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, even though we are reconciled with the Church which we wound by our sins.
Many Catholics treasure the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it restores peace of mind and soul, and ensures harmony with God, the state of grace, lost by mortal sin. Catholics are not regularly seeking the sacrament, though many priests believe that the peace of Reconciliation would diminish significantly the number of visits to psychoanalysts and psychiatrists. Catholics in the state of grace should also receive the sacrament for pardon of venial sins and concession of additional graces.
Penance comprises four distinct parts:
•Contrition means that we are sorry for our sins, and we intend to try to do better.
•Confession is the act of stating our sins to a priest. It is always required with mortal sins, but it is also a good and pious practice with venial sins.
•Satisfaction or penance consists of prayers or particular actions the priest assigns to us to show our sorrow, and to make some amends for our actions.
•Absolution – the words Jesus Christ speaks to us, through the priest – freeing us from our sins.
Christ redeemed man from sin and its consequences by His death on the Cross. Hence, it is not surprising that on the very day of His Resurrection, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Penance on Easter Sunday night 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 the following 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 partially, of temporal punishment resulting from sin.
•We receive peace and serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation.
•There is an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
Christ incarnated to save everybody from the beginning till the end of the world, and instituted a sacrament for those who might relapse into sin to restore the state of grace. The power to absolve sins is a part of the priesthood and is passed on through generations in the sacrament of Holy Orders. 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 restoring sanctifying grace if the penitent has committed a leathal sin, and imparting an increase in sanctifying grace when the penitent receives the sacrament without any mortal sin. Any venial sins which the penitent may have committed and for which he is truly sorry are also forgiven. Venial sins do not cut us off from God but still hinder the flow of His grace to the soul.
Reconciliation prevents eternal damnation and curtails temporal punishment, the debt of satisfaction the penitent owes to God even after the absolution to repair the damage caused by sin. We pay the debt in this life through prayers, penances, and other good works performed in the state of grace, or we shall have to pay the debt in Purgatory. It is this debt which the sacrament of Reconciliation partially reduces in direct proportion to the degree of our sorrow. The Church recommends frequent Confession, at least an annual Confession and acts of contrition preferably during Lent.