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The Catechism of the Catholic Church Today on the Sacrament of Confession (the whole section)

[the confessing of sins part]


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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 labors for their conversion." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 11 § 2)


I. What Is This Sacrament Called?


1423 — 1424 It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father (Mark 1:15; Luke 15:18) 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.

      • 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." (Ordo Paenitantiae 46 [formula of absolution.])

      • It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: "Be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20) He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother." (Matthew 5:24)

It's very important to note: When we confess to a priest, we are actually confessing to Jesus Himself, who is "in the person of Christ, the man". If you need help understanding this Ask Us.


II. Why A Sacrament Of Reconciliation After Baptism?

1425 "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11) One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree to which sin is excluded for him who has "put on Christ." (Galatians 3:27) But the apostle John also says: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8) And the Lord himself taught us to pray: "Forgive us our trespasses," (Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:12) linking our forgiveness of one another's offenses to the forgiveness of our sins that God will grant us.


1426 Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us "holy and without blemish," just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is "holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 1:4; 5:27) Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. (cf. Council of Trent (1546): DS 1515) This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us. (cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1545; Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 40)


St. Ambrose makes reference to two conversions in the Church:

"those of water and those of tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance."

III. The Conversion Of The Baptized


1427 Jesus calls to conversion. This call is an essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) In the Church's preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion. It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism (cf. Acts 2:38) that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life.


1428 Christ's call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians. This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 8 § 3) This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first. (Psalm 51:17; cf. John 6:44; 12:32; 1 John 4:10)


1429 St. Peter's conversion after he had denied his master three times bears witness to this. Jesus' look of infinite mercy drew tears of repentance from Peter and, after the Lord's resurrection, a threefold affirmation of love for him. (cf. Luke 22:61; John 21:15-17) The second conversion also has a communitarian dimension, as is clear in the Lord's call to a whole Church: "Repent!" (Revelation 2:5,16)

St. Ambrose says of the two conversions that, in the Church:

"There are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance."


St. Ambrose, ep. 41,12:PL 16,1116

IV. Interior Penance


1430 Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. (cf. Joel 2:12-13; Isaiah 1:16-17; Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18)


1431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). (cf. Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II,V,4)


1432 The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. (cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27) Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!" (Lamentations 5:21) God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced: (cf. John 19:37; Zechariah 12:10)

Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.


St. Clement Of Rome, Ad Cor. 7,4:PG 1,224

1433 Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved "the world wrong about sin," (cf. John 16:8-9) i.e., proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion. (cf. John 15:26; Acts 2:36-38; John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificanum 27-48)


V. The Many Forms Of Penance In Christian Life


1434 The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, (cf. Tobit 12:8; Matthew 6:1-18) which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification brought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: effort at reconciliation with one's neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one's neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity "which covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8; cf. James 5:20)


1435 Conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, (cf. Amos 5:24; Isaiah 1:17) by the admission of faults to one's brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance. (cf. Luke 9:23)


1436 Eucharist and Penance. Daily conversion and penance find their source and nourishment in the Eucharist, for in it is made present the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us with God. Through the Eucharist those who live from the life of Christ are fed and strengthened. "It is a remedy to free us from our daily faults and to preserve us from mortal sins." (Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1638)


1437 Reading Sacred Scripture, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Our Father - every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins.


1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice. (cf. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 109-110; Code of Canon Law, canons 1249-1253; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, Canon 880-883) These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).


1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: (cf. Luke 15:11-24) the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father's house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father's generous welcome; the father's joy - all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life - pure worthy, and joyful - of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ who knows the depths of his Father's love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.


VI. The Sacrament Of Penance And Reconciliation


1440 Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 11)


Only God forgives sin


1441 Only God forgives sins. (cf. Mark 2:7) Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and exercises this divine power: "Your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5,10; Luke 7:48) Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name. (cf. John 20:21-23)


1442 Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness and reconciliation that he acquired for us at the price of his blood. But he entrusted the exercise of the power of absolution to the apostolic ministry which he charged with the "ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18) The apostle is sent out "on behalf of Christ" with "God making his appeal" through him and pleading: "Be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)


Reconciliation with the Church


1443 During his public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: he reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at his table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God's forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God. (cf. Luke 15; 19:9)


1444 In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ's solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven." (Matthew 16:19; 18:18; 28:16-20) "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22 § 2)


1445 The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.


The sacrament of forgiveness


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."


