The sacrament of Reconciliation is where we celebrate the gift of forgiveness and become cleansed of our sins. It is an opportunity for you to confess your sins to God and become reconciled with God and the Church (YouCat #239). God has given us this gift of forgiveness because he loves us so much: “We are forgiven because God loves us. Nothing we do will ever change that” (Romans 8:38-39). St Padre Pio also reminds us:“Love Jesus! Have no fear! Even if you had committed all the sins in this world, Jesus repeats these words to you: Your many sins are forgiven, because you loved much”.
When you celebrate this sacrament you tell a priest your sins, as he has been given the authority by Jesus. This can either be a list of specific sins you have committed, or a chat with the priest about areas of your life that you need to ask forgiveness for too. The Church urgently advises us to do this at least once a year (YouCat #234).
Many people say, “I can go directly to God; why do I need a priest?” God, though, wants it otherwise. We rationalize our sins away and like to sweep things under the rug. That is why God wants us to tell our sins and to acknowledge them in a personal encounter. Therefore, the following words from the Gospel are true of priests: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23, YouCat #228). Under no circumstances may a priest later repeat something he has learned in confession (YouCat #238). Even the Pope has to have the courage to confess his failings and weaknesses to another priest – and thereby to God (YouCat #233).
“God esteems repentance so highly that the slightest repentance in the world, as long as it is genuine,
causes him to forget any kind of sin, so that even the devils would have all their sins forgiven, if only they could have remorse”
– St Francis De Sales
Essential elements of every confession are an examination of conscience, contrition, a purpose of amendment, confession and penance (YouCat #232). These mirror closely what we find in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).
The son left his Father's house and went into a far country. This is going away from God. Then he descended to the level of pigs. This is losing his Christian and human dignity through sin. He comes to his senses and says: I will say to my Father, "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you". The Father forgives his son and then the son says he would just like to be treated just like a paid servant.
The examination of Conscience is when the person reflects on what they have done wrong. This feeling sorry for what they have done is known as contrition. The purpose of amendment is a resolution to avoid, by the grace of God, not only sin, but also being tempted by sin. Confession is where he confesses his sins to his father and penance is where the son says he would like to be treated just like a paid servant to put right the damage.
“We recognise that we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility.
Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks God for forgiveness”.
- Pope Benedict XVI (2011)