Thursday, March 16, 2006
The Necessity of Confession

Through the life-giving, seven Sacraments, the Church continues to bring the love of Jesus Christ to all mankind. The priests of the Holy Catholic Church have the unique ability to forgive sins because Our Lord Jesus Christ gave them the ability. In the three years that the disciples journeyed with Jesus in His public life, He taught them the Truth and the Faith. Our Lord gave His disciples "power and authority" (Luke 9:1), and later, He gave them the unique power to forgive sins (John 20:21-23).
"[Jesus] said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:21-23)
In those words, Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of Confession (Sacrament of Penance). These words of Our Lord were not a symbolic act but one of true and lasting importance. Truly, by these words, the Sacrament of Penance was instituted (Lamentabili Sane 47; Council of Trent, Session Fourteen, Canons 1-15).

In the Holy Scriptures, the only other reference to God breathing upon someone is recorded in Genesis 2:7, when God breathed upon Adam and gave him life. In John 20:21-23 we understand that God is truly giving the eleven apostles this profound ability to forgive sins just as He truly gave Adam the unique gift of life.

Some people ask, "Just because God gave the apostles the power doesn't mean that this is the only way to have our sins forgiven." While on this Earth, Jesus would go through the streets of Jerusalem and heal and forgive those that desired forgiveness. But today Jesus is not walking in the streets. After Our Lord's Resurrection, He gave the apostles the duty to go forth and forgive sins; He never told anyone to pray to Him for forgiveness. Rather, He told the disciples to forgive the sins of penitents. Today our priests and bishops, successors of the apostles, continue to forgive our sins by the power of God.

At the Fourteenth Session of the Council of Trent in 1551 AD, the Holy Church declared the following:

Canons Concerning The Most Holy Sacrament Of Penance

Canon 1. If anyone says that in the Catholic Church penance is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ the Lord for reconciling the faithful of God as often as they fall into sin after baptism, let him be anathema.

Canon 2. If anyone, confounding the sacraments, says that baptism is itself the sacrament of penance, as though these two sacraments were not distinct, and that penance therefore is not rightly called a second plank after shipwreck, let him be anathema.

Canon 3. If anyone says that those words of the Lord Savior, are not to be understood of the power of forgiving and retaining sins in the sacrament of penance, as the Catholic Church has always understood them from the beginning, but distorts them, contrary to the institution of this sacrament, as applying to the authority of preaching the Gospel, let him be anathema.

Canon 4. If anyone denies that for the full and perfect remission of sins three acts are required on the part of the penitent, constituting as it were the matter of the sacrament of penance, namely, contrition, confession and satisfaction, which are called the three parts of penance; or says that there are only two parts of penance, namely, the terrors of a smitten conscience convinced of sin and the faith received from the Gospel or from absolution, by which one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ, let him be anathema.

Canon 5. If anyone says that the contrition which is evoked by examination, recollection and hatred of sins, whereby one recounts his years in the bitterness of his soul, by reflecting on the grievousness, the multitude, the baseness of his sins, the loss of eternal happiness and the incurring of eternal damnation, with a purpose of amendment, is not a true and beneficial sorrow, does not prepare for grace, but makes a man a hypocrite and a greater sinner; finally, that this sorrow is forced and not free and voluntary, let him be anathema.

Canon 6. If anyone denies that sacramental confession was instituted by divine law or is necessary to salvation; or says that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Catholic Church has always observed from the beginning and still observes, is at variance with the institution and command of Christ and is a human contrivance, let him be anathema.

Canon 7. If anyone says that in the sacrament of penance it is not required by divine law for the remission of sins to confess each and all mortal sins which are recalled after a due and diligent examination, also secret ones and those that are a violation of the two last commandments of the Decalogue, as also the circumstances that change the nature of a sin, but that this confession is useful only to instruct and console the penitent and in olden times was observed only to impose a canonical satisfaction; or says that they who strive to confess all sins wish to leave nothing to the divine mercy to pardon; or finally, that it is not lawful to confess venial sins, let him be anathema.

