Because Confession is a Sacrament, and the Sacraments Make All the Difference

Frank and I are gratified by the number of comments so far on the latest post about confession. Blogging is funny: you dig and dig day after day, and then you hit a vein. It turns out, people are passionate about confession. The readers of this blog, at any rate, are uniformly passionately in favor of confession. I’ve reviewed the comments so far, and here are a few conclusions. Please feel free to add your two cents.

Catholics who go to confession mostly love it. Thank God for Warren Jewell, who writes: “I have to confess: I LOVE to confess. Confession is how I emulate (and, actually, effect) being a convert.” Think about that incredible statement for a second! Each time we confess we are, once again, a convert, whether we’re a cradle Catholic or not. We are “turning ourselves over” to God—again.

Matthew seconds Warren here: “Going regularly to confession is perhaps the single most important thing I could have done to grow closer to God. It’s irreplaceable.”

Some non-Catholics “crave” confession. At least, Michelle, a non-Catholic, does. She writes: “[Confession is] something I’ve craved for years now.” And in a later comment, Michelle writes, “The two things I crave the most being a non-Catholic looking in are the Eucharist and Confession.” Hear that, Catholics? We have something that others crave!

EPG chimes in: “As a non-Catholic, I found the level of response to this post fascinating, and encouraging. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, has a rite for confession and reconciliation. It is, alas, little used, as far as I can see. . . . ” While that may not constitute craving, it is another non-Catholic voice regretting that his church seldom uses confession.

I am not the only Catholic who is sometimes chicken about going to confession. And it’s not only Sean’s 9-year-old daughter who is “nervous about going to confession.” An anonymous commenter writes: “I recently returned to the Sacrament after 17 years. I found that I needed to make an appointment because it had been so long and I had a lot to say and I tend to ramble anyway. But more importantly, I needed my pastor to know I was coming so that I was committed to showing up. I had made several drive-by attempts at just showing up at scheduled parish confession times, but never made it further than the parking lot.” In other words, without that appointment, Anonymous might have chickened out again: another “drive-by Catholic”!

Some Catholics still go to confession once a week. Look at the poll results so far. Of 141 participants (at this writing), 6 said they go once a week. This encourages me to try doing the same, at least during Lent. I figure that if Pope Benedict goes once a week, and Mujerlatina went every week as a child, I can do the same, right? How about you?

I’m pretty clear that our poll does not represent a random sample. Readers of this blog are probably either devout Catholics or non-Catholics interested in learning more about Catholic experience. Which is to say, I suspect that if you polled all Catholics, the number saying they go to confession “seldom or never” would be a lot higher than whatever the final poll numbers will show here.

The Church is wise to give us the option—behind a screen or face-to-face. While commenters came down on the two sides of this question, I can only conclude that how one chooses to confess is a matter of personal preference. The important things are (1) that I make a good confession, (2) that I choose the method that most supports my doing this, and (3) that I remember that confession is about the absolution I receive through the confessor, not about the social work or spiritual direction he incidentally performs for me. 

Where confession is concerned, better catechesis is needed. Another Anonymous writes: “Sometimes I wish there was a video or a recording of what a ‘really good confession’ looks and sounds like. I am definitely one of those visual learners. Of course when I went through RCIA we saw a mock demonstration but it was just a shallow laundry list of sins, not in my perception what a true confession would look like. While I attend confession a few times a year I often am not sure I am making a ‘good confession.’ I do make an examination of conscience and try to cover what I can think of, but sometimes it is a laundry list for myself, other times I share my sins and then when I talk further, I feel as if I am making excuses for my sins. For example, am I just supposed to confess my selfishness or do I state it and then share an example of how it reared its ugly head? I think sometimes I do feel the pressure of the ‘line of others outside the door’ and feel like I have to keep it short. Sometimes when I hear someone talk about their confession it makes me question, Could I be doing this better?”

This is perhaps my favorite comment because it reflects my own uncertainty as a convert. I think I should know what a good confession is, but I don’t, but I don’t want to admit it. . . .