Tertullian, De Paenit. 4,2:PL 1,1343; cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1542

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.


(Ordo Paenitantiae 46: Formula of absolution [you hear in Confession])

VII. The Acts Of The Penitent


1450 "Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction." (Roman Catechism II,V,21; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1673)




1451 Among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again." (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676)


1452 When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1677)


1453 The contrition called "imperfect" (or "attrition") is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is born of the consideration of sin's ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner (contrition of fear). Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1678; 1705)


1454 The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings. (cf. Matthew 5-7; Romans 12-15; 1 Corinthians 12-13; Galatians 5; Ephesians 4-6; etc.)


The confession of sins


1455 The confession (or disclosure) of sins, even from a simply human point of view, frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible.


1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly." (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. Exodus 20:17; Matthew 5:28)

When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, "for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know."


(Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. St. Jerome, In Ecclesiastes 10,11:PL 23:1096)

1457 According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year." (cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 989; Council of Trent (1551): DS 1683; DS 1708) Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1647; 1661; Code of Canon Law, canon 916; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, canon 711) Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 914)


1458 Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1680; Code of Canon Law, canon 988 § 2) Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful: (cf. Luke 6:36)

Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. . . . When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.


St. Augustine, In Jo. ev. 12,13:PL 35,1491



1459 Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712) Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance."


1460 The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with him." (Romans 8:17; Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:1-2; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1690)

The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of "him who strengthens" us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ . . . in whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance." These fruits have their efficacy from him, by him they are offered to the Father, and through him they are accepted by the Father.


(Council of Trent (1551): DS 1691; cf. Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:14; Luke 3:8)

VIII. The Minister Of This Sacrament


1461 Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, (cf. John 20:23; 2 Corinthians 5:18) bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops' collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry. Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."


1462 Forgiveness of sins brings reconciliation with God, but also with the Church. Since ancient times the bishop, visible head of a particular Church, has thus rightfully been considered to be the one who principally has the power and ministry of reconciliation: he is the moderator of the penitential discipline. (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 26 § 3) Priests, his collaborators, exercise it to the extent that they have received the commission either from their bishop (or religious superior) or the Pope, according to the law of the Church. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canons 844; 967-969; 972; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, canon 722 §§ 3-4)


1463 Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them. In danger of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 976. See also 1331; 1354-1357; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, canon 725. See also 1431; 1434; 1420)


1464 Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 486; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, canon 735; Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 13)


1465 When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner.


1466 The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. (cf. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis 13) He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy.


1467 Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 1388 § 1; Corpus Canonum Ecclisarum Orientalium, canon 1456) This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the "sacramental seal," because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains "sealed" by the sacrament.


IX. The Effects Of This Sacrament


1468 "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship." (Roman Catechism, II,V,18) Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation." (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1674) Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true "spiritual resurrection," restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God. (cf. Luke 15:32)


1469 This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it. In this sense it does not simply heal the one restored to ecclesial communion, but has also a revitalizing effect on the life of the Church which suffered from the sin of one of her members. (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26) Re-established or strengthened in the communion of saints, the sinner is made stronger by the exchange of spiritual goods among all the living members of the Body of Christ, whether still on pilgrimage or already in the heavenly homeland: (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 48-50)

It must be recalled that . . . this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations, which repair the other breaches caused by sin. The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his innermost truth. He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way offended and wounded. He is reconciled with the Church. He is reconciled with all creation.


John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 31,5

1470 In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin. (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 22:15) In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and "does not come into judgment." (John 5:24)


X. Indulgences


1471 The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.


What is an indulgence?

"An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."


Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Norm 1

"An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin." (Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, Norm 2; cf. Norm 3) The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead. (Code of Canon Law, canon 994)


The punishments of sin


1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. (cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1712-1713; (1563): 1820)


1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man." (Ephesians 4:22, 24)


In the Communion of Saints


1474 The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God's grace is not alone. "The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person." (Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5)


1475 In the communion of saints, "a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in Purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things." (Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5) In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.


1476 We also call these spiritual goods of the communion of saints the Church's treasury, which is "not the sum total of the material goods which have accumulated during the course of the centuries. On the contrary the 'treasury of the Church' is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ's merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. In Christ, the Redeemer himself, the satisfactions and merits of his Redemption exist and find their efficacy." (Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5)


1477 "This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission in the unity of the Mystical Body." (Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5)


Obtaining indulgence from God through the Church


1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity. (cf. Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5)


1479 Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.


XI. The Celebration Of The Sacrament Of Penance


1480 Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical action. The elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting and blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance; the confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known to the priest; the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the priest's absolution; a prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dismissal with the blessing of the priest.


1481 The Byzantine Liturgy recognizes several formulas of absolution, in the form of invocation, which admirably express the mystery of forgiveness: "May the same God, who through the Prophet Nathan forgave David when he confessed his sins, who forgave Peter when he wept bitterly, the prostitute when she washed his feet with her tears, the publican, and the prodigal son, through me, a sinner, forgive you both in this life and in the next and enable you to appear before his awe-inspiring tribunal without condemnation, he who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen."


1482 The sacrament of Penance can also take place in the framework of a communal celebration in which we prepare ourselves together for confession and give thanks together for the forgiveness received. Here, the personal confession of sins and individual absolution are inserted into a liturgy of the word of God with readings and a homily, an examination of conscience conducted in common, a communal request for forgiveness, the Our Father and a thanksgiving in common. This communal celebration expresses more clearly the ecclesial character of penance. However, regardless of its manner of celebration the sacrament of Penance is always, by its very nature, a liturgical action, and therefore an ecclesial and public action. (cf. Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium 26-27)


1483 In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each penitent's confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their grave sins in the time required. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 962 #1) The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not the conditions required for general absolution exist. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 961 § 2) A large gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not constitute a case of grave necessity. (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 961 § 1)


1484 "Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession." (Ordo Paenitantiae 31) There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: "My son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5) He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them. (cf. Mark 2:17) He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church.


In Brief


1485 "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)


1486 The forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament called the sacrament of conversion, confession, penance, or reconciliation.


1487 The sinner wounds God's honor and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone.


1488 To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world.


1489 To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.


1490 The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future. Conversion touches the past and the future and is nourished by hope in God's mercy.


1491 The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest's absolution. The penitent's acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.


1492 Repentance (also called contrition) must be inspired by motives that arise from faith. If repentance arises from love of charity for God, it is called "perfect" contrition; if it is founded on other motives, it is called "imperfect."


1493 One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.


1494 The confessor proposes the performance of certain acts of "satisfaction" or "penance" to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ.


1495 Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ.


1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

        • reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
        • reconciliation with the Church;
        • remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
        • remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
        • peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
        • an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

1497 Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church.


1498 Through indulgences the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves and also for the souls in Purgatory.




  1. St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107)
    Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97)
    The Didache, (A.D. 80-90)
    St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163)
    St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202)
    Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218)
    St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236)
    Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253)
    St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A.D. 200-258)
    Firmilian of Cæsarea, (A.D. 210-272)
    Lactantius, (A.D. 240-c.330)
    St. Anthony of Egypt, (A.D. c.251 - 356)
    St. James of Nisibis, (unknown-361)
    St. Athanasius of Alexandria, (A.D. 296-372)
    St. Ephrem the Syrian, (of Edessa), (A.D. 306-378)
    St. Pacian of Barcelona, (A.D. c.310-375)
    St. Hilary of Poitiers, (A.D. 315-367)
    St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386)
    St. Gregory of Nazianzen, (A.D. 318-389)
    St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394)
    St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396)
    Blessed Isaias, (lived in the 4th century)
    Paulinus the Deacon, (unknown-c.425)
    St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
St. Ignatius of Antioch, (A.D. 50-107), Syrian; ecclesiastical writer, bishop, martyr. A disciple of St. John, the Apostle; he was bishop of Antioch, in which see he succeeded St. Peter, or, as others think, Evodius. He is supposed to have governed that church for about forty years. He suffered martyrdom at Rome in the year 107.