Canon 8. If anyone says that the confession of all sins as it is observed in the Church is impossible and is a human tradition to be abolished by pious people; or that each and all of the faithful of Christ of either sex are not bound thereto once a year in accordance with the constitution of the great Lateran Council and that for this reason the faithful of Christ are to be persuaded not to confess during Lent, let him be anathema.

Canon 9. If anyone says that the sacramental absolution of the priest is not a judicial act but a mere service of pronouncing and declaring to him who confesses that the sins are forgiven, provided only he believes himself to be absolved, even though the priest absolves not in earnest but only in jest; or says that the confession of the penitent is not necessary in order that the priest may be able to absolve him, let him be anathema.

Canon 10. If anyone says that priests who are in mortal sin have not the power of binding and loosing, or that not only priests are the ministers of absolution but that to each and all of the faithful of Christ was it said: by virtue of which words everyone can absolve from sins, from public sins by reproof only, provided the one reproved accept correction, and from secret sins by voluntary confession, let him be anathema.

Canon 11. If anyone says that bishops have not the right to reserve cases to themselves except such as pertain to external administration, and that therefore the reservation of cases does not hinder a priest from absolving from reserved cases, let him be anathema.

Canon 12. If anyone says that God always pardons the whole penalty together with the guilt and that the satisfaction of penitents is nothing else than the faith by which they perceive that Christ has satisfied for them, let him be anathema.

Canon 13. If anyone says that satisfaction for sins, as to their temporal punishment, is in no way made to God through the merits of Christ by the punishments inflicted by Him and patiently borne, or by those imposed by the priest, or even those voluntarily undertaken, as by fasts, prayers, almsgiving or other works of piety, and that therefore the best penance is merely a new life, let him be anathema.

Canon 14. If anyone says that the satisfactions by which penitents atone for their sins through Christ are not a worship of God but traditions of men, which obscure the doctrine of grace and the true worship of God and the beneficence itself of the death of Christ, let him be anathema.

Canon 15. If anyone says that the keys have been given to the Church only to loose and not also to bind, and that therefore priests, when imposing penalties on those who confess, act contrary to the purpose of the keys and to the institution of Christ, and that it is a fiction that there remains often a temporal punishment to be discharged after the eternal punishment has by virtue of the keys been removed, let him be anathema.

Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 776. What is Confession?

A. Confession is the telling of our sins to a duly authorized priest, for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness.

Q. 777. Who is a duly authorized priest?

A. A duly authorized priest is one sent to hear confessions by the lawful bishop of the diocese in which we are at the time of our confession.

Q. 778. Is it ever allowed to write our sins and read them to the priest in the confessional or give them to him to read?

A. It is allowed, when necessary, to write our sins and read them to the priest, as persons do who have almost entirely lost their memory. It is also allowed to give the paper to the priest, as persons do who have lost the use of their speech. In such cases the paper must, after the confession, be carefully destroyed either by the priest or the penitent.

Q. 779. What is to be done when persons must make their confession and cannot find a priest who understands their language?

A. Persons who must make their confession and who cannot find a priest who understands their language, must confess as best they can by some signs, showing what sins they wish to confess and how they are sorry for them.

Q. 780. What sins are we bound to confess?

A. We are bound to confess all our mortal sins, but it is well also to confess our venial sins.

Q. 783. Should a person stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to confess ?

A. A person should not stay from confession because he thinks he has no sin to confess, for the Sacrament of Penance, besides forgiving sin, gives an increase of sanctifying grace, and of this we have always need, especially to resist temptation. The Saints, who were almost without imperfection, went to confession frequently.

Q. 785. Which are the chief qualities of a good Confession?

A. The chief qualities of a good Confession are three: it must be humble, sincere, and entire.

Q. 786. When is our Confession humble?

A. Our Confession is humble when we accuse ourselves of our sins, with a deep sense of shame and sorrow for having offended God.

Q. 787. When is our Confession sincere?

A. Our Confession is sincere when we tell our sins honestly and truthfully, neither exaggerating nor excusing them.

Q. 788. Why is it wrong to accuse ourselves of sins we have not committed?

A. It is wrong to accuse ourselves of sins we have not committed, because, by our so doing, the priest cannot know the true state of our souls, as he must do before giving us absolution.

