In the sacrament of Penance, Confession or Reconciliation, the priest, as the agent of God, absolves sins committed after Baptism, when a sinner is heartily sorry for them, sincerely confesses them, and is willing to make satisfaction for them. Catholics generally consider Confession a private event of personal Grace, though we are reconciled with the Church which we wound by our sins.
Many Catholics treasure the Confession, because it concedes spiritual peace to the penitent mind and soul and ensures harmony with God — the state of grace — lost by mortal sin. Catholics are not seeking the sacrament, though many priests believe the peace of Reconciliation would diminish the number of visits to psychoanalysts and psychiatrists. Catholics in the state of grace should receive the sacrament for pardon of venial sins and additional graces.
Penance comprises four parts:
•Contrition means we are sorry for our sins, and we intend to behave better.
•Confession is the act of stating our sins to a priest. It is always required with mortal sins, and it is a good and pious practice with venial sins.
•Satisfaction or penance consists of prayers or actions the confessor assigns us to show our sorrow, and to make some amends for our actions.
•Absolution — the words Jesus Christ speaks through the priest — to free us from sin.
Jesus instituted Penance on the day of His Resurrection when He appeared to His apostles. Breathing on them, he said: “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)
Only priests and bishops can administer Reconciliation, which has six effects:
•We are reconciled with God and restored to grace.
•We are reconciled with the Church.
•We receive remission of eternal punishment incurred by mortal sin.
•We receive remission, at least partial, of temporal punishment resulting from sin.
•We receive peace and serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation.
•We receive spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
Christ instituted Penance to restore the state of grace received at Baptism, and the power to absolve belongs to the priesthood. A priest absolves when he raises his hand over a contrite sinner and says: “I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Reconciliation reunites the soul to God, restores sanctifying grace if the penitent has committed a lethal sin, and grants sanctifying grace when the penitent is in the state of grace. Any venial sins which the penitent may have committed and for which he is truly sorry is forgiven. Venial sins do not separate us from God, but hinder the flow of divine grace.
Reconciliation prevents eternal damnation and reduces temporal punishment, the debt with God after the absolution. We pay the debt in this life through prayer, penance, and other good works performed in the state of grace, or in Purgatory after death. The Church recommends frequent Confession, at least annually, and acts of contrition during Lent.