Maria asks a final question: Why did they change the name from confession to the sacrament of reconciliation?!

And so do I: What can we do to make more Catholics go to confession more often? Your thoughts?

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  • "What can we do to make more Catholics go to confession more often? Your thoughts?"It seems like you'd have to first understand their reasons for not going. I have a cradle Catholic aunt and she goes to Mass regularly, but she does not believe in going to confession. I'm not sure why. My family has this odd, secretive past. That same aunt was to be a nun, but didn't take her final vows and won't talk about that part of her life. My mother hated the Church – my older brother suspects some scandal occurred with her, but I'm just not sure what evidence there is. (She passed 10 years ago, so we can't ask her). I would think the scandals with priests across the US (and now Ireland?) might have some kind of affect on going to confession? Just a guess.What made me as a non-Catholic want to go to confession was when I understood Jesus' proclamation to Peter that what was bound on earth would be bound in Heaven, and what was loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven. When you understand the weight of these words, how could you NOT want to confess and have those sins loosed?! But my protestant background has the time-old argument "I can go straight to God, I don't need a priest." Which is true…however…apostolic succession…once you believe it, there's really no going back, is there? 🙂

  • Hi Gents. As I recall, dear brother GKC once said he converted to Mother Church because of Her sacramental power to grant absolution for his sins. As a convert for 9 years, I am in full agreement with him.When my book was published, my Confessor suggested strongly that I receive the sacrament at least once a month because, in his words, "you're on the Devil's radar screen now." The more one comes to Confession (Reconciliation, Penance, etc.), the more sensitive one becomes to the subtle encroachments of suggestions to sin in one's life. I use this as a way to gauge when I need to Confession: when "custody of the eyes" needs to be engaged more than usual; when temptation to fly off the handle disproportionately becomes commonplace; when despair or worries outweigh hope, happiness, and, well, interest in life — it's time. Fly to Confession!I really trust the grace that God gives NOT to "sin again" (Jn 8,11) that particular sin. But it takes a real trust because there are still plenty of sins I WILL commit, still being a fallen creature, that Our Lord will be ready and willing to forgive the sins that blindside us.I think these are the instances that keep folk from Confession, and that is truly sad. The Father scans the road for us "prodigals" – and, to paraphrase Curtis (Cab Calloway): "Jake, you get wise. You get to (Confession)!" Cheers/happy Fat Tuesday

  • "how could you NOT want to confess and have those sins loosed?" so true Michelle, so true. I think people crave confession, that it fulfills a basic human need and we are so blessed to have had God give us this source of grace.I wonder then why, so often, in so many parishes, including my own, it is never discussed, never encouraged.

  • I remember being in CCD, long ago, where my CCD teacher compared our souls to a sponge that was always picking up dirt and that going to confession was like rinsing that sponge out and making it clean again.Being a visual person, that image always stuck with me. Good post!

  • Warren Jewell

    Second only to the sincere and grand "I love you" we repeat as from God's own voice in our ears are the eternally momentous words "I absolve you . . ." Sometimes, I seem to leave the confessional a foot taller than when I went in. Or, at least, that much less burdened by my weakness and frailty, and the sins I commit in my human imperfection.And, it's one Sacrament tucked into my soul, and the Sacrament of the Eucharist mine again to have there, too. Maybe, as well, in these latter years for me, the Anointing in my sickness and physical weakness. Someday, too, Viaticum – provisions of Eucharistic graces and strength in the confection of Jesus Christ in sacrifice, of Bread as Body and Wine as Blood for the last steps of my pilgrim's journey, and to and through the gate we call death. My, oh my, the glorious extravagance of God in His mercy and love!

  • Allison Salerno

    As one friend of mine who converted from Lutheranism told me, the Sacrament of Confession does away with our human propensity for self-delusion. It is easy to say to our selves – oh, that was wrong and I won't do it again. But to have to talk with a priest about it is an entirely different matter.One of my sons' CCD teachers, whose husband was an Army veteran, compared going to confession to strengthening one's armor for Christ. "YOu are ready for battle." she told them. That worked for me!

