What specific graces do we receive from the sacrament of Confession? Why should I go to confession when I can just pray to God and tell Him I’m sorry?
The grace that comes from the sacrament of Confession is abundant and overflowing. From the sacrament we receive actual grace, which strengthens us in our daily task of doing good and avoiding evil, and sanctifying grace, which cleanses us of all sin. That’s no small thing, being cleansed of all sin! “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa 1:18). Praise God for that!
As for the necessity of receiving the sacrament, it is true that we can pray to God and he will forgive our venial, or lesser sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). But, Scripture also tells us: “There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that” (1 Jn 5:16). To cleanse us of mortal sins — sins that separate us from God and destroy the divine life within us — Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession.
Do you remember what Jesus said to His apostles when He appeared to them after His resurrection? He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). This is the fulfillment of what He told them before His death, when He said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18). We see from this that Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sin.
The apostles in turn passed this power on to succeeding generations when they ordained “elders” (the Greek word is presbuteros, from which we derive the word “priest”) to take their place in the various churches. We know that these elders received this power because James will later advise his audience: “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; 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” (Jas 5:14-15). Your parish priest received this power in his ordination as well.
Knowing this, the question becomes: How could you have a priest in your midst that God himself uses as His instrument for the forgiveness of your sin and not go to him? Waiting in that confessional is a power unlike any other: the power to set you right with God again. There is simply no reason why we should not be lined up out the door, waiting to approach God through the sacrament of Confession and receive his cleansing grace. We are all sinners in need of God’s help, and we simply cannot do what is good on our own.
If you have not been to Confession in a long time, consider this your invitation.
Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
Feel free to email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org