How the Sacrament Of Reconciliation is Handed Down to the Catholic Church

Lots of questions have been asked on why Catholics confess their sins to a priest. Before that, we have to get to the reason why we all need Confession.

 When we sin we can damage others. As Paul says in his long teaching on the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians:

“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” – 1 Cor 12:26

Why we need confession:

It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Otherwise, we can not go back to God. During Jesus public ministry, He preached about the forgiveness of sins:  remember the parables of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11ff) or the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1ff), and His teaching that “there will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent” (Luke 15:7).

Sin causes three-fold damage in relationships: With God, With Others, and With Ourselves
Why do we need this Sacrament?
We go to confession because it is a sacrament given to us by Christ, and it has always been a practice of the Church.  This sacrament reconciles us first with God:  “The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with Him in an intimate friendship” (Catechism, #1468).  Secondly, the sacrament reconciles us with the Church:  “It must be recalled that… this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin.  The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth.  He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded.  He is reconciled with the Church.  He is reconciled with all creation” (John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia).
Where did it come from?
Only God has the ultimate authority to forgive sins. Yet, this authority is handed over to the the disciples after Christ’s Resurrection. Because Jesus wanted this ministry of reconciliation to continue. Christ appeared to his disciples who  gathered in the upper room and were scared out of their minds and confused. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them and then commissions them to forgive sins (John 20, 19-23) Saying:



 “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”” – John 20 19-23



Just as the Father had sent Jesus, the Apostles were also sent with the authority to forgive sins. This authority is passed down to the Church through St. Peter. In that case, how could they know which sins to forgive and which to retain, if the sins were not confessed? This is why the book of James says this:

“confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16

In this context of this verse, a person is told to “summon the presbyters of the church” (James 5:14). Presbyter is the Greek word for priest (or elder).

Therefore, based on the Biblical evidence, we see forgiveness of sins is explicitly tied to confession to a priest, who has the authority to forgive sins, which is given by Christ. However, regular confession is a healthy spiritual practice.  Each sincere Catholic needs to periodically do a good examination of conscience holding himself to the standard of Christ. Christ thus heals the relationship through the priest and we are reconciled to both God and His Church and in doing this, we are healed, thus becoming who we truly ought to be. Therefore, this heals the three-fold damage done in our relationships with God and our fellow Men.

Why confession is Important

  1. God commanded we confess our sins to one another in the Bible. (James 5:16)
  2. It is the ordinary way to have our sins forgiven.
  3. We receive grace to resist sin through the Sacrament, as well as forgiveness.
  4. We learn humility by having to confess to another person.
  5. There is built-in accountability.
  6. Our relationship with the rest of the Church is healed.
  7. We receive counsel from the priest.
  8. We can be comforted hearing the words of absolution.
  9. All are sins are wiped away.
  10. Helps give you the strength to forgive others.
  11. It doesn’t cost anything.
  12. We may not be positive that we have “perfect” contrition without it.
  13. Helps us go deep within and think about how we can improve.
  14. It feels good emotionally.
  15. When we realize (again) we are sinners, it is easier to be patient with others.
  16. Always confidential – what is said in the confessional stays in the confessional.
  17. No more guilt.
  18. We are better prepared to receive the Eucharist.
  19. Forgiveness is a necessary part of growing in holiness.
  20. Our consciences can be better formed.
  21. If we have mortally sinned, then Confession brings us back into the family of God – The Church as well as restores sanctifying grace in our souls!

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