  • Sharon

    Well, I guess all I can add is I've never gotten anything from confession with a priest that came close to what I've gotten from God, but that sentiment seems to be both in the minority and rather unwelcome around here, so I'll bow out now…I guess I will never understand desiring all these intermediaries, these layers, these mortal substitutes for the real thing. Once you've tasted the real thing, you don't want anything else — you can't want anything else. Nothing less than God will do. God wants to love you and wants you to love Him back. He wants to talk to you and laugh and cry with you and cheer you on and pick you up and set you back on your feet when you fall, if you'll just let Him. That's not up to the great big intellectual hoohah around here, though, but at least it's real, at least it's genuine, which is all God really wants — simple, sincere love, not who read which book and who quoted who and who gold medals in the Confession Olympics and who can write the most scholarly blather about how holy they are. Priests prove over and over again they're just people, and a lot of them are pretty nasty people — a lot more than are good people, actually. Also, someone questioned the idea of bad behavior on the part of religious communities in Ireland in a comment above — if anyone thinks the notion of scandalous priests is something new in Ireland, they don't get out much. The scandalous activities perpetrated by religious folk in the US pale in comparison to the depths of evil priests and nuns in Ireland have stooped to, probably continue to stoop to.

  • Allison

    @Sharon: You wrote: Priests prove over and over again they're just people, and a lot of them are pretty nasty people — a lot more than are good people, actually. From a Catholic perspective, that is both unprovable and irrelevent. We are not confessing TO the priest. The priest administers the sacraments – whether it is Baptism, confession, marriage etc. We live our lives through the sacraments the church offers. We believe Christ instituted each and every one of these sacraments. Biblical accounts support these beliefs. We believe both in the Bible and in Tradition and in the Communion of Saints – not just one of these. That is why I am a Catholic. And I do talk to God – all day, all the time. But I also live in the sacramental life the church offers and requires me too. And I understand priests are flawed, some of them deeply. Me too!

  • Well, I guess, then, I'm not really a Catholic. I'm always going to put God before some institution, before people who claim to speak for Him, or claim to have dibs on meting out His graces and mercy and love and approval. Second best is not good enough for me, and I care more about what God thinks than what people think. You know, for a long while I've wondered why I bother, especially knowing — really knowing — what I know, and especially in light of the fact that the Catholic Church has been making it clear they just sort of begrudgingly tolerate Catholics (or whatever…that remains to be seen, I suppose…) like me. Of course, if they out and out tell folks like me to shove off, they realize our wallets will go with us, so they pretend to care and even take a break from kissing up to the starry eyed converts and phony intellectual types (who was it said Catholicism is the religion for those who fancy themselves great intellectuals but really aren't…?) to throw us a few crumbs. Maybe this Lent I'll just finally give it all up for good — and with it all that continually reinforced sense of never being good enough, of never really being wanted.I'm good enough for God and I'm wanted — desired — by God, and that's good enough for me.

  • Webster Bull

    @Sharon,Your comments raise many questions, good questions. I do not know what personal disillusionment you have experienced with representatives of the Church (priests, religious, laypeople), and no one needs those details. These personal details, however, surround a central question: Why do we need intermediaries? I am not a theologian or long enough a Catholic to be an apologist, but I promise that my next post will be a meditation on this question–one that might get me in trouble (from my ignorance) but one that I think your comments demand. It is a question all Catholics should answer, and I will try, when I write "Because I Can't Do It Alone." Oh, but I already did that (LOL, seriously, I just remembered this post). So I'll have to call it something else. But first a nap….

  • Mary P.

