Why should I confess my sins to a priest when I can pray straight to God and ask for forgiveness?

  • Christ never engaged in unnecessary acts. He specifically instituted the sacrament of penance, also known as reconciliation or confession (the various terms emphasize different aspects of the same sacrament).

  • Christ instituted confession as the ordinary or normative way of having one's sins forgiven. He gave the apostles and - through apostolic succession - the bishops and their helpers, the priests, the power to forgive sins.

  • The sacrament of Reconciliation as the means of obtaining forgiveness for sin was the first thing Our Lord established after His resurrection, in fact on the very same day. Having died to win redemption from sin, he makes immediate provision for the forgiveness of each individual's sins. John (20:19-23) tells us how Christ came and stood in the midst of the Apostles and said, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." One of the accusations against Jesus was that he blasphemed by claiming to have the authority to forgive sins. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49). Jesus establishes his authority with God and then passes it on to His Apostles. Then he breathed on them (only once before we are told of God breathing on man, at the very beginning, when he made man a living soul). And he said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained".

  • Yes, sins are forgiven when one sincerely repents and prays earnestly to God. However, when we confess to God privately, we run the risk of only feigning sorrow. No sin can be forgiven unless we're truly sorry for it. A priest, trained in hearing confessions, can help us see past our pride or our remaining attachment to a particular sin.

  • Every Catholic conscious of a mortal sin must go to confession at least once a year. For a sin to be mortal three requirements must be met:
      1. It must involve a serious matter.

      2. There must be sufficient reflection on its seriousness.

      3. There must be full consent in the committing of it.

  • What is a serious matter? Many sins listed in the Ten Commandments or contrary to Scripture or the moral teachings of the Church could qualify (i.e. murder, envy, abortion, artificial birth control, thievery, adultery, sodomy, fornication - to name only a few of the serious sins popularized by the media).

  • How much time is needed to sufficiently reflect on the seriousness of the proposed act? It depends on the sin, but a few seconds often are plenty.

  • What is full consent? Someone forced into an act doesn't give full consent to it. A drunken person is incapable of giving full consent. However, the drunkenness itself is a different matter. A young child is incapable of giving full consent. The same for someone asleep, comatose, senile, or held at gunpoint. For the most part, we give full consent to our sins when we freely choose to disobey the teachings in Scripture or the moral teachings of the Church.

    • Mortal = death-bringing. We break the union of our will with God's will and we lose the supernatural life.

    • Venial = lesser sins. Less serious or less deliberate than mortal sins. They do not involve a rejection of God; they leave us with sanctifying grace still in our souls but they weaken the nature in which grace is infused and thereby increase the danger of mortal sin. Both involve breaking God's law, but the one breach involves rebellion and the other does not.

  • Catholics do not confess sins to a priest instead of to God. We confess to a priest representing God. "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you" (James 5:16). The prayer of absolution the priest prays while administering the sacrament says, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." It is in God's name the priest forgives, not in his own name.

  • When Catholics receive the sacrament of penance, we have the opportunity not only to be forgiven, but to receive advice from the priest; kind and wise counsel as to how to do better in the future, living the Christian life.

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