The Sacrament of Reconciliation Is the Fulfillment of the Day of Atonement

Last month, our Jewish Brethren solemnly celebrated Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement, to atone for their sins as prescribed by God in the Book of Leviticus. As is the case with many events, people, and things contained in the Old Testament, Yom Kippur prefigures a more meaningful form of atonement which Jesus would institute on Easter Sunday evening. Jesus would elevate this form of atonement to a sacrament. Namely, the great Sacrament of Reconciliation.

But before that happened, and in order to better prepare the people for this great sacrament, God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s mission was to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Not that John’s baptism had the power to forgive sins any more than a Day of Atonement did for the Jewish people, then or now. Though these actions were a necessary means of preparing hearts and minds, atoning and repenting are actions taken by the penitent not by God.

However, on the evening of that first Easter that all changed when our Risen Lord appeared to his disciples, though the doors were locked, and said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he 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.”

What incredible gifts Jesus bestowed upon his Church on the very day of his Resurrection! The gifts of the holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and the inauguration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation by which his Apostles are given delegated authority to forgive penitents their sins! In this extraordinary encounter, Jesus bestows on his Apostles that which he affirmatively proved, to the Pharisees and teachers of the law of Israel, he himself had authority to do, namely, to forgive sins.

Recall the story in Luke’s Gospel of the healing of the paralytic.  “Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there having come from every village of Galilee and Judea, and Jerusalem.” Jesus said to those in attendance “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the man who was paralyzed, I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” And the man immediately stood up, picked up his mat and went home, glorifying God.

Why do you suppose so many Pharisees and teachers of the law were present that day to observe Jesus? It was, in all likelihood, his healing of a leper. Prior to that healing, no Israelite had been cured of leprosy since they entered the Promised Land, some thirteen hundred years prior. That healing was the first of three Messianic miracles the Jewish rabbis had taught, for nearly a hundred years to that point, only the Messiah would accomplish. Jesus would go on to perform all three! But I’ll save that topic for another article!

Both, the proof and the subsquent delegation of his authority, are explicitly revealed in the gospels to make it abundantly clear that his Church has the authority to forgive sins.

Jesus gave this authority to forgive sins, not only to his Apostles but, by extension, to the bishops and priests of his Church as well. Christ gave his Church, a Church he himself founded, the means to provide his disciples with the sanctifying grace necessary for them to successfully traverse this “valley of tears”. And not just then, but for his disciples of all times!

The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. For nine strong proofs of this reality, I refer you to my article entitled “Nine Proofs of the True Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament”. And just as the manna from heaven physically nourished the Israelites on the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Eucharist spiritually nourishes us for our journey through life, to the new Promised Land, we call heaven!

Sanctifying grace is bestowed upon his disciples through the administration of the seven sacraments of the Church which Christ himself instituted. Two of these sacraments are administered just once. They are baptism and confirmation.

Three sacraments; holy orders, holy matrimony, and the anointing of the sick are intended to be granted to the recipient infrequently. You may ask, when are these sacraments repeated? In the case of holy orders, only when a man advances to a higher clerical office of priest and bishop. For holy matrimony, only after a spouse has died may the surviving spouse enter holy matrimony a second time. And in the case of the anointing of the sick, whenever circumstances of ill health or a serious health condition exist.

But the remaining two sacraments, the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are offered to the faithful as frequently as every day. Now here’s an interesting observation about these two sacraments. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday evening, at the very beginning of the Easter Triduum, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Easter Sunday evening, at the very end of the Easter Triduum! The institution of these two sacraments serves as bookends to his passion, death, and resurrection.

This cannot be a coincidence. The two most frequently received sacraments are intricately interwoven into the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection!

The Eucharist is truly Jesus, while only under the appearance of bread. Thus, we need to be free of serious sin in order to receive him in this sacrament. Which is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is intrinsically linked to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

In order to be spiritually nourished for this journey, we need to be in union with God and that union is broken whenever we commit a serious sin. If someone is not in the state of grace for having committed a serious sin, they should abstain from the reception of holy communion.

To reestablish that union with God and hence return to the reception of holy communion, it is necessary for a penitent to ask for forgiveness of that sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To be absolved of that sin, the penitent must exhibit a contrition for having committed the sin, as well as a firm purpose to amend one’s life so as to avoid such a sin in the future. This is accomplished when the penitent recites the act of contrition.

Those beautiful words that the priest states after the penitent confesses his sins, are truly soothing to the soul. They are “And by the ministry of his Church I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.”

While confessing serious sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is essential to obtaining forgiveness of those sins, the sacraments including this one, also bestow sanctifying grace on all who receive them. Sanctifying grace strengthens the soul for the journey through life and feeds the soul with a desire to draw ever closer to Almighty God!

Sadly, there are many today who confuse a God of Mercy with a “god” of license. They mistakenly believe they can do whatever they desire without eternal consequences on the belief that God is all merciful.

 Indeed, God is all merciful. But they fail to realize that mercy and justice are in harmony with one another, and are not mutually exclusive. God is all merciful, but God is also all just! A “god” of license is a “god” who is indifferent to justice, which is non-biblical and based upon a lie! It is principally the result of this flawed reasoning, that so many do not avail themselves of this great sacrament of forgiveness! The Sacrament of Reconciliation not only reconciles the penitent with God; but also serves to reconcile God’s Mercy with his Justice!

Jesus spoke to St. Faustina, in private revelations that took place in the 1930’s, revealing his great Mercy. In these revelations, he spoke to St. Faustina about the Mercy of God on numerous occasions, and did so frequently in reference to this necessary and extraordinary Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The following are five quotes of Jesus, recorded by St. Faustina in the “Diary of Divine Mercy”. This diary became a published book to fulfill what Jesus desired Faustina to make known to the whole world, namely his Divine Mercy. The following quotes of Jesus reveal the essential and effective nature of this great sacrament:

  • “In the tribunal of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation the greatest miracles take place and are incessantly repeated”
  • “I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest. I Myself act in your soul.”
  • “When you go to confession, to this fountain of Mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul.”
  • “Were a soul like a decaying corpse, so that from a human standpoint, there would be no hope of restoration, and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy!”
  • “Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy.”

What more needs to be said? Don’t delay. Avail yourself of the only means of attaining true atonement and forgiveness of your sins in the tribunal of His Mercy, the great Sacrament of Reconciliation! If but one person, just one, returns to God in this great sacrament by being moved by what they have read in this article it will have served its purpose! Might you be that person…

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash


"Deacon Frank" is a permanent deacon in the United States. He is involved in the Eucharistic Revival.

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