Priestly Confession

© Copyright 2002 Grace D. MacKinnon

This article taken from the book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith, coming in March 2003 from Our Sunday Visitor. Order online by e-mail at or call 1-800-348-2440. Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit Grace online at

It seems, due to ever-shortening confession lines, that many Catholics today do not have a clear understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is still most often referred to as “Confession.” Why do Catholics “go to confession”? Quite simply, we do so because Jesus told us to. When Jesus Christ walked on this earth, He knew that one day He would ascend to heaven when His mission was completed. He also knew that because our human nature has been wounded (not destroyed) by the original sin of the first man, Adam, we would always be in need of forgiveness from God for our offenses against Him.

Yes, Baptism washes away original sin, but not the tendency towards sin. If we have trouble understanding this tendency, all we must do is look at ourselves. Are we perfect? Are we not often drawn to do what is wrong? This is precisely why we have been given the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

All of His life, Jesus offered mercy and forgiveness to a sinful humanity. He healed people and forgave them their sins, calling on them to “reform your lives and believe in the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15). Because He established a Church on earth to carry on His work (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit), one of the main tasks of that Church, if it is to be true to Him, is to continue the reconciliation of sinners to God.

How were we to obtain forgiveness of sins after Jesus returned to heaven? Why would He appoint men (the apostles and their successors in the priesthood) to carry on this work? There are many who insist they do not need a priest. They believe they can confess directly to God. But to say that is to ignore the specific instructions Christ gave to the apostles and to those who would take their place. There can be no mistake about the intentions of Jesus on this matter.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is referred to as Christ’s “Easter Gift” because that is precisely when He gave it to us. On that Sunday, the day of His glorious Resurrection, He appeared to His apostles as they were gathered behind locked doors, afraid of what might happen to them if anyone knew they were followers of Jesus. He said to them, “Peace be with you,” and then said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:19-23).

Jesus wanted not only the people of His day to receive forgiveness of sins; He wanted all people throughout the ages to receive it. This was the purpose of His life. These are Jesus’ words! He is the one who said we should do it this way!

It is true that priests are human beings and sinners themselves, as we all are, but Jesus Christ Himself, who was God, delegated to them the power to forgive sins in His name. When we confess our sins to a priest, we must remember that he stands there in place of Christ (in Persona Christi) and our forgiveness comes from Christ. Let us also not forget that, like every one of the seven sacraments given to us by Jesus, we receive grace in the sacrament of Reconciliation, grace which leads to holiness. So we not only are forgiven, but we also receive the gift of God’s grace to help us turn away from sin in the future. God, who made each and every one of us, knows exactly what we need. Can anyone afford to turn down this free gift from Him? If we were to receive it more often we would experience a peace and joy unlike we have never known.

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