For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ.

Letter to the Philadelphians 3 [A.D. 110]

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.

Letter to the Philadelphians 8

Pope St. Clement I of Rome, (A.D. 60-97), Roman; Pope from A.D. 88-97; martyr. That St. Clement was honored by the friendship of the great Apostle, St. Peter, is not doubted. There are good reasons to believe that he was designated by that Apostle as his successor in the see of Rome. The authenticity and genuineness of St. Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians are acknowledged. We learn from Eusebius and from other writers, that it was publicly read in many churches. This second epistle is the oldest extant Christian homily we have attributed to him, (A.D. 150).

Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1432

The Didache, (A.D. 80-90) the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Didache means "Teaching") is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars to the late first or early 2nd century.

Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . , On the Lord's Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure

Didache 4:14,14:1 [A.D.70]

St. Justin Martyr, (A.D. 100-163), Samaritan; born in Sichem (Naplousia) in Palestine; a platonic philosopher, apologist, and martyr for the faith; he was a convert to Catholic Christianity in A.D. 133. He wrote two Apologies for the Christian religion, one addressed to Antoninus, the other to Marcus Aurelius. He was martyred at Rome in the year 163.

You shall judge righteously. You shall not make a schism, but you shall pacify those that contend by bringing them together. You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

Letter of Barnabas 19 [A.D. 74]

St. Irenæus of Lyons, (A.D. 125-202), Asia Minor; bishop, missionary, theologian, defender of orthodoxy. Though by birth a Greek, he was Bishop of Lyons in the second century. He tells us that, in his early youth, he learned the rudiments of religion from St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Apostle. He wrote several works, of which only a few fragments are now known, with the exception of his Treatise against Heretics which we have in five books.

[The Gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women. . . Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between two courses.

Against Heresies 1:22 [A.D. 189]

Tertullian, (A.D. 160-218), North African; ecclesiastical writer, Christian apologist and lawyer, son of a centurion and contemporary of St. Irenæus, a native and citizen of Carthage. The zeal and ability with which he defended the Christian cause, and vindicated its faith and discipline, have immortalized his name, though it has suffered by his adoption, around the year A.D. 200, of some of the Montanist's errors, whose cause he is thought to have supported until his death. His works are numerous, and are written with great ability and erudition, but in an harsh style.

[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness.

Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]

The Church has the power of forgiving sins. This I acknowledge and adjudge.

Repentance 21

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (A.D. 170-236), Roman; bishop and martyr, probably a scholar of St. Irenæus of Lyons.

[The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your Royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles. . . and grant this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, [the power] to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face and to offer to you the gifts of your holy Church, and by the Spirit of the high priesthood to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command.

Apostolic Tradition 3 [A.D. 215]

Origen of Alexandria, (A.D. 184-253), Alexandrian; born in Egypt, philosopher, theologian, writer.

[A filial method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, "I said, to the Lord, I will accuse myself of my iniquity".

Homilies in Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]

St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A.D. 200-258), North African; bishop; biblical scholar, martyr.

The Apostle [Paul] likewise bears witness and says: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord "[I Corinthians 11:27]. But [the impenitent] spurn and despise all these warnings; before their sins are expiated, before they have made a confession of their crime, before their conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at: the hand of the priest . . . they do violence to his body and blood, and with their hands and mouth they sin against the Lord more than when they denied him.