    Hey Sharon,Please don't leave us. I sense a lot of pain in your words. I'm so sorry! You don't say why you've come to feel so much anger toward the Catholic Church. But then, you don't have to. Many of us have had bad experiences with the Church, myself included. But we all sense the overall good of being with those who are trying to find the our path to God's light, using the Church and the sacraments as stepping stones toward God himself.This forum is absolutely not about those who are "better' than anyone else. We're all in the same boat, searching for ways to relate to God. No one knows all the answers. I don't think even Ferde or Warren would claim that, although they're probably closer than the rest of us. Why? I think it's because they've been searching longer and harder. One day I hope to be as smart as they are! You are desired by God. We all are. Won't you join us in this journey? We would all (knowing I'm taking a risk by speaking for others!) like to help you find reasons for staying in the Church. We can help each other!What do you say?

  • Webster,This is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in response to the question about the name of the Sacrament.1422 – The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation"those who approach the sacrament of Penance 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 their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.1423 – It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from who one has strayed by sin.It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner's personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.1424 – It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" – ackowledgment and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace."It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God." He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: 'Go; first be reconciled to your brother."If you guys don't own a copy of the Catechism I recommend picking one up. It is such a valuable tool. Here is an online version for anyone who wishes also.

  • To comment on the remarks that were made in the post about how to know how to make a good confession. I admit that I sometimes get bogged down in those same thoughts. However, I then try to take it back to basics. What is getting between me and God? What do I put in the way or let stay in the way that stops me from loving Him more?Somehow when I put it like that and then ask God to show me what is the biggest obstacle, I always get an answer. It is that process which begins the healing and reaching back out to God. For me, luckily having a very good confessor, the next step is to pray for my confessor, that he will give me the words that the Holy Spirit wants me to hear.Somehow there is something about actually hearing the words of advice (which may or may not be given depending on the confessor) and HEARING those words of absolution from sin that make them resonate in my soul. I always feel that is why Jesus has the confessor stand in for him. Sometimes we need those physical sounds so that it really gets through to us. Of course God forgives me as soon as I am sorry and tell Him so before I even go to confession. However, somehow it is also the hearing it that makes it real for me.

  • If the Sacrament of Reconcilliation has fallen into serious disuse in recent years the following comment which appears on my blog may be of interest to some and perhaps generate a renewed fervor for it

  • Warren Jewell

    @Sharon,You must believe that priests love to hear confessions, for having dinner table chat (anonymous as it may be) about the foibles of humankind, or some such. Most priests I have known just do it as their Sacramental job. They much prefer parish/communal rituals, to their own satisfaction. Priests know what Peter heard from Christ, about holding bound or loosing the bondage to sin's penalties. It is part of their Sacramental job, as only the ordained priest can perform. As Michelle pointed out, "apostolic succession…once you believe it, there's really no going back, is there?"You go to God – DO you hear Him, as He speaks most cogently in His revelation? He didn't expect that we'd enjoy every aspect of repentance and penance, just that He gives us means to have His mercy, forgiveness and release.For me, perhaps, I address you as Christ addressed Pilate about His being a King: "Thou sayest it". I mean, when you say: "Well, I guess, then, I'm not really a Catholic. I'm always going to put God before some institution, before people who claim to speak for Him, or claim to have dibs on meting out His graces and mercy and love and approval. Second best is not good enough for me, and I care more about what God thinks than what people think." Baptism marked you Catholic, indelibly. But, it isn't hard to be a mediocre Catholic; I was one several times over. If you care what God thinks, well: what God thinks He made clear: Repentance requires the confessional, as He demanded not of us, but of His priests. And, of the "institution" of the Church – it is HIS Church, for which He is our Head, and we are members of HIS body. Or, do you wish to leave that behind, too, at the cafeteria table? Harsh? Oh, yes, I have learned to be harsh with myself. Why should some old fool let a younger fool like you off? I am harsh because the wages of sin are harsh beyond imagining; and, worst, eternally harsh.So, to finish from my own perspective of having been harsh first with myself, why wait until you're older and more in need of contrition, when in youth you can blossom in the fullness of Christ in His Church? I wasted too much time, energy, etc. Now, I kick myself all about.

