Growing up, I was taught that we must go to Confession to a priest at Eastertime and that it was a sin not to, even if we never went otherwise.
Today, I believe that one can confess to God in prayer and conversation and that it is no longer necessary to actually confess to a priest in person. I pray and talk to God, asking for forgiveness and strength. I live a quiet life and although far from perfect, am not a big “sinner.”
Now, my 30-year-old niece is asking the same question and I’d like to help her. Is my understanding correct
The Church tells that we are to receive Holy Communion and confess our sins once a year. It specifies that Communion is to be received at Eastertime but does not specify when the once-a-year Confession should be.
However, we automatically attached the Confession to Eastertime since we had to be free from sin to receive Communion. Doesn’t it seem strange that the Church had to make rules that these be received once a year?
However the obligation to confess one’s sins to a priest before receiving Communion applies to serious sin only. There is a rare, special exception even to this rule, as cited in the Catholic Catechism, where there is “a grave reason for receiving Communion and no possibility of going to Confession” (n. 1457).
The Catechism explains that “without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults is strongly recommended.” Why? It “helps form our conscience and fight against evil tendencies, be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. . . . We are spurred to be merciful as God is merciful” (n. 1458).
Jesus used the ordinary in life and in nature to proclaim salvation. So too, the sacraments use the ordinary to bring us God’s blessing and grace. Through them, God freely gives us his love and mercy, his presence and life.
Grace is God’s life within us. It results in a personal relationship, a deep friendship with God through which we are enabled to be Christ to a hurting world and heal it.
Reconciliation is God’s action; it is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Only God forgives sin and Jesus brings us forgiveness through the action of the Holy Spirit. Confession of our sins acknowledges God’s compassionate love and our failure to respond.
We are a sacramental Church. Our Christian lives revolve around the reception of the sacraments; the sacraments follow us from birth to death. Through Baptism, we are brought into the community of the Church. Confirmation strengthens us to witness to the faith.
Marriage and Holy Orders sanctify commitment to service of God and others. The Sacrament of the Sick helps sustain faith and hope in illness and in death. Reconciliation and Communion, which we are to receive frequently, help us with the struggles of daily life.
The need is always there to reflect on our lives which, although may be holy, still lack the fullness God offers us. Great saints considered themselves great sinners because they had a strong sense of both God’s holiness and their own failures.
Writing or verbally acknowledging one’s faults to another human being creates greater awareness in our lives and motivates change, leaving one more at peace. This need to confess is probably at the root of the many confessional-type books and media encounters that abound today.
Although the confession of sins is individual, the entire Church is the celebrant of the ritual of Confession. The Church is a reconciling force in its prayer and its life, in everything it does and what Christians do.
The parish community, which is the living Church, is a sacrament of the compassionate God. When the lived Church experience and the sacrament of Reconciliation don’t reinforce each other, the latter may have little meaning.
A good practice is participation in parish Reconciliation services, usually held in Advent and Lent. These services are communal celebrations of the sacrament of Penance with individual Confession and absolution.
We realize that the sacraments, these gifts of God through the Church, should be celebrated as a Church family and not in isolation.
God blesses us in many ways. Through frequenting the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, we allow Christ to enter our lives, we become Christ-like. Our lives become one with Christ and we are “in Christ, with Christ and for Christ,” in Paul’s words. Then we can spread Christ’s message of joy and hope to all.
(Other questions? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)