion of the Church.
Reconciliation is a very serious sacrament not to be taken lightly. It is a gift, which was principally given to us by God. It also has a two-fold aspect to it, which consist of liberation from sin and communion of grace with God. It joins us with God in an intimate friendship with him. Through reconciliation, one has made a personal commitment to God to begin a new life. In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgement of God, anticipates the judgement that they will be subjected to, when they die. Though this sacrament may consist of different parts, it is through the priest that they are put in contact with the power of God and solves them in God’s name. The strongest aspect which one can have to get them through this sacrament is faith. As stated by Pope John Paul II, “Only faith can give us certainty that at that moment every sin is forgiven and blotted out by the mysterious intervention of the Savior.” (John Paul II 82)
John Paul II Reconciliatio et Paenitentia: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance Boston: St. Paul’s Books and Media, 2 December 1984.
Julius III The Fourteenth Session On The Most Holy Sacraments of
Penance and Extreme Unction 25 November 1551.
Ratinger, Joseph Cardinal Catechism of the Catholic Church New
Jersey: Paulist Press,1946.