  • Allison Salerno

    @SharonI really understand how you feel. For years, I didn't even like the part of the liturgy where we say "Lord I am not worthy to receive you." That pissed me off – I AM good enough. My perspective now is that we all are flawed and God is perfect and that phrase is an acknowledgement of that.I have known many a lousy priest but for me I keep getting back to what the truth of the church is. God is bigger than the church, yes, but I do believe God speaks through the church and its sacraments. Hang in there with us, please! We are all journeying together.

  • Allison Salerno

    @SharonOne more thought (Like I can keep my mouth shut) I grew up Catholic and if I were to tell you about all the experiences I had growing up with the Church you would be very surprised I returned to the church as an adult. I was not the victim of any scandal, but some of the priests I knew best growing up were.My thinking was to consciously shed myself of all my personal experiences with individuals in the church and to focus on my own search for truth and spirituality. For me, a total rejection of the Catholic Church would be like growing up in a lousy family and saying the whole concept of family is suspect.I have done some guest blogs here. What I do not write about is the places where I disagree with church teaching. I don't feel comfortable doing in what is a public forum that but in my own heart I have learned it's okay to have ambivalence and to be open to having my mind and heart changed over time. Perhaps I will never personally agree with every line of the cathecism. I am okay with that.

  • @Sharon,It is a tough question, why do we need the intermediaries? For me, the breakthrough came when I realized that the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation/Penance/Catharsis is a gift, not a burden or obligation. We can go directly to God, within Catholic theology there is nothing preventing that. There is no absolute requirement that we go through the Sacrament for our sins, even our mortal sins, to be forgiven. The Old Testament is replete with God's forgiveness .. for the contrite. God forgives the contrite. And what is contrition? That is the sorrow over sin, the repentance that stems only and purely from love of God. Fear of hell? Not contrition.Desire for heaven? Not contrition.Desire to be a better person? Not Contrition.Longing for forgiveness? Not Contrition.These are all good motivations, but they are not contrition. They are attrition. Contrition is certainly possible, but we as humans don't do so well at being motivated purely by love of God .. these other things motivate us, dilute our contrition.And so God gives us the gift of the Sacrament. Not only will God provide the grace of forgiveness, God will provide the grace to bridge the gap between our attrition and the contrition to which we aspire. Through the Sacrament, our theology recognizes that we can go directly to God, but the sin which we need to have forgiven is the same sin that keeps us from truly going to God. So God builds a bridge over the chasm of our sin: Confession. Confession is not an obligation, not a hoop to jump through to get to God's forgiveness, not an institution that we put before God. Confession is a tremendous gift from God to we the fallen. It is only between us and God in the same way that a lifeline is between a lifeguard and a drowning man.And for me, the clincher is this: if we did not need the Sacrament, Jesus would not have given his Apostles the authority to forgive sins.

  • James

    @Sharon, I don't know what it is you expect to find in the confessional other than absolution for your sins which enables us to rightly participate in reception of the Eucharist. The Church is and always will be flawed but it was established by Our Lord and is the best we have. I understand your frustrations but not your bitterness and cynicism towards the folks on this blog. We all have a personal relationship with God but (as one who tried it for many years) freelancing that relationship is a dead end road filled with pitfalls. We're all in this together and need one another. We need one another's acceptance,love and tolerance and we each have a right to our seat in the pew. The only person who can put you outside of the Church is you yourself and besides, whoever said that being catholic is a personality contest? It doesn't matter what others think of you( or what you imagine they think of you). What matters is if you're being the best catholic that you can be. Only you can answer that question.

  • Ferde

    The idea of talking directly to God rather than to a priest is a trick some people play on themselves. They get to talk to themselves, thinking they're talking to God, and they forgive themselves, pretending they just talked to God. Cool. But God isn't sitting there. He may be in the room somewhere, but he isn't talking to me. He can't answer my questions, He can't ask me questions, He can't give advice and council, He can't comfort or console me or admonish me if I need it. But wait…Who am I confessing my sins to if not God? A priest? I don't think so. The priest is there as a conduit and as someone I ACTUALLY talk to as opposed to having a one way conversation with myself. If I thought I was confessing my sins to a priest, I'd probably never go.

