THE SACRAMENTS OF HEALING
Through the sacraments of Christian initiation,
man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life "in earthen
vessels," and it remains "hidden with Christ in God." We are still in
our "earthly tent," subject to suffering, illness, and death. This new
life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin.
The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our
souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him
to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power
of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own
members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament
of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE AND RECONCILIATION
"Those who approach the sacrament of Penance
obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and
are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded
by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for
WHAT IS THIS SACRAMENT CALLED?
It is called the sacrament of conversion because
it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step
in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance,
since it consecrates the Christian sinner's personal and ecclesial steps
of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
It is called the sacrament of confession,
since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential
element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession"
- acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness,
since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation,
because it imparts to the sinner the live of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled
to God." He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to
the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother."
WHY A SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION AFTER BAPTISM?
"YOU were washed, you were sanctified, you
were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of
our God." One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given
us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree
to which sin is excluded for him who has "put on Christ." But the apostle
John also says: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the
truth is not in us." And the Lord himself taught us to pray: "Forgive
us our trespasses," linking our forgiveness of one another's offenses
to the forgiveness of our sins that God will grant us.
Conversion to Christ, the new birth of
Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received
as food have made us "holy and without blemish," just as the Church herself,
the Bride of Christ, is "holy and without blemish." Nevertheless the
new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty
and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition
calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help
of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian
life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and
eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
THE CONVERSION OF THE BAPTIZED
Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an
essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: "The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."
In the Church's preaching this call is addressed first to those who do
not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place
for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel
and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is,
the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.
Christ's call to conversion continues to
resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted
task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at
once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly
the path of penance and renewal." This endeavor of conversion is not
just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and
moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.
St. Peter's conversion after he had denied
his master three times bears witness to this. Jesus' look of infinite mercy
drew tears of repentance from Peter and, after the Lord's resurrection,
a threefold affirmation of love for him. The second conversion also
has a communitarian dimension, as is clear in the Lord's call to a whole
St. Ambrose says of the two conversions
that, in the Church, "there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and
the tears of repentance."
Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like
that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth
and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart,
interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false;
however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures
and works of penance.
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation
of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an
end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions
we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution
to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of
his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and
sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit)
and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
The human heart is heavy and hardened.
God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of
the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself,
O LORD, that we may be restored!" God gives us the strength to begin
anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is
shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God
by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking
upon him whom our sins have pierced:
Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and
understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation
it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.
Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved
"the world wrong about sin," i.e., proved that the world has not believed
in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to
light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance
THE MANY FORMS OF PENANCE
IN CHRISTIAN LIFE
The interior penance of the Christian can
be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist
above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express
conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the
radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as
means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's
neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor,
the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers
a multitude of sins."
Conversion is accomplished in daily life
by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense
of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one's brethren,
fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual
direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake
of righteousness. Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is
the surest way of penance.
Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion
and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in
it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with
God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed
and strengthened. "It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and
to preserve us from mortal sins."
Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy
of the Hours and the Our Father - every sincere act of worship or devotion
revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes
to the forgiveness of our sins.
The seasons and days of penance in the
course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death
of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice.
These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential
liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such
as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary
The process of conversion and repentance
was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of
which is the merciful father: the fascination of illusory freedom,
the abandonment of the father's house; the extreme misery in which the
son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at
finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed
on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance
and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back;
the father's generous welcome; the father's joy - all these are characteristic
of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive
banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone
who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church.
Only the heart Of Christ Who knows the depths of his Father's love could
reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
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.
Only God forgives sin
Only God forgives sins. 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."
Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to
exercise in his name.
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."
The apostle is sent out "on behalf of Christ" with "God making his appeal"
through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God."
Reconciliation with the Church
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.
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."
"The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned
to the college of the apostles united to its head."
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
The sacrament of forgiveness
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."
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.
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.
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
THE ACTS OF THE PENITENT
"Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure
all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and
practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction."
Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies
first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the
sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again."
When it arises from a love by which God
is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of
charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness
of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental
confession as soon as possible.
The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition")
is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the
consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the
other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring
of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting
of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself
however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins,
but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.
The reception of this sacrament ought to
be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the
Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the moral
catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon
on the Mount and the apostolic teachings.
The confession of sins
The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even
from a simply human point of view, 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
Confession to a priest is an essential
part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after
a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in
confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against
the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound
the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed
When Christ's faithful strive to confess
all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them
before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly
withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through
the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to
show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not
According to the Church's command, "after
having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by
an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year."
Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy
Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first
received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving
Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession. Children
must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for
the first time.
Without being strictly necessary, confession
of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by
the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps
us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be
healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more
frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are
spurred to be merciful as he is merciful:
Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already
working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are
joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you
hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is
what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may
save what he has made .... When you begin to abhor what you have made,
it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself
of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil
works. You do the truth and come to the light.
Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do
what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods,
restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries).
Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner
himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution
takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused.
Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health
by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction
for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."
The penance the confessor imposes must
take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual
good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature
of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of
mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above
all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help
configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They
allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer
The satisfaction that we make for our
sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus
Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do
all things with the cooperation of "him who strengthens" us. Thus man has
nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom
we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance."
These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the
Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.
THE MINISTER OF THIS
Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the
ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests,
the bishops' collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed
bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the
power to forgive all sins "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit."
Forgiveness of sins brings reconciliation
with God, but also with the Church. Since ancient times the bishop, visible
head of a particular Church, has thus rightfully been considered to be
the one who principally has the power and ministry of reconciliation: he
is the moderator of the penitential discipline. Priests, his collaborators,
exercise it to the extent that they have received the commission either
from their bishop (or religious superior) or the Pope, according to the
law of the Church.
Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication,
the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of
the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for
which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law,
except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.
