Penance: A Sacrament of Healing
Penance, along with the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, is the sacrament of Healing that was present from the earliest times of the Church. Paul wrote, “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” (from the Catechism).
Penance is also known by the following names:
The sacrament of conversion, because it is a turning point for one who has strayed from God through sin
The sacrament of confession, since it involves disclosing one's sins to a priest
The sacrament of forgiveness, since the priest's absolution, which is part of the sacrament, confers pardon and peace
The sacrament of reconciliation, because through God's love the sinner is brought back to union with the Father
When Christians are baptized, they are cleansed of all sins. However, the Church recognizes that the Kingdom of God on earth is a work in progress, and Christians cannot always avoid temptation or know how to make the right choices. The sacrament of Penance allows the faithful to turn away from their sins and toward God in a constant cycle of penance and renewal. Penance allows the faithful to experience another conversion, which is interior rather than exterior. Sinners feel sorrowful and repentant, and they respond to grace, which turns them back toward God.
In its tradition, the Church recognizes many ways in which the faithful can obtain forgiveness of sins:
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which relate to repentance in terms of yourself, God, and others
Making a change in your ways
Praying for the intercession of the saints
Showing concern for the spiritual welfare of others
Making peace with those around you
Practicing and defending justice
Shedding tears of repentance
Examining your conscience
Taking spiritual direction
Enduring persecution for the sake of righteousness
Following Jesus Christ
Receiving the Eucharist
Performing acts of devotion, such as reading Sacred Scriptures, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and saying the Our Father
Observing the seasons and days of Penance in the liturgical year, including Lent and Fridays
The Church teaches that only God can forgive sin. However, it also believes that God gave to the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins in his name, in what the Church refers to as the Ministry of Reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation remain important themes of the Church. Jesus taught us to forgive when he shared his meals with sinners.The Power in Confession
Penance requires the sinner to feel contrition or sorrow for the sin committed and to make a firm resolution not to sin again. Penance also requires confession, which helps the sinner take full responsibility for the sin. The last component of the sacrament of Penance is satisfaction: The sinner must do something to make amends for his or her sins.
Motives for contrition may vary from person to person. Perfect contrition is inspired by the love of God, whereas imperfect contrition is inspired by a loathing of sin and a fear of the consequences, which might include a punishment like eternal damnation.
Because they have received Holy Orders, bishops and priests have the power to forgive all sins. The Church teaches that confessors should know what is to be expected in Christian behavior, have an understanding of human affairs, and treat the sinner with the respect deserved by each human being.
Because confession is a sensitive matter, the priest is bound to keep secret anything that he is told in confession, and he cannot make use of any knowledge he gains of the penitents' lives.