  • Anonymous

    I@ webster–read all the Catechism. It still does not answer the reason why the name was changed–for me–why we refer to it as sacrament of reconcilliation vx confession. Maybe I missed something? I'd like to know the history.Maria

  • @ Maria: I. WHAT IS THIS SACRAMENT CALLED?1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner's personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" – acknowledgment and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace."It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God." He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother."

  • There is no absolute requirement that we go through the Sacrament for our sins, even our mortal sins, to be forgiven.I'm not sure you really mean this, WW, because this is a fundamentally false statement.And it is false for the reasons you later give — Jesus established the Sacrament.If the sacraments are available, one has an obligation to seek and make use of them. Jesus instituted them for a reason, which was to make them the usual and ordinary methods by which the relevant grace would be conveyed. That there might be extra-ordinary means to receive such grace (usually in the case of unexpected and sudden death before one can seek the sacrament) does not mean that we may dispense of the ordinary means via the sacraments altogether. Although God is not bound by the sacraments, we are.To see why a sacramental confession and absolution are necessary for the forgiveness of mortal sin, it would be helpful to remember what a "sacrament" is — an efficacious outward visible sign of the invisible reality of the conveying of grace. In the case of the Sacrament of Confession (i.e. Sacrament of Penance), you have (1) the outward, tangible, visible signs of vocally confessing out loud, which on a practical level makes the confession more concrete, rather than merely theoretical or merely a passing thought; and (2) the priest, acting in persona Christi, giving absolution, which is an outward, tangible, visible sign of the invisible reality of forgiveness by Christ and grace to avoid further sin. It is actually a rather ingenious system that Jesus set up with the sacraments. Although we do have a spirit, we are also bodily creatures, and we experience and come to know things by and through our bodies. As human persons, we need a physical act involving our bodies for us to know that something has actually happened. We can say that we don’t need that, that we have faith and that faith alone is all we need, but as a practical matter, we are all Thomas and we all need to see and touch in order for us to know for certain. Especially when we are dealing with the transcendent and spiritual, we need some outward sign for us to authentically know the reality of the transcendent. A “sacrament” is such an outward sign.Moreover, because we are not merely spiritual beings, but are body and spirit, for something to involve us and impact us only on a spiritual level is to engage our being only partially, rather than engage the whole of our being, soul AND body. Without the Sacrament of Confession, without one confessing to God in the presence of the priest who then has the authority to convey absolution, you have a confession that is merely potential and, hence, you have forgiveness that is merely potential. When one “confesses” merely to oneself or secretly in the recesses of one’s mind, merely thinking about the sins, even though one may feel remorse, it is really only a possible confession. Until it is reduced to actual words that are actually spoken out loud, so as to give them a reality that goes beyond mere thought, then it is merely an idea. And without the confession being a reality, without the contrition/repentence being reduced to a tangible reality, there can be no forgiveness, there is nothing yet there for actual forgiveness to wipe away, it is all still potential.(end of part one)

  • (part two of two)As stated above, one reason we cannot simply go to some quiet place and confess to God one-to-one, but must make a sacramental confession of mortal sin, is because Jesus established the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession/Penance, and He wanted us to utilize them. Another reason is because Jesus established the Church for a reason. Ours is not a hub-and-spoke kind of religion, ours is not that type of highly individualized one-on-one relationship with God. Rather, we are more like drops of water in the ocean, each being diffused throughout the whole, yet still retaining our individuality.Thus, the sacraments, including Confession, are not individualized, but are communal. Man, male and female, is by his nature a social being. Being made in the image of God the Trinity, we were meant to exist as He exists, in relationship. We confess, not in privacy, not with God and ourselves alone, but rather, we confess and receive absolution in the entirety of the Church. It may look as if there are only two people in the confessional, but in actuality, the whole of the Church is present. Confession, no matter how private in human terms, is a social act, involving all of the faithful, both here on earth and in heaven. All of the Church, being part of the Body of Christ, is bound up in the work of redemption and forgiveness. The Church is not a mere bystander, a mere observer on the sidelines. Rather, as the Bride of the Crucified One, she shares in His redemptive mission, including the Sacrament of Confession. As such it is necessary to turn to the Church as a whole and to seek and obtain sacramental confession and absolution, and not merely consider sin and forgiveness to be a private affair. After all, sin is not a private affair, but is intensely social. Every sin, even though committed secretly and in apparent isolation, has social implications. Accordingly, sin being a social act, so too should forgiveness be a social act (albeit within the confines of the confessional).

