The Sacrament of Reconciliation

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week," Jesus showed himself to his apostles. "He breathed on them, and said to them: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained"' (John 20:19, 22-23).
Guilt can be very destructive. It can cause physical and psychological illness. Guilt can destroy, at least in part, not only our relationships with other people, family, friends, colleagues, but also more importantly our relationship with God. For the sake of Physical, Psychological and Spiritual well being it is important to acknowledge our feelings of guilt, speak about them, and let go of them. The Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us the opportunity to do this. To acknowledge the sins that causes us to feel bad about ourselves, to speak about the sins and the guilt, and to receive forgiveness. Psycho- therapists tell us that in the past among Catholic populations the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, as it was more commonly known, actually reduced the need for many people to seek counselling, and now that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is less popular, counselling has become more popular.
Often, in accounts of his healing miracles, Jesus not only returned the people to full health but he also forgave them their sins. He took away their sin and their guilt. And it is his will that the Church continues, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring healing and forgiveness. Forgiveness of our sins is at the heart of the salvation won for us by Jesus by his life, death and resurrection.
Depending on when we grew up we will have different titles for this Sacrament. Each title describes a different aspect of the Sacrament; Sacrament of Confession, Sacrament of Penance, Sacrament of Forgiveness and Sacrament of Reconciliation. Today we probably put more emphasis on the Sacrament as a Sacrament of Reconciliation and in doing so we take our lead from Jesus, who not only forgave sins, but also made it clear that, an affect of this forgiveness was that the sinner was now reintegrated into the community. A gesture that symbolises this is that he sat at table and shared a meal with them.
In giving the Apostles the “power” to forgive sins Jesus gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church.
In all forms of reconciliation there tend to be a process that needs to be followed, and which demands a desire both for forgiveness and to forgive. We see this in countries such as South Africa where they have a Peace and Reconciliation Board, to investigate the atrocities of the Apartheid period. It can be a difficult and painful process for all involved, but one which hopefully leads to peace and healing.
One of the features of the pontificate of Pope Francis is the number of times that he has asked for forgiveness on behalf of the Church. For example, he has ask the victims of child abuse by clergy for forgiveness and not just in a generic way but also from individual victims whom he met with on visits to various part of the world, for example to the USA. He has asked for forgiveness for the treatment of the Roma people. He has asked for forgiveness for the role of clergy and religious in the genocide in Rwanda. In recognising the “sin” of the Church and sincerely seeking forgiveness is a step on the road towards healing for the people sinned against by the Church and for healing for the Church itself.
Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and in doing so he gave the Ritual to the Church to bring about forgiveness and reconciliation with God, the Church, other people and ourselves. It can be difficult because it demands humility, contrition and sorrow. Yet it can lead to peace and healing
So what happens?
Before beginning the ritual of the sacrament of reconciliation the “Penitent” makes time to reflect on his or her life in the period since their last confession. The sacramental ritual begins with the person stating the length of time since their last confession, and then asking for a Blessing. He or she then will talk about their Sins. In the past people where taught to list sins, and would say, something like, “I lied fifteen times, or I stole three times or I was disobedient twenty seven times.” Nowadays children and adults are often taught to talk about their lives. So they may say “I lied because I was afraid... So there is a context to their actions.
Then there may be some advice offered by the priest, and a penance offered.
Then the priest will say the pray of Absolution.
Assuming that the person is contrite, that is, sorry for their sins, all their sins are forgiven, the ones they have said and the ones that they have forgotten to mention.
Firstly: because it is the means given by Jesus for the forgiveness of sins
Secondly: it is healthy to talk about whatever causes us to feel guilty.
Thirdly: It brings about reconciliation with God, the Church, the wider community, and with oneself. It brings healing.
How often? As often as one feels it is necessary. If some one has committed a serious sin, then they must go at least once a year. Pope Francis goes once a fortnight.
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 labours for their conversion."4
1423 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father5 from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner's personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
1424 It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" - acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace."6
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God."7 He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother."8
1446 Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace."47
1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this "order of penitents" (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the "private" practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.
1448 Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same fundamental structure is to be discerned. It comprises two equally essential elements: on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God's action through the intervention of the Church. The Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction also prays for the sinner and does penance with him. Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion.
1449 The formula of absolution used in the Latin Church expresses the essential elements of this sacrament: the Father of mercies is the source of all forgiveness. He effects the reconciliation of sinners through the Passover of his Son and the gift of his Spirit, through the prayer and ministry of the Church:
God, the Father of mercies,
through the death and the 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.48
1.Where do you see a need for reconciliation in our world today?
2.What mechanisms are available to bring about reconciliation?
3.Where have you experienced reconciliation in your own life?
4.What does it feel like to experience reconciliation?
Where do you feel there is a need for reconciliation with God in our world and for yourself?
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