Perhaps going through the ritual will help a bit. Remember that every Sacrament has a ritual – but the Sacrament is not just the ritual. In the case of Reconciliation there are some things that have to be part of the ritual for the Sacrament to “work”, so to speak. These are, in short, the same elements that need to be in place for the Sacrament to take place: repentance, confession, forgiveness and penance.
Remember that all Sacraments consist of matter
. In Reconciliation the matter
is the sins confessed The form
are the words of absolution: “By the ministry of the Church, may God grant 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.”
There are also two essential elements that need to be present for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to take place: the acts of the penitent and the absolution of the confessor.
The acts of the penitent are four:
- Examination of conscience (so you can truly find all the sins)
- Contrition (that you are truly repentant)
- Confession (you gotta confess them) and
- Satisfaction/Penance (what the Priest asks you to do to make amends)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that: "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 labours for their conversion." (CCC#1422
The Catechism continues, “The Sacrament has a few names: It is called the Sacrament of Conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus' call to conversion, the first step in returning to God. (CCC#1423
It is called the Sacrament of Confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. It is called the Sacrament of Forgiveness, since by the priest's sacramental absolution God grants the penitent "pardon and peace." It is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the life of God who reconciles.” (CCC#1424
Jesus preached a message of mercy and forgiveness. Consistently he forgave peoples sins: “Go and sin no more,” He told the woman caught in adultery. He said to Peter that we had to forgive seven times seventy - but perhaps the most memorable lesson on forgiveness comes through the story of the prodigal son. Prodigal is a word that means “wasteful” or “extravagantly wasteful.” I think most people are familiar with this story of a boy who betrayed his father and his people. He wasted all his inheritance and ended up sleeping and eating with pigs— not the cleanest animals as far as the Jews were concerned. Still he “came to his senses” and went back to his father and said, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15: 18-19) But the father, instead of being angry, welcomed him and threw a party for him. He then had to explain it to the older son, “we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32) This is what happens at reconciliation: we come back to life in communion with God, the Father.
But we cannot be in communion with God unless we also forgive each other. We pray it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
It’s not just God who should forgive. We all need to live lives of forgiveness. "He who lives by God's merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord's call: "Go; first be reconciled to your brother."
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we receive the following Graces:
- Our sins are forgiven
- We are reconciled with God
- We are restored to God’s grace
- We are reconciled with the Church
- We are joined with God in intimate friendship (CCC#1496)
I guess we can also say that these are the “metaphysical occurrences”
that take place.
So, to review: Sin separates us from God and the Church and reconciliation brings us back into communion with God and the Church. Remember, every in every Sacrament a metaphysical occurrence takes place. In reconciliation it’s easy: our sins our wiped away: clean slate. Reconciliation also fulfills our deep human longing to be reconciled with each other and with God.
Earlier we said that the elements that need to be present for the Sacrament to “work,” so to speak are: repentance, confession, forgiveness and penance. If we are truly repentant, God will forgive, but part of the visible sign is that we have to confess our sins. I think that’s clear. But what about penance?
To be truly reconciled, one has to be truly repentant, and a visible sign of that repentance is that we do a penance to help repair the hurt we may have caused. Which is why if someone is not repentant, the priest cannot absolve them of the sin.
What’s important here is not just that we confess, but that we are truly sorry for our sin, that we repair the damage done and that we promise to try to be better.
Which is what that little prayer, the Act of Contrition, is all about.
I never learned the one my parents learned: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee...
It made me think too much of punishment. But I still remember the one that I learned when I was preparing for my First Communion:
Oh my Jesus. I am sorry that I have sinned. Please forgive me. I know you love me; I want to love you and be good to everyone. Help me to make up for my sins. I will try to be better from now on. Amen.
The one my son learned while preparing for his First Communion is very similar:
I’m sorry for doing wrong. Please forgive me all my sins. I know you love me very much. Help me love you in return and care for others as you do. Amen.
I like these because they help me focus on how I’ve missed the mark, I’ve fallen short. It reminds me that God loves me, no matter what and that He wants me to come back home to Him. All I have to do is get back up and keep trying.
Scriptures tell us that God has entered into Covenant with us. We have broken our end of the Covenant many times, but God has always been, always is and always will be faithful. We also know Jesus already saved us, and that is HUGE, but we have to remember that he still continues to save us right now, today.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask, it’s as simple as a comment – and do let us know what you’re thoughts are on this. We all struggle with sin and reconciliation. One thing we can do for each other is to reassure us that we are not alone.
And remember to watch In Your Faith
every Tuesday at 8pm ET, 9pm PT – and that Season 1 is available for sale, with topics such as Why Doesn’t the Church Get With the Times? Y B Catholic? Who is Jesus? Who is Mary? And Where Do I Fit in the World?
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*Read all posts on the Sacraments:
What is a Sacrament? part one, part two and part three
What is Baptism? part one, part two and part three
What is Reconciliation? part one, part two and part three