Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Low Sunday—11 April A.D. 2010

On Confession

“Receive the Holy Ghost;  whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them:  and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”[1]


[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text]
[Latin Text]



    Today's Gospel 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 Sacraments.

    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.

    We should, 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 offend God.

    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 before.

    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!



[1]   Gospel: John xx: 19-31,

[2] Saint Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Kingston, Ontario, Canada


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