In danger of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing
confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication.
Priests must encourage the faithful to
come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to
celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it.
When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance,
the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the
lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who
awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just
and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest
is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner.
The confessor is not the master of God's
forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite
himself to the intention and charity of Christ. He should have a proven
knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and
sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful
to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward
healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent,
entrusting him to the Lord's mercy.
Given the delicacy and greatness of this
ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every
priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep
absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to
him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents'
lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the "sacramental
seal," because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed"
by the sacrament.
THE EFFECTS OF THIS
"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." Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect
of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with
contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed
by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation."
Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual
resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of
the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.
This sacrament reconciles us with the Church.
Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance
repairs or restores it. In this sense it does not simply heal the one restored
to ecclesial communion, but has also a revitalizing effect on the life
of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members. Re-established
or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger
by the exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the
Body of Christ, whether still on pilgrimage or already in the heavenly
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.
In this sacrament, the sinner, placing
himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way
the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life.
For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life
and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the
Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin. In converting to
Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life
and "does not come into judgment."
The doctrine and practice of indulgences in
the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.
What is an indulgence?
"An indulgence is a remission before God of
the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven,
which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed
conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption,
dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions
of Christ and the saints."
"An indulgence is partial or plenary according
as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin."
Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead.
The punishments of sin
To understand this doctrine and practice of
the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence.
Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable
of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment"
of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy
attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or
after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one
from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments
must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without,
but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds
from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner
in such a way that no punishment would remain.
The forgiveness of sin and restoration
of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of
sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings
and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death,
the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as
a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by
prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the
"old man" and to put on the "new man."
In the Communion of Saints
The Christian who seeks to purify himself
of his sin and to become holy with the help of God's grace is not alone.
"The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ and through Christ
in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the
supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical
In the communion of saints, "a perennial
link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their
heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those
who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant
exchange of all good things." In this wonderful exchange, the holiness
of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause
others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner
be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.
We also call these spiritual goods of the
communion of saints the Church's treasury, which is "not the sum total
of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries.
On the contrary the 'treasury of the Church' is the infinite value, which
can never be exhausted, which Christ's merits have before God. They were
offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain
communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions
and merits of his Redemption exist and find their effficacy."
"This treasury includes as well the prayers
and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable,
and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are
the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed
in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives
holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this
way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in
saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body."
Obtaining indulgence from God through the
An indulgence is obtained through the Church
who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ
Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them
the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the
Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their
sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these
Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.
Since the faithful departed now being purified
are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them
is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due
for their sins may be remitted.
OF THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical
action. The elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting
and blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the
conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance; the
confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known to the priest;
the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the priest's absolution; a
prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dismissal with the blessing of the
The Byzantine Liturgy recognizes several
formulas of absolution, in the form of invocation, which admirably express
the mystery of forgiveness: "May the same God, who through the Prophet
Nathan forgave David when he confessed his sins, who forgave Peter when
he wept bitterly, the prostitute when she washed his feet with her tears,
the Pharisee, and the prodigal son, through me, a sinner, forgive you both
in this life and in the next and enable you to appear before his awe-inspiring
tribunal without condemnation, he who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen."
The sacrament of Penance can also take
place in the framework of a communal celebration in which we prepare ourselves
together for confession and give thanks together for the forgiveness received.
Here, the personal confession of sins and individual absolution are inserted
into a liturgy of the word of God with readings and a homily, an examination
of conscience conducted in common, a communal request for forgiveness,
the Our Father and a thanksgiving in common. This communal celebration
expresses more clearly the ecclesial character of penance. However, regardless
of its manner of celebration the sacrament of Penance is always, by its
very nature, a liturgical action, and therefore an ecclesial and public
In case of grave necessity recourse may
be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession
and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there
is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests
to hear each penitent's confession. Grave necessity can also exist when,
given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear
individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents
through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or
Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be
valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their
sins in the time required. The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether
or not the conditions required for general absolution exist. A large
gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages
does not constitute a case of grave necessity.
"Individual, integral confession and absolution
remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with
God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from
this kind of confession." There are profound reasons for this. Christ
is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner:
"My son, your sins are forgiven." He is the physician tending each
one of the sick who need him to cure them. He raises them up and reintegrates
them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most
expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church.
"On the evening of that day, the first day
of the week," Jesus showed himself to his apostles. "He breathed on them,
and said to them: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of
any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained"'
(Jn 20:19, 22-23).
The forgiveness of sins committed after
Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament called the sacrament of
conversion, confession, penance, or reconciliation.
The sinner wounds God's honor and love,
his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual
well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living
To the eyes of faith no evil is graver
than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for
the Church, and for the whole world.
To return to communion with God after having
lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in
mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious
gift for oneself and for others.
The movement of return to God, called conversion
and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and
the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the
past and the future and is nourished by hope in God's mercy.
The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting
in three actions of the penitent and the priest's absolution. The penitent's
acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and
the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.
Repentance (also called contrition) must
be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from
love of charity for God, it is called "perfect" contrition; if it is founded
on other motives, it is called "imperfect."
One who desires to obtain reconciliation
with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed
grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience.
The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is
nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.
The confessor proposes the performance
of certain acts of "satisfaction" or "penance" to be performed by the penitent
in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting
a disciple of Christ.
Only priests who have received the faculty
of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name
The spiritual effects of the sacrament
of Penance are:
reconciliation with God by which the penitent
reconciliation with the Church;
remission of the eternal punishment incurred
by mortal sins;
remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments
resulting from sin;
peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual
an increase of spiritual strength for the
Individual and integral confession
of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of
reconciliation with God and with the Church.
Through indulgences the faithful can obtain
the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves
and also for the souls in Purgatory.