The Lapsed 15:1-3 (A.D. 251]

Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . I beseech you, brethren; let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord

The Lapsed 28

Sinners may do penance For a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of Communion. [But now some] with their time [of penance] still unfulfilled . . . they are admitted to Communion, and their name is presented and while the penitence is not yet performed, confession is not yet made, the hands of the bishop and clergy are not yet laid upon them, the Eucharist is given to them; although it is written, "Whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" [I Corinthians 11:27]

Letters 9:2 [A.D. 253]

Firmilian of Cæsarea, (A.D. 210-272), Cappadocian; bishop, contemporary of Gregory Thaumaturge, ardent admirer of Origen; remembered for the moral support he gave St. Cyprian of Carthage on the issue of baptizing heretics.

"For the rest, what a crime it is, whether of those who admit, or of those who are admitted, that, their defilements unwashed by the laver of the Church, their sins not manifested, they, by a communion rashly granted, touch the body and blood of the Lord, though it be written, "Whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord."

Inter Ep. St. Cyp. 75 .p. 309.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 218

Lactantius, (A.D. 240-c.330), was an early Christian author, the goal of his writings was to present Christianity in a form that would be attractive to philosophical pagans.

"As every sect of heretics thinks its followers are, above all others, Christian and even its own "catholic" church, it should be known that only the true (Catholic Church) has Confession and penitence, which wholesomely heals the wounds and sins to which the weaknesses of the flesh are subject to."

Divin. Instit. l. iv. c. 30.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 53

St. Anthony of Egypt, (A.D. c.251 - 356), (also known as Anthony the Great, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Desert, and Anthony the Anchorite), Egyptian; prominent leader among the Desert Fathers. The biography of Anthony's life by Athanasius of Alexandria helped to spread the concept of monasticism, particularly in Western Europe through Latin translations.

"Let us now revert to that shame which is full of grace and glory. Be not, then, ashamed to do whatsoever is in accordance with the will of God; neither be ashamed to learn the Lord's doctrines and words, nor to disclose to thy priest thy sins."

Sermones ad Monach. Sect. 12, De Verecundia, Galland. T. iv. p. 656.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 55

"The most excellent of all the works that man can do is, to confess his sins before God and his elders."

Admonit. ad Monach. Ibid. p. 705.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 55

St. James of Nisibis, (unknown-361), bishop of Nisibis in Mesopotamia, was present at the council of Nicaea, and died about the year 361. We have his life by Theodoret of Cyrus. A. Antonelli published eighteen sermons by this saint at Rome in 1756.

"From the time that Adam transgressed the commandment, sin reigned . . . until our Lord who took and fastened it to the cross. Still do its stings remain and pierce many. There is not a disease, or a pain, to which a cure and a remedy cannot be applied, provided a skilful physician be called in. But they who are wounded in our conflict have the remedy of penitence, which being applied to their wounds, they are healed. O ye physicians, the disciples of our skilful physician, take unto yourselves the remedy, whereby the wounds of the afflicted may be cured. . . He that has been wounded in battle is not ashamed to put himself into the hands of a skilful physician, seeing that he received his wound through the severity of the contest; and the king rejects him not when cured, but places him in the list of his veteran troops: so neither ought he, whom the devil has wounded, to be ashamed to confess his failings; to fly from him; and to implore the medicine of penitence. For he that is ashamed to lay open his wounds to a physician, from his wounds being corrupted, his whole body is infected; whilst he who is not ashamed has his wounds cured, and returns to the fight. And whereas he, that has contracted a deadly illness, hopes not for cure, nor again puts on his wanted armor; he that is overcome in our warfare may hope for a cure, if he say, "I have sinned", imploring penitence; but he that is ashamed, cannot be cured, because he will not disclose his wounds to the physician, who receives two pence (Luke 10:35), and out of them cures all that are wounded. And you who are the disciples of our physician, as you are endowed with the power of healing, take care that you be not an obstacle in the way of the cure of those who need medicine; but you will apply the medicine of penitence to him who shows you his wounds. And he who is ashamed to manifest his evil, do you admonish him not to conceal it from you.