Q. 789. When is our Confession entire?

A. Our Confession is entire when we tell the number and kinds of our sins and the circumstances which change their nature.

Q. 790. What do you mean by the "kinds of sin?"

A. By the "kinds of sin," we mean the particular division or class to which the sins belong; that is, whether they be sins of blasphemy, disobedience, anger, impurity, dishonesty, etc. We can determine the kind of sin by discovering the commandment or precept of the Church we have broken or the virtue against which we have acted.

Q. 791. What do we mean by "circumstances which change the nature of sins?"

A. By "circumstances which change the nature of sins" we mean anything that makes it another kind of sin. Thus to steal is a sin, but to steal from the Church makes our theft sacrilegious. Again, impure actions are sins, but a person must say whether they were committed alone or with others, with relatives or strangers, with persons married or single, etc., because these circumstances change them from one kind of impurity to another.

Q. 792. What should we do if we cannot remember the number of our sins?

A. If we cannot remember the number of our sins, we should tell the number as nearly as possible, and say how often we may have sinned in a day, a week, or a month, and how long the habit or practice has lasted.

Q. 793. Is our Confession worthy if, without our fault, we forget to confess a mortal sin?

A. If without our fault we forget to confess a mortal sin, our Confession is worthy, and the sin is forgiven; but it must be told in Confession if it again comes to our mind.

Q. 795. Is it a grievous offense willfully to conceal a mortal sin in Confession?

A. It is a grievous offense willfully to conceal a mortal sin in Confession, because we thereby tell a lie to the Holy Ghost, and make our Confession worthless.

Q. 796. How is concealing a sin telling a lie to the Holy Ghost?

A. Concealing a sin is telling a lie to the Holy Ghost, because he who conceals the sin declares in confession to God and the priest that he committed no sins but what he has confessed, while the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, saw him committing the sin he now conceals and still sees it in his soul while he denies it.

Q. 797. Why is it foolish to conceal sins in confession?

A. It is foolish to conceal sins in confession:

1. Because we thereby make our spiritual condition worse;
2. We must tell the sin sometime if we ever hope to be saved;
3. It will be made known on the day of judgment, before the world, whether we conceal it now or confess it.

Q. 798. What must he do who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in Confession?

A. He who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in Confession must not only confess it, but must also repeat all the sins he has committed since his last worthy Confession.

Q. 799. Must one who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in confession do more than repeat the sins committed since his last worthy confession?

A. One who has willfully concealed a mortal sin in confession must, besides repeating all the sins he has committed since his last worthy confession, tell also how often he has unworthily received absolution and Holy Communion during the same time.

Q. 800. Why does the priest give us a penance after Confession?

A. The priest gives us a penance after Confession, that we may satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to our sins.

Q. 801. Why should we have to satisfy for our sins if Christ has fully satisfied for them?

A. Christ has fully satisfied for our sins and after our baptism we were free from all guilt and had no satisfaction to make. But when we willfully sinned after baptism, it is but just that we should be obliged to make some satisfaction.

Q. 802. Is the slight penance the priest gives us sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed?

A. The slight penance the priest gives us is not sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed:

1. Because there is no real equality between the slight penance given and the punishment deserved for sin;
2. Because we are all obliged to do penance for sins committed, and this would not be necessary if the penance given in confession satisfied for all. The penance is given and accepted in confession chiefly to show our willingness to do penance and make amends for our sins.

Q. 803. Does not the Sacrament of Penance remit all punishment due to sin?

A. The Sacrament of Penance remits the eternal punishment due to sin, but it does not always remit the temporal punishment which God requires as satisfaction for our sins.

Q. 804. Why does God require a temporal punishment as a satisfaction for sin?

A. God requires a temporal punishment as a satisfaction for sin to teach us the great evil of sin and to prevent us from falling again.

Q. 805. Which are the chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin?

A. The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving; all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.

