Holy Ghost; whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them: and
whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
[Ordinary of the Mass]
passage is set late on Easter Sunday. A week ago on the liturgical
calendar, actually, but important enough for the Church to insist that it gets
it own reading on a Sunday. They are in the Upper Room, where the Jesus
and the Apostles ate the Last Supper, the doors are closed, the Apostles are
alone, and quite probably in a state of anxiety.
There is a
connection between the Passion and Resurrection, and the priestly power to
forgive sins—a connection between the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the
Sacrament of Penance. Indeed, between the Mass and all of the
Prior to the
Sacrifice of the Cross, man was dead to sin. The gates of heaven were
closed, none of the good works people did had any merit in the eyes of God;
the Holy Ghost did not dwell within the hearts of men; there was no
forgiveness of sin..
The Cross and
Resurrection changed all that. Our Lord descended into Limbo to bring
the souls of the just to heaven. By Baptism, the life of God could now
come to live in the souls of men. The sin of Adam and Eve had been
atoned for, and the particular sins of men and women could now be forgiven.
As we have seen in
passages which described the reaction of the Jews when our Lord forgave
sins—the forgiveness of sins can come from God alone. So a very
miraculous thing is seen in this Gospel. The Apostles, who had been
given the power to renew the Sacrifice of the Cross as “other Christs,”
now received the power to forgive sins, likewise as “other Christs.”
By virtue of the life-giving Sacrifice, they were able to forgive the sins of
men, when this seemed prudent.
Please note that
the Apostles were given the authority to make a choice; to be selective.
They are allowed to forgive, or to not forgive as they saw fit. (The
word “retain” is used in English—it means simply the option of not
forgiving.) This is why the Church demands a Confession of sins prior to
absolution. The priest is required to make a judgment: does the
penitent understand the serious nature of his sins? is he truly sorry
for having committed them? will he take measures to avoid committing
them in the future? what can be done to draw him closer to God?
The priest has to make a decision, and may put off forgiving the sins of a
penitent if he feels that this is necessary.
Of course, the
priest may absolve from sins without Confession if the circumstances warrant:
A person who is unconscious and close to death, a group of people in danger of
battle or natural disaster and unable to confess for lack of time. But,
even where this is permitted, the Church requires that we make a complete
Confession at the very next opportunity.
therefore, prepare to receive the Sacrament by making a good examination of
conscience. We should reflect on the Commandments and the Laws of the
Church, and determine if we have violated any of them. We should reflect
upon the seriousness of our sins; developing sorrow for them because they
We are only fooling
ourselves, if we come to Confession with the intention to withhold some
significant sin; or if we have no sorrow for our sins; or if we intend to go
right on committing the same sins.
We may, of course,
not be perfectly sorry; and we may know that we will unwillingly fall again;
and our faulty memories may not recall each and every sin—but we are obliged
to try our best in all these things.
And please remember
that the priest is absolutely forbidden to discuss your confession with anyone
else. He has heard it all before, and will not think any less of you for
the sins you confess. On the contrary, he knows that he too is a sinner,
and, any good priest will have the joy of Christ in his heart over the return
of a sinner. Even if you have had to confess the same sin many times
We should make our
Confession regularly. Even if we have no serious sins to
confess—venial sins or previously confessed sins are adequate matter for the
Sacrament. The Sacrament gives graces that may help us resist the
temptation to sin in the future. When we let a few months go between
Confessions, we are apt to treat sin as a less serious matter, and more likely
to fall into serious sin.
So I urge you to
take the events of today's Gospel to heart. Our Lord died for us
collectively, and gave us the means to ensure our individual salvation through
the Mass and the Sacraments. Please make use of them.
This Sacrament of
Penance (1) restores the soul to grace and God's friendship, (2) blots
out sins, no matter how serious, no matter how many, and (3) restores
the peace and joy of a good conscience.
Just as the
Apostles were in a state of anxiety at being alone without our Lord, and were
restored when He said “Peace be with you,” we too can be restored to
the Peace of Christ through the graces of a good Confession.
Don't put it off!