  • Why the name change?Short answer — 1970s trendinessOK, maybe it was sooner than that, and maybe that's a bit more flippant than accurate, but pretty close.Now, I'm no historian on the matter, and this is mostly off the top of my head, but folks started thinking that the "Sacrament of Confession," which is what it was popularly called, was emphasizing only half of the Sacrament. At the time, it may well be that the "official" name was the "Sacrament of Penance," which was more encompassing, but most folks simply called it "Confession," much like most people call the Eucharist "Communion." It was around the time of the Council (Vatican II) that some people came up with the more touchy-feely "Sacrament of Reconciliation." Certainly that is a proper description, but it does seem to convey a certain counseling-therapy approach. I don't know that it ever really caught on in popular usage. I certainly do not use that term. Like most people (at least most people I know), I stick to plain old "Confession."

  • Anonymous

    Frank:For those of who are cradle Catholics, it was always called Confession. Then it was changed–I know not when– to the Sacreament of Reconcilation, notwithstanding all of the different 'meanings' as described in the Catechism, of what is now referred to as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Am I making sense? When all else fails–blame Vatican II. Help Warren!!Maria

  • Flexo,I did mean it. There is no absolute requirement that the only way for sin, even mortal sin, to be forgiven is through Confession. Communion washes venial sin. Baptism washes all sin. And perfect contrition is an avenue to forgiveness for all sin. But just as you say, while Baptism and Confession are ordinary avenues of forgiveness, perfect contrition is extraordinary. But your comment hits on something that I did not address well at all and so might have been misleading. Though Confession is not strictly necessary, we are still obliged to go to Confession for our mortal sins and at least once a year. It is exactly for the reason you give, that though God is not bound by the Sacraments, we are, that there is a difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. And while Confession is not strictly necessary, I would also say that it is effectively necessary for most of us, because perfect contrition is a rather high standard. Thanks for pushing for clarity.

  • cathyf

    Back when I memorized the seven sacraments long before the name "Sacrament of Reconciliation" came into vogue, the official name was "Sacrament of Penance."Sacraments have form, matter and effects. The different names "penance", "confession", "reconcilation", "shrive" all emphasize some different aspect, but all of those aspects are there.There has been an emergency form of the sacrament for a very long time that didn't include confession. The classic use would be for men going into battle. In Gettysburg there is a statue of Fr. Corby giving absolution to the Irish Brigade immediately before they went in to battle there.

  • I think someone was asking for a guidebook. Maybe this will help? A Guide for Returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation

  • WW — what you state is contrary to Catholic doctrine.The extraordinary means of perfect contrition is available only in cases where death is imminent and one cannot otherwise make a sacramental confession. Indeed, for one to take the attitude, while perfectly healthy, of rejecting sacramental confession is in and of itself a lacking of perfect contrition because it is a rejection of the Church, i.e., obstinate refusal to have recourse to a sacramental confession is in and of itself a sin.If someone dies before making a sacramental confession but after expressing perfect contrition, forgiveness is obtained, but if the person does not die, but continues to live, then he or she has an obligation to go make an ordinary sacramental confession and, if he or she does not, and dies thereafter, the sin remains.One may resort to extra-ordinary means only in extra-ordinary circumstances, i.e. near death. If the circumstances are ordinary, then ordinary means must be resorted to.

