Sacrament of Reconciliation, 2008

May 2008

Over the past twenty years I have read and heard much, concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation or as we say ‘going to confession.’ Almost all of this bemoaned the fact that Catholics no longer went to confession as they used to and exhorted us to return to the practise of frequent confession. Catholics were said to have lost their ‘sense of sin.’

I personally thank God if we have largely abandoned the practise of frequent confession, as we used to have it. I personally thank God if we have lost our sense of sin, as we used to have it. The operative part of these two statements is ‘as we used to have it.’

Over many years, going to confession was pushed so hard that Catholics thought that the only way to have ones sins forgiven was be confessing them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This of course is not true.

Over many years, we were told, and read, so much about sin and our own sinfulness that without having received Confession and the Last Rites, just before we died, we believed we were more than likely doomed to hell fire. This of course is not true.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, that is, going to a priest as an official representative of the Church, confessing ones sins and receiving a penance to perform and absolution, is primarily for one guilty of mortal sin.

Mortal sin is a fully deliberate, truly free, clearly understood and persistent rejection of God and everything to do with God. It has nothing to do with getting into a huff with God or getting angry with God.

All other sin is what we call venial.

For many years, in this area also, there has been, and still is, confusion and great exaggeration as to what is mortal and venial. The result is that most venial sin has, in our minds, been upgraded to mortal sin. This was especially true of sexual failings.

Of the possibly one or two hundred thousand plus confessions I heard over the years I have never encountered a truly mortal sin!!!

Another area of confusion is the church law requiring Catholics to confess their sins at least once a year. Of the many, many times I have heard Catholics urged to do this I have never heard it explained that this law applies, only to one who is guilty of mortal sin. Of course at that time mortal sin was ubiquitous, as for some it still is. I am pretty sure that none of you have ever committed a mortal sin in your lives although you might argue that you did.

I am not saying that sin does not exist (we are surrounded by the legacies of our own sins and of sins of others). I am not trying to put you off confession. I am not saying that venial sin is not forgiven in confession. I am trying to explain the true situation to you and show you that the normal way we are forgiven our venial sins is by any and all of the following; genuine sorrow, the penitential service at the beginning of Mass, reconciliation services without sacramental absolution, being helpful to our neighbour, prayer, Baptism, Anointing of the Sick, receiving the Eucharist, the stations of the cross, making the sign of the cross reverently, lighting a votive candle, being kind to husband/wife and children, forgiving others, being compassionate, giving alms etc. etc.

Just think about all the little gestures, smiles, words, actions etc. which prompt you to completely forgive your errant child and apply the same to God your Father.