Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned

Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned December 22, 2006


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.”

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  • Bless, Father!I’ve often heard from priests that they receive a special gift to actually forget what they’ve heard in the confessional and, as a new Catholic priest hearing his first confessions, I was wondering your fresh take on that.

  • DGus

    Speaking as an outsider, sacramental confession and absolution is one of the truly attractive features of the RCC. Sometimes the things that you seem to think would be attractive are actually repulsive, but confession (which the post seems to think needs explaining) is in fact attractive. But perhaps this is entirely subjective.

  • This is true. I can’t remember anything. I suppose if i tried to summon up the memories I could recover what I had heard, but why would I want to do such a thing? It’s all under the Mercy. Also, hearing confessions and saying Mass go together. Today when I said Mass I intentionally offered up all the confessions I had heard the night before. I put them at the foot of the cross before the one who has promised to take all our burdens. What would possess me to take them again?

  • Schultz

    Hm, I never really thought about confession and Mass going together in that way. That’s wonderful.Thanks for your insight.

  • I’m just curious…if you had to guess at a percentage, how many people went face-to-face, how many anonymous? (I have a theory already, but I’m looking for the reality). And thank you for this post. I know many who struggle with the need for this Sacrament, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, so I do intend to send this link to them, likely post it on my blog as well.

  • I heard about 50 confessions. They were all face to face, but this was because I was in a room where the furniture was arranged that way. When I’m in the confessional it may be different.As a penitent I prefer the formality and objectivity of the old fashioned confessional. As a confessor I prefer face to face.

  • Thank you Father, for sharing your first experience on the OTHER side of the Confessional. As a convert from protestantism myself, I can identify with dgus. As a Catholic now, I will say that confession has been a great blessing and one that never ceases to move me.

  • Just curious if you were nervous about hearing confession 🙂

  • I am not nervous in the confessional. I am still a little nervous saying Mass…a terrible feeling half way through that I might have forgotten something.Most of all, it is a huge joy to both hear confessions and say Mass. How beautiful when soul after soul comes simply to open their heart to God and ask for Christ’s forgiveness!

  • Thank you for this post – I have been pondering the role of public confession in a faith community’s act of worship lately and I was wondering if you could explain where the concept of “forgiveness through the ministry of the church’s sacrament” comes from? I am referring to your comment copied below:”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”

  • Hello Gecko girl, Thanks for your question. Public confession of sins is based in the Scriptures I referenced in my post. Jesus commands his apostles to forgive sins and gives them the authority to do so. Then in the epistle of James the faithful are also commanded to call the elders and confess their sins.In the early church this happened publicly. The penitent actually confessed his sins openly before the whole congregation!This soon not only led to abuses and problems of trust, it also made the service very long! Instead of this the faithful began to go separately and privately to the priest to confess and receive absolution. In various forms since then Catholics (and Eastern Orthodox, some Anglicans and I believe some Lutherans) have practiced confession.I hope this answers your question

  • My parish’s men’s group is reading Dr. Hahn’s “Lord, Have Mercy” (all about the Sacrament of Reconciliation) right now–outrageously good.I’ve only heard one confessor say something like, “pray for me, a sinner,” but since that time I’ve made it a personal practice to “double” my penance, and I say the second set of prayers for the priest and his intentions.Did you ever hear confessions as an Anglican priest? This was one issue that caused a lot of reflection for me as an Anglican transitional deacon. I was part of a heavily Anglo-Catholic sect that practiced the sacrament. As a former Evangelical pastor, I was comfortable preaching, and wasn’t terribly anxious about the Eucharist, but the thought of pronouncing absolution made me do some heavy thinking about the nature of the priesthood and the sacraments. When I ultimately came Home, making a general confession (after 20 years away from the sacrament) really nailed down for me how it is the doorway to “reconciliation” with God–and His people.

  • As an Anglican pastor I sometimes heard ‘confessions’ within the counselling context. If I was counselling someone who I felt needed confession I would encourage them to confess before me and I would ‘assure them of God’s forgiveness.’Anglo Catholics do hear confessions more regularly though, but I was never an Anglo Catholic per se. Just an ordinary Anglican with Catholic inclinations.

  • Confession has always made me uneasy as a priest. I do not hear all that many here but the ones that I do hear are genuine and heartfelt. This past weekend I heard several and I added the phrase that you use and asked for prayers from the one coming to confession. Thank you for that little post.

  • Thank you, Father, for this post. You gave me some good ammunition for what to say to my Protestant friends.