Commentary on the Baltimore Catechism:

The Catechism teaches that for a Confession to be authentic and our sins to be forgiven, we must confess all mortal sins. If we willingly do not confess a mortal sin, our sins are not forgiven. For a sin to be mortal, it must fulfill three categories:
  • It must be serious matter (against one of the Commandments)
  • The individual must know it's wrong when he/she does it
  • The individual must have full control of will (ex. he/she is not dreaming or forced to do it)
Confession is essential for reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Our Savior, is the most supreme gift. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. If we are in a state of mortal sin we are forbidden to receive the Eucharist before Confession. As St. Paul writes: "Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27).

Some claim that when the veil in the temple veil was torn in half, priests were no longer needed: "And Jesus having cried out with a loud voice, gave up the Ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in two, from the top to the bottom" (Mark 15:37-38).

This logic, though, is incorrect. Jesus did not remove the priesthood but founded a new one. The veil was torn to signify the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant with the Israelites. The Old Testament priesthood prefigured the new Testament's priesthood. The veil was placed in the temple to separate the Holy of Holies (i.e. The Ark of the Covenant) from the people of Israel. The people of God could not touch the Holy Ark because by doing so they died. But, when Christ died we were redeemed - man could now approach God and hope to receive the new Holy of Holies, Our Lord. In Matthew Chapter Nine, Jesus forgives a man's sins and St. Matthew in the Gospel writes:
"When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings." The point remains that God has given this authority to forgive sins to the apostles who in turn passed it to their successors through the imposition of hands. This process called the imposition or laying on of hands has ensured that today's priests and bishops can forgive sins.
Some people may further object to the Sacrament of Confession by citing 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity." But this passage again does not disprove Confession. This passage is referring to the Confession of sins and not the manner in which it is achieved. It can only be inferred that St. John would refer to the confession of sins to the apostles, of which he wrote in the Gospel of John 20:21-23.

Confession by Phone? Internet?

I've heard a question asked recently whether or not Confession by telephone or the Internet is permitted. The answer is of course no. As we see in the Gospels, it is about a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that matters. In Confession, we not only confess our sins but we humble ourselves by kneeling down and begging for mercy. The Prodigal Son did not call from across the field: "Forgive me." Rather, the Gospel says, the Son "...rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him" (Luke 15:20).

In Confession, Jesus Christ runs back to us and pours grace into our souls. It is about this personal encounter that matters.

The Catholic Church has also condemned Confession through the Internet:

The Pontifical Council on Social Communications on the Church and the Internet published a document in 2002 that says, “virtual reality cannot substitute for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, nor the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, nor the worship shared in a human community of flesh and bones....Sacraments on the Internet do not exist....Even religious experiences that are possible there through the grace of God are insufficient if they are separated from interaction in the real world with other persons of faith.”


So, let us remember not only to understand the Sacrament well but also to receive forgiveness through it. Before Confession, read an Examination of Conscience. And, for those of you preparing to make your first Confession, read up on How to Go to Confession. I also recommend reading St. John Vianney's Catechism on Confession.

11 comment(s):

del_button March 16, 2006 at 7:36 PM
Anonymous said...

Nicely done, Moneybags. I appreciate the first picture very much, with Jesus on the other side of the screen. (You might want to fix the closing of your article, though - you only have 4 points under your "5 points" chart.) Keep up the great work!

del_button March 16, 2006 at 9:04 PM
Matthew said...


Yes, I also love the picture of Jesus in the Confessional as the priest. And, thanks for pointing out that typo. I fixed it.

del_button March 21, 2006 at 5:15 PM
owenswain said...

Just a great article. I was writing on the same topic just yesterday and republished an article from several months ago, today. Thanks again for the solid writing. I've added you to my rss feeds.

del_button March 21, 2006 at 8:44 PM
Matthew said...

Thank you, Owen for visiting and adding my blog to your rss feeds.

del_button March 22, 2006 at 2:17 PM
Anonymous said...

Linked to this from A Song Not Scored for Breathing. Very succinct & solid. Would be helpful to have a relevant Examination of Conscience too.

del_button July 6, 2008 at 9:46 AM
Anonymous said...