Serm. vii. de Paenit. n. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, Galland.. T. v.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 55-56

"To you who have already been wounded, I give this counsel and say, "Be not ashamed of saying, we have been maimed in battle. Receive a medicine without price, and be ye converted, and steadfast, lest ye perish." I will bring to your memory, O physicians, something that is written in the books of our skilful physician, for He prohibits not penitence. For when Adam had sinned, He called him unto penitence, saying, "Where art thou, Adam?" and he hid his sins from Him that searcheth the heart, and excused himself because Eve had deceived him. And because he confessed not the sin of his transgressions, the sentence of death was passed against him, and all that sprang from him. . . . You see, then, dearly beloved, of what benefit it is to confess, and to be awakened from iniquity. And do you hearken, who have the keys of the gates of Heaven, and open the gate to the penitent, and follow what the blessed Apostle has said: "Brethren, and if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." (Galatians 6:1).

"Be likewise on your guard, lest any of you fall into temptation. The Apostle feared, and said, in his alarm, of himself: Perhaps I who have preached to others may be found utterly a castaway. Whosoever, therefore, amongst you shall be scandalized at another s sin, saith he, do not judge him as an enemy, but correct him as a brother, lest, being separated by you, he be received by the devil. . . . But, penitents, to you I again say, do not cast aside the remedy which has been given to you unto salvation. For thus say the Scriptures: "They who confess their sins, and restrain themselves from them, on such the Lord will have mercy."

Serm. vii. de Paenit. n. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, Galland.. T. v.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 56-57

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, (A.D. 296-372), Egyptian; bishop, theologian, and Doctor of the Church. He was present, as an assistant to St. Alexander of Alexandria, at the council of Nicea who he succeeded in A.D. 326. During more than forty years he was the champion of orthodoxy, and suffered much severe persecution from the Arian party.

"As man is illuminated with the grace of the Holy Spirit by the priest that baptizes, so also he who confesses in penitence, receives through the priest, by the grace of Christ, the remission (of sins)."

Frag, (ut videtur) ex Lib. contr. Norat. T. iii. p. 75
And in Montfaucon's Nova Collect. T. ii. p. 103.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 60

St. Ephrem the Syrian, (of Edessa), (A.D. 306-378), Syrian; born in Nisebis, deacon, hymnist, poet. His works were even during his own lifetime almost all translated into Greek, and were, as St. Jerome informs us, held in such high estimation, as to be read in some churches after the Holy Scriptures. We have his life by St. Gregory of Nyssa.

"I know that the multitude of His mercies surpasses the multitude of my transgressions. I know that He, when amongst us, showed mercy to all; and I confess that He has vouchsafed, in baptism, remission of sins; for I also have partaken of this grace; but I still stand in need of a cure for sins after baptism. But He that raised the dead is not without power to heal me. I have become blind, but He cured one that was born blind. ... I have been put out as a leper, but if He wish I shall be made clean. I know that I have sinned after knowledge, but I have holy David interceding for me."

T. i. Gr.-Lat. p. 137; Reprehensio sui ipsius.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 2, Page 119-120

St. Pacian of Barcelona, (A.D. c.310-375), bishop of Barcelona, Jerome praises his eloquence, learning, chastity, and holiness of life. He is also remembered from a phrase from one of his letters: "My name is Christian, my surname is Catholic.".

"You now understand, Novatians, that God can be merciful; that a remedy, however slow (or late), is still within the power of our unhappy brethren who confess what is past; that the wounded man, whom the Levite and priest passed by, can be cured by Christ; that the prayers of the Church are not to be refused to the humble; that the hands of the priesthood are not to be withheld from the brethren that claim our compassion. . . . We know that it (the Church) is a well of liming water, and a sealed fountain, unpolluted by the filth of any heretical whirlpool. . . . Having confessed our own sins, we exhort the rest also to confess theirs, and to believe on Him who justifies the impious by faith. . . . We beware also of false prophets and ravening wolves, whilst on our guard against you. And our opinion is, that Jannes and Mambre resisted Moses, as you resist the Catholics."

