Forgiveness of Sins

Baptism was given to take away the original sin inherited from Adam and any sins we personally committed before baptism. Sins we personally commit are called actual sins, because they come from our own acts. Thus on the day of Pentecost Peter told the crowds: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit - Acts 2:38, and when Paul was baptized he was told. Why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name - Acts 22:16. Peter later wrote, Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ - 1 Peter 3:21.

For sins committed after baptism, a different sacrament is needed. It has been called penance, confession, and reconciliation, each word emphasizing one of its aspects. During his life, Christ forgave sins, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery - John 8:1-11 and the woman who anointed his feet - Luke 7:48. He exercised this power as a man, that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins - Matt. 9:6, which is why the gospel writer himself explains that God had given such authority to men - Matt. 9:8, prompting the crowds to glorify God for this great gift.

Since he would not always be with the Church visibly, Christ gave this power to other men so the Church, which is the continuation of his presence throughout time - Matt. 28:20, would be able to offer forgiveness to future generations. He gave his power to the apostles, and it was necessarily a communicable power, one that could be passed on to their successors and agents, since, obviously, the apostles wouldn't always be on earth either, but people would still be sinning.

God had sent Jesus to forgive sins, but after his resurrection Jesus told the apostles, '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' - John 20:21-23.

The Commission

Christ told the apostles to follow his example: As the Father has sent me, even so I send you - John 20:21. What he did, they were to do. Just as the apostles were to carry Christ's message to the whole world, so they were to carry his forgiveness: 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 - Matt. 18:18.

Examination of Conscience

   I.  Reflect on the Commandments of God, and the duties of a particular state of life. Silent Reflection should accompanied by prayer, especially to the Holy Spirit, and Scripture reading. One should recall and regret all of the sins committed since the last Confession.

  II.  After recalling all of the sins to be confessed and mentally expressed genuine sorrow for them, the confessional or other place set aside for the celebration of the Sacrament is entered.

 III.  After being welcomed by the priest, the penitent makes the sign of the cross saying: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

  IV.  The priest may read a short Scripture passage, then the penitent states the time since the last confession and confesses the sins recalled during the examination of conscience, including all mortal sins.

   V.  After the sins are confessed, the priest counsels the penitent and asks the penitent to do a penance, usually some prayers or a charitable work. The penitent accepts the penance.

  VI.  The penitent expresses sorrow for sin in his or her own words, or by saying an Act of Contrition, or by saying short psalm of sorrow.

 VII.  The priest then gives absolution saying:
"God the Father of mercies, through the death and 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."

VIII.  The penitent replies, "Amen."

  IX.  The priest then says, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good."

   X.  The penitent replies, "His mercy endures forever."

  XI.  The penitent is then dismissed by the priest in the peace of Christ.

Second Form: Communal Confession

Communal Penance Services are usually held in most parishes. The people gather in Church to prepare for the sacrament by listening to the Word of God, reciting or singing penitential psalms and hymns and participating in community prayer. The priests will help those present to examine their conscience, the penitents will then approach one of the priests. Each penitent individually confesses his or her sins. This would include all mortal sins and any others he or she wishes to confess. You then accept a penance from the priest and receive absolution. Some parishes may, after everyone going to confession, rejoin again for community prayer in thanksgiving for the reconciliation.

Third Form: General Absolution

This third form is to be used only in cases of emergencies or in cases where people would have to wait a long time to receive the sacrament. These conditions do not normally exist in the United States. The priest has the main responsibility for this form of penance. Time permitting, each penitent should make an examination of conscience and be sorry for all the sins committed. The priest absolves everyone. Each person who has received general absolution must confess all mortal sins individually to a priest at the next opportunity.

In normal circumstances, Catholic should not make use of this form of the sacrament. However, the Church allows the use of this form in extraordinary circumstances so that no one would be deprived of the mercy of God.