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Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance, Confession)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes the Sacrament of Reconciliation as one of the Sacraments of Healing, along with the Anointing of the Sick.

Confession is about being freed from sin, restored to new life, and welcomed to Eternal Life.

For lapsed Catholics returning to the Faith, Confession can be especially beautiful, as they feel they are coming home to the Faith and back to God. A good Confession also means being able to return to the Eucharist, a crucial part of a joy-filled, healthy life and Journey of Discipleship.

A penitent makes a sincere, thorough examination of conscience, confesses all his mortal, or serious, sins to a Catholic Priest, as well as the nature of any venial sins he has committed. If directed by the Priest, the penitent makes an Act of Contrition. The Priest, acting In Personem Christi as an instrument of Jesus Christ, forgives the sins, prescribes a penance, and sometimes offers additional guidance.

The (CCC) teaches about the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Part II, Chapter II, Article 4. The CCC explains at ¶1422 that, through Confession, the Penitent obtains pardon for his sins from God's Mercy, and reconciles with Holy Mother Church, whom the sin wounded:

1422 "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."

CCC ¶1422

Pope John Paul II observed, in an Apostolic Exhortation, that Reconciliation and Penance are an invitation to accept the Good News of Love:

To speak of reconciliation and penance is for the men and women of our time an invitation to rediscover, translated into their own way of speaking, the very words with which our savior and teacher Jesus Christ began his preaching: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel,"[ ] that is to say, accept the good news of love, of adoption as children of God and hence of brotherhood.

Pope John Paul II, "Reconciliation and Penance," Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Bishops, Clergy, and Faithful, on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today

The Sacrament of Penance
The Sacrament of Penance
The Confession should not be audible to others besides the Priest, and the Penitent usually has the opportunity to go anonymously, such as behind a screen. The Priest is not permitted to reveal the content of a Confession, under pain of excommunication. At least one Confessor observed that he came to notice that he never recalled the contents of Confessions at later points in time.

Parishes often schedule Confessions on Saturday afternoon, perhaps in a time frame leading up towards a Vigil Mass for Sunday. Some Parishes offer Confessions during the week. In Washington, D.C., there are very extensive Confession schedules at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Holy Land in the Americas Franciscan Monastery. Sometimes there is an effort to include Confessions with special, or regularly scheduled, Holy Hours featuring Eucharistic Adoration. A Parish bulletin or website, if they have one, should include Confession schedules, along with recorded messages heard when calling a Parish number. If a number exists to reach a Parish receptionist, that person should also have up-to-date information about Confession schedules. In addition, there are sometimes special Penance Services, or other special schedules for Confessions, during Advent and Lent.

Some practical steps in making a good Confession include:

+ Accepting the Truth that God desires the Penitent to be freed from sin and be close to Him, and accept the Invitation to Eternal Life, that God is willing to, and wants to, forgive and heal the Penitent, and that no sin is too great for God's Love and Mercy

+ A sincere desire to live in accord with God's Will, including to change one's life and grow in love of God to do so

+ Praying for God's Help and possibly the assistance of the Blessed Mother and other Saints to make a good Confession

+ Examination of Conscience, based upon Church Teaching about God's Law

+ Finding access to Confessions, arriving in a timely manner, and entering the Confessional or the equivalent

+ Confessing all grave sins and summarizing areas of venial sin

+ Listening to the Priest Confessor when he speaks, and answering any questions with honesty

+ Sincerely remembering the Penance prescribed by the Priest Confessor, whether it be specific prayers, or an act of mercy, or other practice as directed by the Confessor

+ Making an Act of Contrition if directed to do so by the Confessor

+ Receiving Absolution from the Priest Confessor

+ Performing the Penance given by the Priest Confessor

Note also that, in some instances, the Priest Confessor might provide Spiritual advice, or related practical advice that would be helpful to follow.

Note additionally that Confession and Penance results in one being absolved from sin and damnation for grave sin (if grave sin is not repeated). However, there still can be due punishment to remedy the effects of the sin in Purgatory. In other words, as part of a journey to Heaven, the pains of Purgatory can still exist to purge the Penitent of the effects of the sins even after they have been absolved.

The Penitent can take additional steps to seek a Plenary Indulgence to avoid the pains of Purgatory. There is a set of general requirements for a Plenary Indulgence, such as praying for the Holy Father's Intentions, having gone to Confession and received Communion, detachment from sin and a sincere desire for continued detachment from all sin. If the general requirements are met, there are a number of acts of piety that are prescribed by Holy Mother Church to gain a plenary indulgence, some ongoing and others specific to particular events or points in time. One example is to read Holy Scripture with devotion for at least a half-hour.

Examination of Conscience

[check back for more information on the Examination of Conscience, and visit this link:]

:: Guide to Confession - Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of Arlington

Confession to Priest

Recall that the Priest acts In Personem Christi, as an Instrument of Christ. It is Christ who forgives the sins, through His Instrument, the Catholic Priest.

Recall also how the Resurrected Christ breathed His Spirit onto the Apostles and said, "whose sins you forgive are forgiven them." Today's Catholic Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, as part of a Chain of Ordination reaching back to when Jesus stood on the shore and called to Peter, James, and John to follow Him. Catholic Priests are part of the same continuity of succession of Holy Mother Church, ordained by those same Bishops to be Priests of God imparting the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Act of Contrition

An Act of Contrition usually is said at the conclusion of a Confession, as directed by the Priest.

One form of it is:

Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You.

I detest all my sins, because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who are all Good and deserving of all my love.

I firmly resolve, with your Divine Help, to sin no more, and to avoid even the near occasion of sin.

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:: Guide to Confession - Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of Arlington

:: The Light is On For You - Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of Arlington

:: Reconciliation and Penance: Post-Syndoal Apostolic Exhortation, "Reconciliation and Penance," John Paul II to the Bishops, Clergy, and Faithful, On Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today

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