Some non-Catholic parents of our Confirmation preparation class who attended the lessons were touched by the grace and healing of the sacrament.
I suspect they too want to experience the peace of forgiveness in their hearts. I would love to hear your response to their question: Can a non-Catholic go to Confession?
Yes, anyone can go to Confession to receive spiritual help. There are certainly many benefits of facing one's sinfulness and taking responsibility for it, even from a human point of view. Acknowledging one's weakness to another human being recognizes that all humans are weak and helps facilitate growth in human relationships.
Even the confession of lesser sins, as the Catholic Catechism says: "helps form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit" (#1783).
Priests are in a good position to give spiritual advice and guidance for they have been trained in moral theology and spirituality, and have experience guiding people. They can, therefore, help individuals see the path to God more clearly.
Today's phenomenon in the media where people are baring their souls for all the world to see is, however, of questionable benefit.
I'd like to go beyond the confines of your particular question since the emphasis in Church regulations is on the reception of Communion. The real issue is: can everyone receive sacramental absolution from the priest?
Confession, like Communion, is the reception of a sacrament which is for those accepting the fullness of Church teaching. Therefore, normally the sacraments in the Church are for Catholics.
There are two exceptions. The first is indicated in the appendix to the Introduction to the Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults, norm 9.
Those who have been baptized in a Protestant church and become Catholic at the Easter Vigil where they will receive Communion and Confirmation are encouraged to go to Confession and receive absolution prior to becoming Catholic. However, they are to inform the priest hearing their Confession about their situation.
The other exception is indicated in the Code of Canon Law n. 44, section 4. The person must be in some grave need but unable to access a member of her or his own community.
The request must be made spontaneously by the person who is suitably disposed and shows that he or she shares the faith of the Catholic Church regarding the Eucharist. Although this refers explicitly to receiving Communion, it would likely apply to Confession as well.
Several documents have been issued on this matter. The instruction issued by the Secretariat for Christian Unity was followed by the 1972 and 1973 documents which served to clarify particular cases when other Christians may be admitted to Communion. The basic rules remain the same (1973 Note Interpreting the Instruction on Admitting other Christians to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church).
Other exceptions are possible, especially for those deprived of spiritual help for a long period of time. It is left to the local bishop to examine these exceptional cases and make concrete decisions. Since each case is to be examined individually, it would not be applicable to a group generally.
Your question is timely for Catholics too. All of us need to look at our understanding and practice of our faith. Do we fully appreciate the great treasure available through the Church in the Mass and the sacraments which follow us from birth to death?
All the sacraments bring the free gift of God's grace into our lives. The Mass and reception of Christ in the Eucharist bring us nourishment and growth in the love of God. Confession brings peace and healing to those who receive it in faith.
Do we really live the high points in the Church's liturgical year from Advent and Christmas through to Lent, Easter and Pentecost? Do we live Ordinary Time as a quiet period to assimilate and reflect on the meaning of Christ's life, death and resurrection and thus deepen our faith?
Does living the Church year inform and guide our daily lives as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus?
We have much to gain from the riches which Christ offers through the Church. Reflecting on Scripture, especially Paul's writings, helps us appreciate Christ living in us, making his home in our hearts and transforming our lives if we but open the door to his knocking and let him in (Revelation 3.20).
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