A recent article in a Catholic newspaper, whose name I will not mention for fear of leading others astray, contained a few erroneous statements about the Sacrament of Penance - Confession. This spurred me into action to respond by writing a brief response to specifically address the errors contained in the newspaper.
I felt that it was important for me to write about the Sacrament of Penance to correct the errors that had been published by the Catholic newspaper.
Initially I thought I would write something that was very brief and focus only on addressing the specific errors that I had read in the newspaper. I however came to the realisation that it would be better for me to write about the Sacrament of Penance more fully; this was a teaching opportunity on the Sacrament of Penance.
My post has turned out to be a much longer post than I had expected. So I will instead break down my post into a series of shorter posts on the subject. I hope that you will enjoy reading them as much as I did while I was studying and writing about the Sacrament of Penance.
Sacrament of Penance
Sacrament of Penance
Jesus said: ‘I am God and as such I have the power to forgive sins. I now entrust the use of this power to you, my Apostles. You will be my representatives. Whatever sins you forgive I will forgive. Whatever sins you do not forgive, I will not forgive.’
These words are just a modern idiom for what Sacred Scripture tells us that our Lord Jesus said to the Apostles on the first Easter Sunday evening when he appeared to the Apostles. Here is the exact wording taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, 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.’”
It is not surprising that our Lord said these words to the Apostles almost immediately after his resurrection. He had suffered and died on the cross precisely to redeem us from our sins. So it was apt that on that same day that he rose from the dead, having defeated eternal death, which is a consequence of sin, he should institute the Sacrament of Penance. This is the sacrament that would be the ordinary means whereby we Christians would have our sins forgiven thereafter.
There can be no doubt whatsoever, both from the words contained in Sacred Scripture and from Sacred Tradition, that our Lord had bestowed on the Apostles this power to forgive sins.
There can also be no doubt that our Lord did not intend that this power to forgive sins, which he bestowed only on the Apostles at that time, should die with the Apostles. We cannot believe this anymore than we can believe that our Lord intended that the message of the Gospel should die with the Apostles or that the Anointing of the Sick was intended to end with the death of the Apostles or that Mass should only be celebrated while the Apostles were alive.
If we believe that this power to forgive sins ended with the Apostles, we then surely must also believe that our Lord was only interested in the salvation of those Christians who were alive at the same time as the Apostles were alive. We know instinctively that this is simply not true.
Our Lord intended this power to forgive sins to pass from his Apostles to those who succeeded the Apostles and so on, through to the successors of the Apostles in our days and hereafter. Therefore this power continues, to this very day, to be passed on to all those who are ordained as priests by the successors of the Apostles, the bishops.
Whenever a priest raises his hand over a contrite sinner and says the words “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, the sins of that contrite sinner are absolved. We Catholics know this absolutely, without any doubt at all, because Sacred Scripture is very clear that our Lord said quite distinctly to the Apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”!