Skip to comments.What You [Catholics] Need to Know: Penance (Reconciliation, Confession) [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Posted on 09/22/2007 11:03:59 AM PDT by Salvation
When it comes to understanding the Sacrament of Penance (also called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or simply Confession), we can move quickly from the barest possible outline to one of the deepest documents the Church has issued in the modern era.
The best short summary of the theology behind the sacrament, its history, and its structure and efficacy is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Given that Confession is both under-appreciated and underutilitzed in our own day, Pope John Paul II issued a brief document, On the Mercy of God, outlining and defending a proper understanding and use of the Sacrament of Penance in 2002.
But the gold standard on this issue is the same Popes masterful Apostolic Exhortation On Reconciliation and Penance (also in 1984). This lengthy document, which grew out of an earlier Synod of Bishops devoted to the same topic, provides a rich theological and ecclesial background for not only the Sacrament itself but the very concepts of penance and reconciliation in the Christian life. It may be read all at once or used for spiritual reading, a little at a time.
If you only have time to look at three things, LOOK AT THESE.
A brief definition of the Sacrament of Penance, covering the bare essentials, is found in Fr. Hardon's Catholic Dictionary under the entry Sacrament of Penance.
The heated modern question of whether children might receive First Communion before receiving First Penance was settled definitively in the negative in 1973 by the Congregations for the Clergy and the Sacraments in Sanctus Pontifex. The contrary practice is an abuse.
While the practice of general absolution without personal confession of sins to a priest is possible in emergency situation, its widespread abuse has been condemned many times, perhaps most recently in a 1999 instruction by the Congregation for Divine Worship to the Church in Australia, The Sacrament of Penance.
In the same year Reconciliatio et Paenitentia was issued, the late Bishop Austin Vaughan of New York offered a useful catalogue of questions and confusions which have contributed to a decline in the use of the Sacrament of Penance.
Finally, both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have frequently emphasized the importance of rediscovering the Sacrament of Penance, not only among lay people but for frequent use by priests as a key to holiness. See, for example, By Going to Confession Priests Become Holy (John Paul II) and Rediscover the Sacrament of Penance (Benedict XVI, 2007).
Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Discussion Ping List.
1440 Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. 38
Only God forgives sin
1441 Only God forgives sins. 39 Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and exercises this divine power: "Your sins are forgiven." 40 Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name. 41
1442 Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the "ministry of reconciliation." 42 The apostle is sent out "on behalf of Christ" with "God making his appeal" through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God." 43
Reconciliation with the Church
1443 During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God's forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God. 44
1444 In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ's solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." 45 "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head." 46
1445 The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.
The sacrament of forgiveness
1446 Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace." 47
1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this "order of penitents" (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the "private" practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.
1448 Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same fundamental structure is to be discerned. It comprises two equally essential elements: on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God's action through the intervention of the Church. The Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction, also prays for the sinner and does penance with him. Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion.
1449 The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church:
God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 48
38 Cf. LG 11.
39 Cf. Mk 2:7.
40 Mk 2:5, 10; Lk 7:48.
41 Cf. Jn 20:21-23.
42 2 Cor 5:18.
43 2 Cor 5:20.
44 Cf. Lk 15; 19:9.
45 Mt 16:19; cf. Mt 18:18; 28:16-20.
46 LG 22 § 2.
47 Tertullian, De Paenit. 4, 2: PL 1,1343; cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1542.
48 OP 46: formula of absolution.
Digital text and search utility provided courtesy of Trinity Communications.
English Translation of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America © 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.
The sacrament that, by means of certain acts of the penitent and by the absolution of a qualified priest, remits sins committed after baptism. As defined by the Catholic Church, it is "truly and properly a sacrament, instituted by Christ our Lord, for reconciling the faithful to God as often as they fall into sin after baptism" (Denzinger 1701). The required acts of the penitent are contrition, confession, and the willingness to make satisfaction. These acts are called the matter of the sacrament. The priest's absolution is the form.
The sacrament of penance was instituted by Christ on Easter Sunday night, when he told the Apostles, "Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained" (John 20:22-23). The Catholic Church interprets these words to imply that Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors not merely the right to declare that a person's sins are forgiven but also the power of forgiving in Christ's name those who are judged worthy of remission and of withholding absolution for those who are not disposed to be absolved.
Ok, the article says this:
"The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament:..."
"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
You see, this is one of those examples of the truly vast difference between the Latin and Orthodox Churches; its that post 11th century atonement theory rearing its head again. Couple that with the notion that it is the priest doing the absolving and we see in rather stark relief the differing phronemai of the Churches.
