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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… The Sacrament Of Confession

May 27, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 30

Confession is certainly the most controversial of all sacraments that Christ instituted for our salvation, especially among Protestants of every denomination. The most common objection is, “Why should I confess my sins to a man just like me, and perhaps a worse sinner?”
The objector misses the point completely, since Confession is not an event comparable to a visit to a psychiatrist or to a psychologist or even to a friend with a view to seek his counsel. The essential point here is this: Does that man to whom I go to confess my sins — the priest in the confessional — have the power to forgive my sins? Yea or nay?
As simple as that. Because if he does not have that power to forgive my sins, there is no purpose whatsoever in talking to him, unless I may wish to receive some word of guidance or encouragement, which I may receive from other people as well.
But if the man in the confessional does have the power to forgive my sins, that is a horse of quite a different color! So, in order to find out the reality about that man’s power — or lack of it — let us investigate what the Catholic Church has taught about confession since the dawn of Christianity.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the Catholic Church did not institute the Sacrament of Confession, as Protestants think. No, she did not. Jesus Christ did. And here is where our separated brethren agonize and torment themselves, when they learn that Confession is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ for the remission of sins committed by baptized Christians after Baptism.
When did it happen? Those who say that the Bible is the word of God and nothing else matters, usually overlook certain Bible passages, and prefer to go to the ones they like most. In so doing, they forget that after the Resurrection Christ gave three specific powers to the apostles:
To preach His doctrine to the world in His name;
To baptize the converts who believed in the Gospel message;
To forgive the sins of the converts.
Let us take these powers one by one. When did He give them the power to preach His doctrine in His Name?
Matt. 28:18-20: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations. . . . Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
There you have Jesus — He to whom the Father gave all power in Heaven and on Earth — giving to the apostles the power to preach His message.
When did He give them the power to baptize the converts who believed in His message? In the same Gospel passage, we read: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And, to make sure everything would be done correctly, He guaranteed to them that He would be there with them to the end: “And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
Here is the full passage:
“All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
It is important to realize that when He says “all power” He manifests the warrant and commission of the apostles and their successors, the bishops and pastors of Christ’s Church. He received from his Father all power in Heaven and on Earth: and in virtue of this power, he sends them (even as his Father sent him, John 20:21) to teach and disciple, not one, but all nations; and instruct them in all truths: and that he may assist them effectually in the execution of this commission, he promises to be with them, not for three or four hundred years only, but all days, even to the consummation of the world.
And finally, and most important from the point of view of the Sacrament of Confession, when did he give them the power to forgive sins?
You read it in St. John’s Gospel (20:18-20): “Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Period.
Remember that He had previously said to them: “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).
So, the eleven apostles had the power to preach, baptize, and forgive/retain sins in Jesus’ name. But how could they discern which sins were to be forgiven, and which ones were not, but to be retained, unless the penitent told them? Telepathy was not a gift given to the apostles. They had to hear them directly from the penitent.
“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
Now, what is this, if not a clear reference to the power of forgiving and retaining sin in the Sacrament of Penance? It is an incredible power, nay, a divine power that Christ gave to the apostles and their successors!

The Old Testament

I can see Protestants claiming that the gift was given to the eleven apostles, and to nobody else!
Really? The Gospel does not say “Only you, the eleven, can forgive sins.” Besides, since Jesus gave them two other gifts alongside forgiving sins, that is, preaching and baptizing in His Name, if the power to forgive was given to the eleven alone, therefore, the power of preaching and baptizing was also given to the eleven alone!
Consequence: Nobody, after the apostles’ death, had the power to preach, baptize, or forgive sins — which is of course a big piece of nonsense.
The apostles elected Matthias to replace Judas and the apostolic succession was passed down through Titus, Timothy, Barnabas, and Paul to others across the centuries to this day.
We also see Confession prefigured in the Old Testament. For instance:
Numb. 5:6-7: “Say to the children of Israel: When a man or woman shall have committed any of all the sins that men are wont to commit, and by negligence shall have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and offended, they shall confess their sin, and restore the principal itself, and the fifth part over and above, to him against whom they have sinned.”
Eccles. 4:31: “Be not ashamed to confess your sins.”
Proverbs 28:13: “He that hides his sins, shall not prosper: but he that shall confess, and forsake them, shall obtain mercy.”
2 Esdras 9:1-2: “And the . . . children of Israel separated themselves from every stranger: and they stood, and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.”
But to whom did the Old Testament folks confess their sins?
Next Article: Confession in the New Testament and in the practice of the early Christians.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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