Ep. iii. n. 21, p. 268..
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St. Hilary of Poitiers, (A.D. 315-367), French; husband, theologian, bishop of Poiters around A.D. 355, and Doctor of the Church. Referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians" and the "Athanasius of the West.". He was obviously a firm supporter of St. Athanasius.

"There is the most powerful and most useful medicine for the diseases of deadly vices, in Confession. But confession of sin is not as an open acknowledgment of things unknown by others, as if a thief interrogated about a theft, or a homicide about a murder, make a confession; nor as though "God, who searcheth the reins and the heart", being ignorant, needs thy confession for His knowledge,— He who readily sees into, not only what has been thought, but what will be thought. But confession of sin is this, that what has been done by thee thou confess to be a sin, through thy conviction that it is a sin. For there is no one that engages upon any act that he performs, without either some pleasure as its fruit, or without a persuasion that there is something of good in it: either thinking the act right, or taking pleasure in it. But when, through God's teaching, and the reasonableness of what is true, he comprehends that what he has chosen under the appearance of usefulness or of pleasure, is a sin; through his conviction of sin he confesses that what he has done is sinful. . . . Sins, therefore, must be ceased from, after that in confession there is conviction of sin; and the confession is to be, as the prophet teaches, with the whole heart; not in part, nor with a partial operation of the sins, now known to us, yet abiding within us. For what if one that is penitent on account of theft, should increase his money by unjust and foul gains? He will not indeed be a thief, but he will be covetous and an extortioner."

Tract, in Psalm 137. n. 2-3, pp. 555-56.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 59

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, (A.D. 315-386), Palestinian; ordained by Maximus, he was made bishop of Jerusalem in A.D. 345; scholar and Doctor of the Church. None of his writings have been preserved to us, except eighteen catechetical instructions addressed to catechumens, and five mystagogic discourses addressed to neophytes.

"Put off the old man, who is corrupted according to the deceitful lusts, by means of the confession (exomologesis), that you may put on the new man.. . . The present is the season of Confession (exomologesis): confess the things that thou hast done, whether in word, or in deed; the things done in the night, and those in the day. Confess in an acceptable time, and in a day of salvation, receive the heavenly treasure."

Catech. i. n. 2-5. vp. 17-18.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 60

St. Gregory of Nazianzen, (A.D. 318-389), Cappadocian; archbishop, theologian, Doctor of the Church.

"Let us not wait to be accused by others, but become searchers of ourselves; a great remedy against evil is confession, and the flight of sin."

T. i. or. xl. 15, p. 236.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 63

St. Gregory of Nyssa, (A.D. c.335 - c.394), bishop of Nyssa in A.D. 371, an erudite theologian who made significant contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed. Gregory's philosophical writings were influenced by Origen. He was the brother of the great St. Basil.

"Whosoever, by secret theft, has usurped what belongs to an other, and has afterwards manifested, by means of an open declaration, his transgression to the priest, he will cure his wound by zeal in a direction opposed to his (former) disposition; I mean, by giving his substance to the poor, in order that by the distribution of what he possesses, he may clearly show that he is cleansed from the disease of avarice."

T. ii. Epis. Canon, ad Letoium, p. 122.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 63

St. Ambrose of Milan, (A.D. 340-396), German; reluctantly made bishop in the A.D. 374., Doctor of the Church. He closed a great and glorious career in A.D. 396. We have his life by Paulinus.

"Hearken unto this remedy: "The just man at the beginning of his discourse is the accuser of himself." (Proverbs 18:17) The poison is sin; the remedy, the accusation of one's crime; the poison is iniquity — Confession is the remedy of the relapse. And therefore is it truly a remedy against poison, if thou "declare thine iniquities, that thou mayest be justified."

T. i. In Psalm 18. n. xi. p. 820.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 73

"A modest confession pleads much for a guilty person; and the punishment which we cannot by any advocacy avoid, by shame we alleviate."

