Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

June 25, 2008

Why do Catholics go to Confession? Shouldn’t we just confess our sin to God? Who is the priest that I should tell him my sins?

 

Well…. I’m going to make an attempt to explain it as I understand it. As with all these issues, I know I don’t have all the answers. I just do my best to understand. I don’t mean to be an overly aggressive Catholic on a Protestant campus, but it’s important that the explanations get out there. I can’t promise it’ll be articulate, but here it goes. (Oh, and special thanks to Kate Stieber for bringing this to mind!)

 

In John 20: 21-23, Christ gives instruction regarding confession of sins when He appeared to the Twelve after His resurrection. He said to them,

 

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

When Jesus gives His disciples the Holy Spirit, He actually ordains them as His representatives on earth. This could also be considered the institution of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Jesus gives His disciples their job in spreading the Kingdom and instructs them as to what that job entails. One aspect of this job is the forgiveness of sins… entirely through the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Scripture says,

 

 “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”

 

In Matthew 16:19, Christ gives Peter the “keys” to the Kingdom of Heaven and He gives the same instruction to the rest of the apostles later in Matthew. Jesus gave the apostles the Holy Spirit as the source of their authority to forgive sins in Jesus name. It is true that Jesus commanded all of His followers to forgive one another when someone sinned against them but Jesus gave the apostles a special authority to “bind and loose” or forgive anyone’s sins in God’s name.

 

Understanding Apostolic Succession is the key to fully understanding the priest’s role who acts in “Persona Christi” or the person of Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that priests and deacons are offered sufficient grace to become Christ’s representative on earth in their role as priest or deacon. Therefore, when we confess our sins in the confessional, we are confessing to God and acknowledging the truth of the incarnation. There, we recognize the realness of Christ’s humanity and humble ourselves in the presence of God. This “ordination” is also involved in how we approach the consecration of the Eucharist (as well as the other sacraments). In the Consecration of the Eucharist, God sends His Holy Spirit to work through the priest, who He has chosen and ordained.

 

When asked about confession, the first reference that came to mind was James 5:16:

 

”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

The act of confession is humbling to us because in confession we are forced to admit our sins and recognize God’s saving power.

 

Theologian Dr. Alan Shreck put it like this,

 

 “Some questions about the sacrament of reconciliation frequently arise. One is simply, why is this sacrament necessary? Why not confess your sins directly to God? Why go to a priest or any human being?….. Certainly it is appropriate and even necessary to repent directly before God for one’s sins. In fact, when Catholics participate in this sacrament they are primarily expressing their repentance and sorrow for sin to God and seeking to be reconciled to Him. However, Catholics believe that Jesus had a purpose in granting particular persons the authority to forgive sins in Gods name… First, it is another aspect of God’s “incarnational” way of relating to mankind; using human beings to continue His work on earth is part of the way God works. When our sins are forgiven by one who has been set apart by the church to represent Jesus Christ, we can experience the mercy of Jesus through that person…. Secondly, confessing sins to a person reminds us of the social dimension of sin. When someone sins, he not only offends God, but his sin also has an effect, either direct or indirect, on other people. The priest who grants God’s forgiveness not only represents Jesus Christ but also the whole Christian community, the church. Hence, the priest also has the authority to reconcile the sinner to the body of Christ, the church….Thirdly, the priest or minister is often able to counsel and encourage the penitent, or even pray with the penitent for healing of some area of sin or brokenness in the person’s life. Jesus often uses His representative, the priest, to minister to the needs of people in remarkable ways through the sacrament of reconciliation”

 

I hope this is somewhat coherent!

 

I encourage comments! Loving dialogue is good! 🙂

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