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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ . . . Understanding Confession More Deeply

June 17, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 33

When Jesus gave the apostles the power to bind and unbind things here on Earth (Matt. 18:18), He gave them authority over His flock. Hence, from the very first century, Popes and bishops passed laws to be observed by the people. Consequently, considering the seriousness of sin, and the risk many take for eternity if they lead a sinful life, the Church wisely made a law requiring all the faithful who have come to the use of reason, to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year.
This law does not bind everyone, such as those who are not in mortal sin. It binds only those who are guilty of mortal sin. Moreover, the sacramental Confession of venial sin is never obligatory. It is recommended, but not obligatory. But it is profitable for the penitent to confess all of his venial sins committed after the last Confession, as it exercises his humility and horror of sin.
A very controversial issue regarding Confession these days is the confessional seal, or the obligation of the priest never to reveal the sins committed by the penitent, regardless of their seriousness. So, even the sins of murder, abortion, homosexuality, lying under oath, theft, and so on, the priest cannot reveal to anyone, to any authority, ever at the cost of his imprisonment of death. The priest who hears Confessions is absolutely bound to observe complete secrecy, and never to betray a penitent in any way by word or deed.
Of course, he is bound to encourage the penitent to surrender himself to the authorities to see to the consequences of his sins, but he can never reveal them himself. Without the seal, few people would trust the intent of the priest to remain silent about his sins.
It is amazing how even priests who abandoned the priesthood to lead a life of sin or irreligion still do not break the seal of Confession. This silence is fundamental for the penitent to trust the sacrament.
Yes, Confession is a great instrument of God’s mercy to His people!
Now let us get a little technical to increase our understanding of this marvelous sacrament: Penance, as Confession is also known, is the sacrament by which the priest remits sins committed after Baptism to those who confess them with sorrow, and are willing to perform the works of satisfaction he imposes. So, the minister of the sacrament is the priest, or bishop. Never a layman, or even a deacon.
A layman can baptize in case of need, but he cannot absolve sins. He may pardon the sins committed against him by a neighbor, but not forgive the sin as such. Only God can forgive sins, and God the Son, Jesus Christ, gave such power to His bishops and priests.
The minister of the Sacrament of Penance must be a duly authorized priest or bishop. What does this “authorization” mean? By “duly authorized,” we mean that he must have jurisdiction or faculties, that is, he must have received the right to exercise the power of forgiving sin. Jurisdiction is the right to act as judge or to exercise authority over subjects.
In civil society, to be a judge one must receive the jurisdiction to hear cases and pass sentences. Civil jurisdiction is not up for grabs by anyone who wants to exercise justice in society. Likewise, a priest in the confessional is like a judge, and as a judge cannot condemn or acquit except in the court to which he has been appointed, so a priest who is not provided with proper authority cannot validly absolve.
It simply means that, under ordinary circumstances or until the Church legislates otherwise, a priest who has no faculties cannot absolve the sins of penitents until he receives the faculties to hear Confessions. If he is in a place where he has not received jurisdiction or faculties, his absolutions are not valid. This is most important, because in this way “maverick” priests who go around hearing Confessions are not doing so validly, and the penitents who confess their sins to them go out un-absolved.
The only person who has universal jurisdiction, who can hear Confession anywhere in the world, is the Pope, because he has jurisdiction from Christ over the entire Church.
A diocesan bishop in communion with the Pope has jurisdiction over his own subjects and diocese, and the bishop communicates that jurisdiction to his pastors and other priests. He does not have jurisdiction over the people of another diocese, unless given by the local bishop.
But a faithful Catholic can go to Confession with any validly ordained priest who has faculties in any diocese of the world.
Moreover, the Church, in her solicitude for the eternal welfare of souls, grants faculties to all validly ordained priests, even if deposed from office or outside her communion, to absolve anyone who is in immediate danger of death.
Another important thing to remember is that only Catholics who have committed sin after Baptism can receive the Sacrament of Penance. Protestants who do not believe in the full teachings of Christ as taught by the Church cannot validly receive the sacrament, let alone pagans, or other non-baptized people. Besides, to be able to receive the sacrament one must be at the age of reason, that is, a minimum of seven years of age. Toddlers and babies cannot receive it, of course. First of all, they are unable to sin, and naturally are unable to confess, so they cannot receive it. This also presupposes the age of discretion, that is, about seven years.
What are the effects of the Sacrament of Confession in the soul of the penitent? That is the next question to answer. The effects are seven in number. Let us see them one by one:
1) The forgiveness of sin, and reconciliation with God, by which the penitent recovers grace: Stop for a moment to consider this first effect. My sins are forgiven. Let me say it again: My sins are forgiven! It is a most amazing effect, to hear from the priest the consoling words that my sins are forgiven. My soul is clean again, I have been given another chance to improve my life of grace en route to sanctification.
2) The reconciliation with the Church, because she was wounded by my evil deeds: Yes, as a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, I have inflicted wounds on that Mystical Body by my mortal sins. Now that they are forgiven, the wounds are healed, and I am reconciled with my Mother, the Church.
3) Every mortal sin committed scienter et volenter, that is, knowingly and willingly, deserves an eternal punishment, the everlasting loss of God and exclusion from the Kingdom of Heaven. But the absolution in Confession gives me the remission of that eternal punishment I deserved by my mortal sin.
4) In Confession, I also receive the forgiveness of all my venial sins, even though I may not have confessed them.
5) I also receive the remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin, viz., the expiation required in this life or the next — Purgatory.
6) After a good Confession, I receive peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation, in the certitude that my sins were forgiven.
7) Finally, I also receive the sacramental grace to help one expiate sin and to struggle with fortitude in the Christian battle to avoid sin in the future. God is merciful indeed!
Next article: More on Confession.

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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:

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