Confession – Is It Still Necessary?

One of the harsh realities facing the Catholic Church is the fact that many of her members no longer receive the sacrament of Confession on a regular basis. For one reason or another, many Catholics don’t feel the need to go to Confession. Let’s look at some of the common objections and discuss why the sacrament of Confession is still as relevant today as it was when Jesus instituted it 2000 years ago.

“I confess my sins directly to Christ. Why do I need to go through a ‘middle man’?” This may come as a surprise to some, but the Church teaches that when you go to Confession, you are speaking directly to Jesus. Why the need for a priest? For one thing, that’s how the Lord designed the sacrament. In John 20:21-23, Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Careful observation of Jesus’ words will show that while He is giving the Apostles the ability to forgive sins, they are also receiving the authority to make a judgment. There are certain cases where absolution may be denied and that decision would be impossible without knowing the details of the offense. Therefore, verbal confession of sins is necessary. Another very logical argument for confessing your sins to another individual is that we tend to be very lenient with ourselves. Jesus was well aware of our human nature when He instituted the sacrament of Confession. Verbalizing your sins to another individual requires a much greater level of humility than confessing them in your own mind. Throughout the gospels, Our Lord stressed the importance of humility for His followers and this is one more way to practice that virtue.

“Jesus only gave that authority to His Apostles. It doesn’t apply to priests!” The Church teaches that the authority granted by Jesus to the original Apostles is passed down to their successors, the bishops. This is known as Apostolic Succession. Due to the large number of Catholics in the world today, it would be impossible for the bishops to carry out their ministry effectively without help. For that reason, they are assisted in their mission by priests. In order to effectively assist the bishops, the authority to forgive or retain sins is also extended to priests.

“The Church teaches that it’s acceptable to’ follow your conscience’ and I don’t feel that (artificial birth control, missing Mass, premarital sex, in-vitro fertilization, etc.) is a sin.” Using this logic can justify any action and seemingly eliminate the need for the sacrament of Confession. While the Church does teach that we should follow our conscience, she also instructs that we must continually inform that conscience by studying Church teaching. The human conscience can be defective, as evidenced by individuals such as Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein, who believed that their evil actions were morally justified.

“I thought that the Church did away with mortal sin. Didn’t Vatican II state that nobody goes to Hell anymore?” Sadly, this is a very popular belief, even among Catholics. Just for the record, the Church teaching on mortal (or grave) sin has not changed. There are some sins that render us incapable of eternal life and their intentional commission warrants the punishment of Hell. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (CCC 1033)

While the above quotation may frighten some, the good news is that all of our sins (mortal and venial) can be forgiven in the sacrament of Confession. We need only express sorrow for our sins and vow to refrain from committing them again. If we fail, there is no limit to the number of times we can seek forgiveness in the sacrament. God knows that human nature is weak and only asks that we try our best to avoid sin.

“You only have to go to Confession if you’ve committed a mortal sin.” While this is technically a true statement, there is much grace to be obtained even when only venial sins are committed:

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. (CCC 1458)

For many years, I neglected this great sacrament. I would go two or three times a year, mainly out of habit. I confessed the same sins each time, carefully avoiding any that were too controversial. My spiritual life was stuck in a rut and I wasn’t making any substantial progress in avoiding sin. One day I heard something that changed my life: I learned that the pope went to Confession weekly! Realizing that I didn’t understand the power of the sacrament, I decided that I would start confessing my sins bi-weekly. The results were incredible…For the first time in my life, I started making progress in avoiding my “favorite” sins. The sacramental grace received in Confession was helping me to become a better person!

If it’s been a while since you’ve gone to Confession, I urge you to do as soon as possible. If you’re not sure what to say, simply ask the priest and he will guide you. If you’re concerned that the priest will reveal your sins to others, rest assured that he will not. He is forbidden (under threat of automatic excommunication) from revealing or making any use of any information heard in the confessional. If you’ve been carrying around guilt for a long time and wondering if God can ever forgive you…Hearing these words of absolution will assure you that God has indeed forgiven your sins!

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.

By

Gary Zimak is a full time Catholic lay evangelist and the founder of Following The Truth (http://www.followingthetruth.com), a lay apostolate dedicated to teaching the truths of the Catholic Faith. He is the author of the soon to be released “A Worrier’s Guide To The Bible (50 Verses To Ease Anxieties)” from Liguori Publications. In addition, Gary is available for speaking engagements and parish missions, blogs frequently at FollowingTheTruth.com and hosts a daily radio show on BlogTalkRadio. He is a regular guest on EWTN Radio’s “Son Rise Morning Show”, “Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo” and Relevant Radio’s “Morning Air” and appears frequently on numerous other Catholic radio shows. Gary is a member of Catholics United for the Faith, the Knights of Columbus and The Catholic Radio Association. He resides in New Jersey with his wife Eileen and twin daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. They are actively involved in Sacred Heart Parish in Riverton, NJ.

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  • stutmann9

    Did everyone know that the Blessed Virgin Mary promised to assist at the hour of death with graces necessary for salvation any and all who would embrace the practice of the Five First Saturdays? See below:

    “Behold my heart surrounded with the thorns which ungrateful men place therein at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude.

    You at least try to console me. Announce in my name that I promise to help at the hour of death, with the graces needed for salvation, whoever on the First Saturday of five consecutive months shall:

    1 confess and receive Holy Communion;

    2 recite five decades of the Rosary;

    3 and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.

    Investigate for yourself!

    http://www.theworkofgod.org/Aparitns/fatima/5firstsa.htm

  • Warren Jewell

    Confession also reminds us that the way to perdition is the easy, wide road six-lane interstate. The way of the Lord, is Jesus Christ, and He is the Way that is like the simple, ancient but reliable dirt back-road, difficult to find and upon which to maintain one’s progress. Jesus Christ made this clear:
    “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few”. (Matthew 7:13:14)
    Then again, this and every Sacrament reminds as well that Jesus Christ loves life passionately, loves so well as to die the one sacrifice to save us, and rose again to our inexpressible joy that we have Him now and can have Him forever.

    I find that I need realistic and moral examination of conscience, humble repentance, the ‘cloister’ of the confessional, the listening, counseling (at times, even chastising) ministerial priest and Christ’s perfect attention and loving absolution only like I need breathing. Well, maybe I need breathing only in so far as it gets me to confession.

    Lack of serious catechesis on Penance leads to this self-justifying, self-centered, self-absolving ‘self’ catechesis. And, maybe the serious, true catechesis should reflect on similarity to Purgatory – entered soiled, exited clean and fresh and moving toward pure virtue. That, and the simple joy and peace that comes from “Those sins? Jesus just forgot them!” Confession makes me a new man.

  • caffeinepatrol

    What pains me is, if the Church still considers confession to be so important (I do), then why do so many parishes offer it for one hour a week or by appointment? Even with that, I’ve been turned away more than once when the priest ran out of time. I do not exaggerate here: once during Advent, the priest ran short of time and I asked if he could hear my confession after Mass. He said, I’m sorry, I have to go to a party. That stung me to the heart. I could tell he felt bad after he said it, and he agreed to hear my confession when I assured him it would be brief.
    I don’t know if it’s chicken or the egg, but if the Church wants a new emphasis on the importance of Confession, it seems to me that it should be offered more frequently. Offering by appointment also takes away from anonymity for those who prefer it. I know we have a shortage of priests and many of the ones we have are short on time, but ten or fifteen minutes after daily Mass doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

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