Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Low Sunday - 15 April AD 2012

On Confession

Christ gives Apostles power to forgive sins[*]

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

“There are three that bear witness on earth;
the spirit, the water and the blood.”[1]

    All of the Gospels read during the Octave of Easter emphasize the reality of Jesus' resurrection.  This is particularly important in our times, when even the Church is filled with Modernists who would like us to believe that the Resurrection is nothing more than a pleasant fiction; a consoling idea to be believed in our faith, but having no basis in the reality of history.  I mention this again, so that you can all be on your guard against such false notions.  “And if Christ be not risen again, your faith is [in] vain, for you are yet in your sins.”[2].  Certainly, the doubting Saint Thomas proves for us that, indeed, it is not in vain, but Christ has truly risen.

    Faith in the Resurrection is, thus, the underlying theme of all of the Masses of Eastertide.  But, the major theme of today's Mass is the importance of the Sacraments.  If you didn't realize it when you heard the Epistle, “The Water, the Spirit, and the Blood,” refer to the first three Sacraments.  The Water to Baptism, the Spirit to Confirmation, and the Blood refers to Holy Communion in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

    The Gospel refers to the forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance.  “Receive the Holy Ghost; whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained.”[3]  It should be remembered that the Apostles were already priests, ordained at the Last Supper.  At least radically, they already had the power to forgive sins, for that is an inherent part of the sacrifice of our Redemption.

    But our Lord wanted to set this Sacrament apart, for a variety of reasons.  He did so to remind us that the forgiveness of sins is a positive and discreet act; not just a side effect of the other rites and ceremonies of the Church.

    He breathes on them, and tells them to, “Receive the Holy Ghost....” to demonstrate that the forgiveness of sins is a sacramental act of His priests worked through divine power.  We might, conceivably, discuss our sins with someone else, who is able to counsel us, but only a priest or bishop is capable of forgiving our sins.

    Our Lord presents two alternatives:  The priests may either “forgive,” or “retain” the sins of those who come to them.  “Retain” doesn't translate well into English, but it means that the priest is expected to make a judgment about our motives for seeking forgiveness, the sincerity of our sorrow for sin, and our commitment to not sinning in the future.  That is the reason that we usually confess our sins aurally to the priest—in order for him to be able to make such a judgment.  Only in situations of grave necessity may a priest grant forgiveness without individual confession: to a person unconscious or delirious; in time of war or civil disaster; perhaps, in mission countries to a truly overwhelming crowd.

    For those who are baptized but have fallen into sin, the Sacrament of Confession is the beginning of our spiritual life.  It is the way by which we can return to keeping the Commandments, with an eye toward our eternal salvation.  It is the beginning of the purification of our will, so that it may tend to adopt God’s will.  It is the beginning of the unitive prayer, by which God prays in us and we become more and more like Him.

    Of course there are also some more strictly human benefits to be derived from individual Confession:  It is an opportunity to get some personal spiritual advice from the priest;  it forces us to make an examination of conscience—a sort of spiritual inventory;  and it may shame us into thinking twice before committing sin.

    Our Confession ought to be made frequently, in order to make the greatest use of both the human and the sacramental benefits.  It's amazing how many otherwise traditional Catholics have adopted the Modernist practice of not going to Confession!  If we are serious about our Faith, and the state of our soul, we ought to make, at least, a monthly Confession.  If we live in circumstances which subject us to inordinate temptations, it ought to be more often.  If we fall into mortal sin, we should Confess at the first opportunity.

    We don't have to be in the state of mortal sin to receive the Sacrament.  Even previously confessed venial sin is adequate matter for Confession.  As a Sacrament, Penance conveys Sanctifying Grace—and Actual Grace appropriate to the Sacrament—it brings us closer to God and keeps us from falling into sin.

    Of course, if we are in the state of mortal sin, we should make a good Confession before receiving any of the other Sacraments (except Baptism).  St. Paul is very specific about this when he writes about receiving Holy Communion in First Corinthians:  “Whoever eats this Bread, or drinks the Cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord.”[4]

    Lastly, I should mention that if we have been foolish to make a bad Confession, it must be “undone.”  In other words, if we have come to Confession with no sorrow for our sins, or with no intention of improving our behavior in the future, or if we deliberately fail to mention serious sins, we have made no Confession at all.  Worse yet, such a bad Confession is itself a sin of sacrilege, and must be confessed together with all of the sins that were or should have been confessed in the bad Confession.

    “Peace be with you.”  That's the way our Lord introduces Himself to demonstrate His Resurrection, and the way He introduces the Sacrament of Penance.  This is precisely the way we should think of this Sacrament.  It costs nothing;  it is not intended to be an annoyance or an embarrassment; the priest gets no particular thrill out of hearing about our disobedience—and is absolutely forbidden to repeat our foibles to anyone else.  But it is a source of immense Peace, for in the Sacrament of Confession we make our peace with Almighty God, emerging spotless and beautiful in His eyes—worthy to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

    “Peace be with you!”



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

[1]   Epistle 1 John v: 8


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