Last night we had a penitential service at St Mary’s. It was my first opportunity to hear confessions.
What a beautiful sacrament this is! The church was full. Six priests heard confessions for nearly two hours. Young and old, male and female, people from every ethnic background, all came to open their hearts to God and receive the gift of forgiveness.
Some Christians have problems with confession, “You don’t need to go to a priest. You can go straight to Jesus.” The Catholic Church doesn’t disagree with this, but in the case of mortal sin we do say the faithful need to receive Christ’s forgiveness through the ministry of the Church’s sacrament.
Confession is thoroughly Scriptural. Jesus clearly gave his apostles the power to forgive sins (Mt.16:18-19; Mt.18:18; Jn.20:22-23) it is commanded later in the New Testament (James 5:14-16) and it was the practice of the early church.
Nevertheless, confession to a priest went out at the Reformation, and it remains one of the hot buttons between Catholics and Protestants. Many Protestants don’t necessarily object to the practice of confession, but have a problem with the priest forgiving sins. They object to this for two reasons. First, that Jesus Christ alone can forgive sins and second, that we do not need another mediator between God and man, but Jesus Christ. The Catholic answers by saying that Christ clearly delegated this authority to his apostles while on earth and through apostolic succession that power still remains with the apostolic church today. The Catholic priest is not the one forgiving sins. The words of absolution are clear that it is God who forgives through the death and resurrection of his son. Jesus Christ forgives sin. Through the ministry of the Church Christ forgives, and priest is simply the instrument.
My family asked me how it felt to hear confessions. I could only reply that it was very humbling, very moving and beautiful to hear God’s people open their hearts to God. It was very humbling to be able to prounounce the words of absolution, and to say with all my heart, “God Bless you, go in peace, and remember to pray for me, for I too am a sinner.”