Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, ‘Peace be to you!’ And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord. He therefore said to them again, ‘Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’
Like everyone else, Catholics are not perfect. We lose sight of God’s love for us. We do things we should not do, and we fail to do things that we should. We need help to put right our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. By celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation - confessing our sins to a priest, receiving absolution and doing penance as a sign of our conversion - we are reconciled to God and to our community. To find out more about this wonderful sacrament, take a look at our ‘Confession’ section and watch the videos there.
It may sound daunting but there really is nothing to be nervous about - as Pope Francis says, “All should leave the confessional with happiness of heart, with a face radiant with hope”.
In the Salisbury Catholic churches, we prepare our children to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time when they are around 7 years old as part of a joint preparation programme for this Sacrament and for reception of their First Holy Communion.
For the times of the Sacrament of Reconciliation please refer to the Newsletter.
We also organise Reconciliation Services during Advent and Lent. These liturgies offer an opportunity for God’s people to gather and listen more closely to God’s word and reflect on their lives in the light of that word. They are a time for contemplation, for being attentive to those things that at other times we cannot find time to focus on. We take part in these services to learn how to live lives more deeply grounded in the Gospel. There is an opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation/individual confession at these liturgies.
If you are an adult who has not yet received this Sacrament, preparation would normally take place in our Journey in Faith/RCIA group (which is described in our ‘Is God Calling You? page of this website). If you have been away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a long time and would like some guidance or to talk it through, please contact Fr Anthony on 333581.
The names emphasise different aspects of the sacrament. Penance refers to our repentance, sorrow and resolution to amend our life with God’s help. Confession refers to the act by which we tell our sins to the priest. Reconciliation refers to the goal of the celebration by which the sinner is reconciled to God and the Church. The ritual for the sacrament is called the Rite of Penance, but is fitting to refer to it with any of these titles. In fact, the Catechism refers to it also as “the Sacrament of Conversion” and the “Sacrament of Forgiveness.”
Confession may be one of the most difficult parts of our faith for some. But for others, Confession is something they deeply look forward to. First of all, it’s absolutely true that “God knows everything.” He knows everything you’ve done and He knows whether you are sorry for that or not. But there is a big difference between God ‘knowing’ what you did and His act of forgiveness.
For example, if you sinned against a friend with whom you were very close and then you felt sorry for that it’s possible that your friend would realize, just by knowing you, that you were truly sorry. But that doesn’t mean that you can just presume on your friend’s goodness and forgiveness. The best thing to do, in this situation, is to actually sit down and tell your friend you are sorry and to have your friend tell you that you are forgiven. This very human exchange brings about reconciliation.
So it is with God. God is all merciful and wants to forgive us all our sins. But for true reconciliation to take place God wants you to actually say those words and then to hear the words, spoken by the priest, that you are forgiven. So Confession is not only about God forgiving us, it is also about reconciliation with God on a human level.
What’s important to understand is that God offers us forgiveness in His way. He forgives us through a human being. Who is that human being? It’s the Father’s Son who became one of us. Jesus is the one who offers the forgiveness of God and Jesus is both fully God and human. But how does Jesus do that now that He has ascended back into Heaven? Well, before He ascended He gave His divine power of forgiveness to His first priests, the apostles. They, in turn, passed that power onto others who passed it on to others down through the ages all the way to our present age. Priests, despite the fact that they are imperfect themselves, have the spiritual power of Jesus to actually speak His words of forgiveness to others. Therefore, when a priest says “I absolve you” we must hear Jesus Himself, as the human face of God, saying to us those same words.
Sin is an offense against God that ruptures our communion with Him and with His Church. It is far more than “breaking the rules,” but is a failure to love God and to love others, which causes real damage in all our relationships. There are sins totally incompatible with love for God and others (mortal sins, in which genuine love is “dead”), and ones in which love is less grievously wounded (venial or “easily forgiven”).
What if I haven’t been to the sacrament for many years? How do I prepare? What do I say?
First, don’t be afraid. Jesus said, “Heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than for 99 righteous persons who never needed to repent.” The priest will probably be so happy you’ve returned to confession after many years that you will make all the hours he spends in the confessional seem light. Second, try to prepare with the help of a good examination of conscience, but the priest will know that you cannot remember your sins with the precision of someone who came the previous week. Third, get the largest sins off of your chest first. Fourth, don’t be afraid to ask the priest for help; most confessors are experts in leading someone in your circumstances through an examination of the “big stuff” in the confessional. Finally, don’t wait. Come back to be reconciled to your loving Father, set off the celebration in heaven, and share your Father’s joy!
The sacrament consists of three actions on the part of the penitent: contrition, which is sorrow for one’s sins; confession, that is examining one’s conscience and telling one’s sins to the priest; and penance, namely a desire to make up for one’s sins and amend one’s life. Together the three are called the “acts of the penitent.”
Confession is not meant to be a memory test. It is good when Catholics have memorised one of the many beautiful acts of contrition, which sum up all of the sentiments and resolutions a Catholic should have in coming to confession. But if you do not know an Act of Contrition by memory, you can always express your sorrow and firm purpose of amendment in your own words, ask the priest to help you, or pray, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner who loves you!”
The Church recommends that Catholics receive the Sacrament of Penance frequently. Strictly speaking, after they’ve reached the age of reason, Catholics are obliged to confess their serious sins at least once a year. Catholics should come to confession as soon as possible after they’ve committed a mortal sin. If they’re seeking to grow in holiness, the regular practice of confession at least once a month is commended.
Honestly, we really don’t have a perfect answer to that question. There have been wonderful writings and reflections and teachings on this subject throughout the history of the Church. But, in the end, we will only fully understand this mystery of how God gives us His forgiveness when we are in Heaven. For now, we must simply follow what Jesus taught and receive His forgiveness in the way we know He offers it. On a psychological level, many people benefit from actually hearing those words spoken from the mouth of another – the priest. Many times people go into the confessional scared and ashamed and walk out freed and at peace. It really works.