  • Warren Jewell

    Okay – Webster, before the resident theologians begin to chew on each other, can you give us Fr. Barnes' look at the controversy between Wine in the Water and Flexo?Folks, go to confession, and if you just think you may need it, go NOW. And, call it what you will. Got cautions, concerns, worries, nerves? Tell the confessor and let him help you through. He doesn't bite. He like His Lord cares – "Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you." (1Peter 5:7)If you can't remember it, look up our standard Act of Contrition and use it with the Jesus Prayer as a means to "pray constantly"; and don't forget "Brethren, pray for us." (1Thessalonians 5:17,25) We all need to get to our confessionals – or, do you prefer 'reconciliation rooms'? – regularly, too.I just love you all, as every Grandpa must – we old-timers ARE trying to get into heaven, you know. Besides, God loves me, and it just wouldn't be right to hog it and not pass it on. :)Please, don't argue with Jesus Christ, God, King and Savior, about His Church and Sacraments – that just ain't healthy, speaking of eternity, for us creatures! Any doubts – ask your pastor – consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church – And, pray – PRAY, as lot. Pray for me – tomorrow, this Thursday after Ash Wednesday – my pastor is coming to confess me and Anoint me in my illnesses and weaknesses. After he goes, I just know that I'm going to break down in tears in gratitude to God for His Church, His Sacraments and His priests. Indeed – I invite you to do the same. God be generous in His blessings on you and yours. All hail the sweet Name of Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    Frank,Thank you so much for the guidebook. I've bookmarked it. It made me cry, but that's a good first step toward finding my way back. Keep on doing what you do. Please!!

  • James

    I have read in literature concerning St Faustina that if a person's death is imminent and no priest is available then one should ask the individual if he or she is sorry for the sins of their life and if so then to recite the prayer from the chaplet : "For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world." My understanding is that no specific sins should be mentioned- just a general admission of contrition followed by the prayer. If communication is not possible it's advised to quietly recite the prayer close to the person's ear. I don't know if this constitutes "extraordinary" but it certainly is a work of charity.

  • before the resident theologians begin to chew on each otherIf I really must drag out the Catechism –CCC 1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51(51 Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1677.)And from the Baltimore Catechism No. 3 –Q. 766. When will perfect contrition obtain pardon for mortal sin without the Sacrament of Penance?A. Perfect contrition will obtain pardon for mortal sin without the Sacrament of Penance when we cannot go to confession, but with the perfect contrition we must have the intention of going to confession as soon as possible, if we again have the opportunity.***********If all that was necessary was perfect contrition, there would be absolutely no need whatsoever for the Sacrament — it would be totally superfluous.

  • Flexo, I think you misunderstood me .. perhaps I chose my words poorly. When I say that Confession is not strictly necessary, I mean in a metaphysical sense. We can be forgiven even our mortal sins outside of the Sacrament. All of your quotes from catechisms state exactly that. This is separate from the question of whether or not we are obligated to go to Confession for forgiveness of mortal sins. Even with perfect contrition, we are obliged to earnestly seek Confession .. even if we do not succeed. I would say that if contrition is to be truly perfect, it *must* include the desire to seek the gift of God's Sacramental Grace and forgiveness.I fully agree that extraordinary means must accompany extraordinary circumstances .. but I had assumed that that was a given.

  • cathyf

    Before we get too far into this argument, I'll take the mathematician's route and point out that there is a distinction between "necessary" and "sufficient". We trust that the Sacrament of Penance, properly celebrated, is sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins. Why we believe this is something that we have been talking about for the last several days. As to whether the Sacrament in its particular form is necessary…Well, there is the simple logical point that saying that the Sacrament is necessary is equivalent to saying that God is somehow incapable of forgiving without it. Some wise commenter said a few days ago something like "the sacraments bind us, they don't bind God."Which brings us back to the point that we are bound by them. We have been given this great gift. We know how we can have our sins be forgiven, and we have only to act in that knowledge. As to those who don't know, or know and don't act, we simply do not know what, if any, provision God has made for them.What we know is that Confession will save us from hell. The converse of that is not that people who don't go to Confession are going to hell — the converse is that we don't know what happens to people who don't go to Confession.