As Fr. Deacon John Chryssavgis noted in an article on the sacrament of confession, "It is the reduction of sin to a punishable legal crime, an act of lawÂbreaking inviting a penalty that is almost wholly absent in patristic literature." He goes on to say, "The word for "confess" in Greek (ἐξομολογοῦμαι, ὁμολογῶ) does not bear the contemporary meaning peculiar to it. When we say "confess" we imply that we accept, recognize or witness an event or fact. But this is not the original meanÂing. The point is not of admitting, more or less reluctantly, a hitherto "unrecognized" sin, but an acceptance of and subÂmission to the divine Logos (exomologesis) beyond and above the nature and condition of man. It is this Logos, the Word of God, that man seeks to regain, or rather to comÂmune with. To confess is not so much to recognize and exÂpose a failure as to go forward and upward, to respond from within to the calling of God. Created in the image and likeness of God, man bears before himself and in himself that image and likeness. In repenting he does not so much look forward as reflects and reacts to what lies before and beyond him."
In Holy Orthodoxy The Church teaches her children "Have you committed a sin? Then enter the Church and repent of your sin ... For here is the Physician, not the judge; here one is not investigated but receives remission of sins." +John Chrysostomos.
Finally, the idea that the priest is anything more than a witness on behalf of the Christian community is completely unknown to patristic authors and the notion that the priest in any way "absolves" the penitent is seen only in Russian Orthodoxy as a result of later Western influences on that particular church. Even there the notion is increasingly condemned, especially outside of Russia proper.
|1449 The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church:
Now my question as to why the Orthodox seems to be more lax in this area than the Roman church? Emphasis on Sacraments?
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 21: The Sacrament of Confirmation
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 22: The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion)
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 23: The Sacrifice of the Mass
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 24: The Sacrament of Penance (Confession)
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 25: How to go to Confession
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 26: Indulgences
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 27: The Sacrament of Extreme Unction
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 28: The Sacrament of Holy Orders (Priesthood)
A Brief Catechism for Adults - Lesson 29: The Nature of Marriage
“Now my question as to why the Orthodox seems to be more lax in this area than the Roman church?”
More lax? I understand that the Latin Church regularly distributes communion to people who have not been to confession. The Slavic Churches are very, very strict about this, especially the Russians. No confession, no communion.
Confession and Absolution
Individual or personal confession of sins is to be kept and used by us for the sake of the absolution, which is the word of forgiveness spoken by a fellow pastor as from God himself. Therefore, members will:
1. Learn and adopt the understanding and practice of Confession and Absolution as described in the Augsburg Confession (Article XI, XII, XXV), and the Small Catechism.
2. Seek out a trustworthy pastor who will be willing to serve as a confessor and who will be able to be available for one’s individual confession regularly and frequently.
3. Prepare to make individual confession by examining one’s personal life and relationship with God and others in the light of the Ten Commandments. Also helpful are the penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) and the Prayer of Manasseh in the Apocrypha.
4. In preparation for hearing the confession of others, make regular and frequent use of Confession and Absolution, keep confidences, so as to be worthy of the trust of others, read and reflect on the Holy Scriptures so as to provide a reservoir of passages with which to comfort consciences and strengthen the faith of penitents (see FC, SD XI.28-32).
5. Both as penitent and confessor, refrain from extraneous conversation so that attention is centered on the penitent’s confession of sins, the Absolution or forgiveness of sins, and the confessor’s use of Scripture passages which comfort the conscience and encourage faith in the Word of God which absolves; refrain from challenging or evaluating the confession; use the order of Confession and Absolution of the Small Catechism or that of the service books of the Church.
6. As absolved penitents, expect to be held accountable by the confessor for reconciliation with those whom we have offended and restoration of what we have taken or broken.
7. Confession and Absolution is a sacramental rite of the Church (AP XII.4) and therefore is normally conducted in church buildings where provision can be made for privacy and confidentiality.
Since Confession and Absolution has fallen into disuse among many of us, its restoration demands utmost care and concern for both penitent and confessor. Introduction to and initial use of Confession and Absolution may call for simply following the order of Confession and Absolution lest the penitent worry about a full enumeration of sins or the confessor about comforting and encouraging with passages of Scripture.
How Christians should be taught to confess.
What is Confession?*
Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these?
Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.
Pray, Propose to Me a Brief Form of Confession.
You should speak to the confessor thus: Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God’s sake.
I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess before you that I am a man-servant, a maidservant, etc. But, alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse, have been negligent [in many things] and permitted damage to be done; have also been immodest in words and deeds, have quarreled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc. For all this I am sorry, and pray for grace; I want to do better.
A master or mistress may say thus:
In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children, domestics, and wife [family] for God’s glory. I have cursed, set a bad example by rude words and deeds, have done my neighbor harm and spoken evil of him, have overcharged and given false ware and short measure.
And whatever else he has done against God’s command and his station, etc.
But if any one does not find himself burdened with such or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture, but mention one or two that he knows. Thus: In particular I confess that I once cursed; again, I once used improper words, I have once neglected this or that, etc. Let this suffice.
But if you know of none at all (which, however is scarcely possible), then mention none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon your general confession which you make before God to the confessor.
Then shall the confessor say:
God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.
Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?
Yes, dear sir.
Then let him say:
As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.
But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture. This is to be merely a general form of confession for the unlearned.
* These questions may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflect his teachings and were included in editions of the Small Catechism during his lifetime.