After His Resurrection, the Lord Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to His apostles. As the Sacred Scriptures recount, He breathed on them and said: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (Jn 20:23). The Sacrament of Confession then is the liturgical celebration of God’s forgiveness of the sins of the penitent, who is thus reconciled with God and with the Church. The acts of the penitent – contrition, the confession of sins, and satisfaction or reparation-together with the prayer of absolution by the priest, constitute the essential elements of the Sacrament of Penance (C.C.C. 980, 1422, 1440, 1448).
While in Baptism, we receive new life in Christ, as humans, we are still susceptible to the normalities of life: sickness, pain, suffering, and death. In much the same way, our new spiritual lives as children of God are susceptible to similar effects by sin. Thankfully, the Lord in His mercy has given a remedy for spiritual sickness and death – those sins that cut us off from the new life of grace – in The Sacrament of Penance.
The Lord’s gift to the Apostles, and by extension us, as recorded in the Gospel of John enabled them to act as instruments bestowing the forgiveness of God. Those men, in turn, passed on that tremendous responsibility to their successors, so today bishops and priests exercise this sacred power to forgive in the name of almighty God.
Every Catholic over the age of reason (usually considered 7 or 8) can avail themselves of the Sacrament of Penance. It is so vital that Church Law requires it at least once a year, usually during the Lent or Easter season. However, the sacrament is readily available whenever needed, so anyone conscious of grave sin can make use of it as often as needed.
The Sacrament of Confession: How to make a good one
For the sinner, three things a necessary: contrition (sorrow for sin and offending God), verbal confession of sin, and satisfaction (do penance). The penitent must confess all mortal sins he is aware that he has committed, which he has not previously confessed. He may also mention any venial (less serious) sins or those previously mentioned. For the priest, he must recite the Formula of Absolution. In the end, the particular grace is the remission of sins, restored communion with the Church, and reconciliation with God.
A word about Contrition
Contrition, or aversion to sin, comes in two kinds: perfect and imperfect.
- Perfect Contrition: When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect” (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible. (C.C.C. 1452)
- Imperfect Contrition: It is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (C.C.C. 1453)
Formula of Absolution for the Sacrament of Confession
The essential words, those necessary for the Sacrament of Confession to be effective, in the Formula of Absolution are: I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The formula in its entirety is as follows: God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you found this simple guide to the Sacrament of Confession helpful, check out our article on the 7 Sacrements for an introduction to the other Sacraments.