The Sacrament of Reconciliation is probably one of the misunderstood Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Living in the Bible Belt, I cannot tell you how many times I have had people ask questions about the Sacrament which implied a misunderstanding. I hear questions like, “Why do you have to confess your sins to a priest? Why can’t you just confess directly to God?” or “Why do you need an old man to forgive you? Why can’t God forgive you?” Sometimes when I hear these questions my head just starts to hurt because they are in so much error!
Of course the best way to handle these kinds of questions is to keep calm. Instead of yelling at them, we should explain our faith with love and attempt to understand where they are coming from, and why they believe what they do. Sometimes we have to also discern their actual reason for asking the question.
Those questions asked by protestants aren’t the only questions asked about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Some wonder, “Why do we need the Sacrament?” or “What are the effects of the sacrament?” Here are some answers from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to frequent questions on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- QUESTION: Why do we confess our sins to a priest? ANSWER: CCC 1455 does a beautiful job of answering this question: “The confession of sins . . . frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.” That explains pretty clearly why we ought to confess our sins, but why to a priest? In confessing to a priest we confess to a “servant of God” who acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) to grant forgiveness from Christ and reconciliation to the Church (CCC 1466).
- QUESTION: Why forgive the sins of others? The easiest answer to this question is because Christ told us to. In John 20:23 Christ states: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” If that’s not clear, then I don’t know what is. Christ sent us into the world with a multiform mission including the Church's mission to forgive the sins of those whom are repentant and contrite.
- QUESTION: Do you have to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to be reconciled to God and the Church? ANSWER: Yes. If one is in need of being reconciled to the Church and God, then that implies that one has committed grave sin. According to the CCC, “individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church” (emphasis added) (CCC 1497).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a Sacrament of healing by which we have precious grace restored. Examination of Conscience is a big part of making the most of the Sacrament and most Catholic prayer books provide at least a brief Examination of Conscience in order to prepare you for the Sacrament. What questions do you have about the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What is your opinion of this powerful Sacrament of healing?