Dear Commentator, may i first commend such a worthy blogging project. I must however let you know, that the idea of declaring Internet Sacraments of no effect can only come from lack of information. I am a Catholic by birth, but i did have a lapse of faith during which i did not attend mass. I engaged in sin because i beleived that by thinking them, i was already guilty so , in for a penny... I was also made to believ rejecting the Church was an UNFORGIVABLE sin and would never be accepted back.
I had the opportunity to work in the Middle East among some very disenfranchised women, and had the good fortune to discover EWTN's website where the Daily MAss was braodcast. Myself and these women began to watch the Mass and during Communion,say the prayers for those who could not receive the Eucharist. They also tried to make cathechism and attempted confessions over the phone(but were told it was forbidden) , at the risk of bodily injury, being cast out into the streets disgraced and disowned.
I have since returned to my home and happily to the Holy Church, am in communication with these women some of whom are now baptised(Anglican vicar obliged) and praying for an opportunity to physically recieve their First Communion, the rest, within strict purdah still watch their EWTN and have such faith in their particpiation and the power of merely beholding the Eucharist. Please do not make them feel that they believe in vain. No one should belittle that level of faith- internet and telephone sacraments are not only for those too lazy to go for Mass, they are a lifeline to those who have no Mass, would you rob them of that?

B T British Virgin Islands

del_button July 6, 2008 at 10:02 PM
Common Sense And Reason said...

At first glance, 2 Corinthinans 2:10 seems very straight forward. However, when you take the entire letter into context, Pauls forgiveness of the man takes on a different light.

Paul opens up the the passage by saying ' I call God as my witness...'and the at the end of the passage Paul then calls upon Jesus to witness the forgiveness he has given to the man, " I have forgiven in teh sight of Christ for you sake." I remind you that everyone was to forgive the man, not just Paul.

Paul had been slighted by this man and he is giving the man his personal forgiveness, as are the members of the Church...which is what we are called upon to do as Christians.

The problem with the Catholic interpretation of John 20:19-23, is that it is actually very contradictory to all of the scripture that clearly states that we are to receive our forgiveness directly from God. Luke 5:21 ...Who but God alone can forgive sins?"

Another problem is that there is no scripture where the Apostles actually hear confessions and forgive the sins of men.

Matthew 10:8 Jesus instructed his disciples to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[b]drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give."

So, if the Catholic claim is true, that Jesus gave his disciples the power to forgive sins...well, we also know that Jesus gave his disciples the power to raise the dead and cleanse lepers.

The Church claims that priests have the power to forgive sins due to apostolic succession. Why then do the priests not have the power to raise the dead or cleans lepers, a power that one would think would be passed down through apostolic succession?

Do not respond that miracles sometimes happen...remember, every ordained Catholic priest on the planet has the power granted to him via apostolic succession to forgive sins....why not every priest with the power to cleanse a leper or raise the dead?

del_button July 7, 2008 at 5:28 PM
Matthew said...

The Host:

Greetings on the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius:

Thank you for the comment. Of course I do not mean to say that only those who seek out Internet Sacraments are lazy. I do not mean this.

However, I also must say that while it is great to watch EWTN and make a spiritual Act of Communion, the Eucharist is impossible to receive via electronic means. Similarly, all Sacraments can only be received via physical contact, just as Jesus physically encountered those who desired forgiveness.

del_button May 3, 2011 at 4:26 PM
lyn1136 said...

Dear Mattp4, Are you familiar with the Council of Trent Decree on the Sacraments? Did you know that these Sacraments are no longer used in the Novus Ordo church? Also, did you know that in order to justify the violation of Canon Law in the AAS, the "Canon Law 1983" OVERWRITES the Canon Law of Pre-Vatican 2 for this and other specific purposes? Please discuss this with me.

del_button February 26, 2013 at 2:29 PM
Tim said...

Don't forget CCC 1446 "Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.""

According to Pope John Paul II the Catechism of the Catholic Church "is given as a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine." So we have some really great sources on this website.

del_button October 1, 2015 at 6:09 AM
Arul Kanan said...

Thanks for a nice share you have given to us with such an large collection of information. Great work you have done by sharing them to all.

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