T. i. In Psalm 18. n. xiv. p. 821.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 73

"As often as we receive the blood of the Lord, we show forth the death of the Lord. As then He was once sacrificed for all men, so we, as often as our sins are forgiven, receive the sacrament of His body, that by means of His blood there may be the remission of sins. By the Lord's open declaration has it most plainly been enjoined that the grace of the heavenly sacrament is to be restored to those who have been guilty of even the most grievous crime, provided that with their whole heart, and with manifest confession of sin, they do penitence."

T. ii. L. ii. De Paenit. c. 3, n. 18-19, p. 420.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 76-77

"Let us now see whether the Holy Ghost forgives sins. But here there cannot be a doubt, as the Lord Himself has said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins ye shall forgive,etc." Men indeed furnish their ministry unto the remission of sins, but they do not exercise the right of any power. For they do not, in their own name, forgive sins, but in the name of Father and Son and Holy Ghost. They pray, the divinity forgives.

By baptism also there is no doubt that sins are forgiven; but in baptism the operation is of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost."

T. ii. L. iii. de S. Sancto. c. xviii. n. 137-8, pp. 693-4.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 78

Blessed Isaias, (lived in the 4th century), Abbot

"Be strengthened therefore in heart, and do not say, "How can I keep His commandments, being that I am a sinful man?" For he that shall have confessed his sins, being converted to God by penitence, shall be regenerated. "As we have borne the image of the earthly", says the Apostle, "let us bear also the image of the heavenly." (1 Corinthians 15:49) God, therefore, as I see, has given unto man the power to be changed by penitence, and for the whole man to be renewed by its means."

Orat. xxv. n. 17, Galland, t. vii. p. 312.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 72

St. Paulinus the Deacon, (also known as Paulinus of Milan), (unknown-c.425), was the notary of Ambrose of Milan, and his biographer. In Carthage in 411 he had opposed Caelestius, a Pelagian. The formal proceedings were described by Augustine in On Original Sin. Paulinus set up six theses defining Pelagian views as heresy. His work is the only life of Ambrose based on a contemporary account, "Life of St. Ambrose" and was written at the request of Augustine of Hippo; it is dated to 422.

In his life of St. Ambrose, he says:

"As often as any one, in order to receive penitence, confessed his falls unto him, he (St. Ambrose) wept so as to compel him also to weep. For he seemed to himself to be fallen with the fallen. But he spoke of the cause of the crimes which they confessed, to none but the Lord only, with whom he interceded: leaving a good example to the priests that come after him, to be rather intercessors with God, than accusers unto men; for in accordance also with the Apostle, charity is to be confirmed towards such a one, because that he is the accuser of himself: neither does he wait for the accuser, but anticipates him, that so he may himself remove (alleviate) his sin, nor have what the adversary may criminate him in. And therefore does the Scripture say: "The just man at the beginning of his discourse is the accuser of himself." For he takes the word out of the mouth of the adversary: and by the confession of his sins he as it were breaks the teeth that are prepared for the prey of a hostile accusation; giving honor to God, to whom all things are naked (Hebrews 4), and who desires the life, rather than the death of the sinner. (Ezekiel 18) For to the penitent, Confession alone is not sufficient, unless there follow after also an amendment of his deeds."

Vit. Ambros. n. 39, p. 10. In App. T. ii. Op. S. Ambr.
This life is also given by Gallandius, T. ix.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 79-80

St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made. . . . When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1458


Confession is the disclosing of sins which the penitent makes to a priest. This obligation evidently follows from the words of Christ, when He instituted the sacrament of penance:

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

There are three essential parts to the sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation:

  1. Contrition
  2. Confession, and
  3. Penance, also known as Satisfaction.

It's very important to note: When we confess to a priest, we are actually confessing to Jesus Himself, who is "in the person of Christ, the man". If you need help understanding this Ask Us.



The Church's Scriptures that support Confession to priests of the Church:


Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to St. Peter

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven."

Matthew 16:19

Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to the Apostles who are in union with St. Peter.

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.

Matthew 18:18

Jesus delegates His Divine Authority to forgive sins to His Apostles.

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

John 20:21-23

The Prayer of Faith.

13 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.


James 5:13-15

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves but if we confess our sins.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-9

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