Rev. Mark Watson/Pastor
In this article, I will present a short history of the Sacrament of Reconciliation followed by a message by Pope Francis on this important sacrament.
During his life, Jesus invited people to turn their minds and hearts from sin in order to accept the Kingdom of God and at times Jesus even forgave sin. In the early church Baptism was the one way in which sin was forgiven. From 140 AD TO 250 AD, there was a growing understanding that after baptism individuals had one more chance to be forgiven. In 250 AD St. Cyprian wrote that one could be forgiven only once after Baptism and only for the sins of apostasy, murder and adultery. One who committed these serious sins entered a group called the Order of Penitents. After completing a penance given by the Bishop ones sin was forgiven.
In the 5th Century St. Patrick brought the method of private confession from the monasteries of Ireland to continental Europe. In this system, you could be forgiven as often as you confessed your sins. A Penance was received after the priest said the prayer of absolution. As early as the 8th century this was how the Sacrament of Reconciliation was celebrated throughout Europe.
In the 20th Century, the communal aspect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was lost. Pope Pius XI felt in 1950’s felt that people had lost their focus on sin. It seemed that members of the Church saw sin merely as breaking laws rather than as alienating oneself from God, others and oneself. Vatican II attempted to bring back a social understanding of sin which saw sin as hurting not only the individual but others, especially within the Church. Vatican II presented the following forms of Reconciliation: 1) Private Confession, which was celebrated as it had been before 1974, 2) the Communal Rite with Individual Confession, as we will celebrate during Lent and Advent, and 3) General Absolution, which offers absolution for a large group when there are not enough priests to offer individual confession.
POPE FRANCIS’ MESSAGE
The Pope recognizes that we carry this life “in earthly vessels” meaning that we are “subject to temptation, suffering, and death and, because of sin, we may lose this new life.” As a result, Christ offers us the healing sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. The Pope states the story of the forgiving and healing of the paralytic (Mk 2:1-12) shows the Lord Jesus as the physician of souls and of bodies.
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation flows from the suffering, death, and resurrection of Our Lord.
Since we cannot forgive our own sins, we have a need for Christ’s forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We can only be at true peace when we allow Jesus to forgive us and so to reconcile us with God the Father and with one another.
The Christian community is where the Spirit is made present, who renews hearts in the love of God and makes all of the brethren one in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is necessary to go to Confession to a priest of the Church. The priest represents God but also the whole community. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through the priest, the community sees itself in the weakness of one of its members, listens to the penitent and is moved by his repentance, is reconciled with the penitent, cheers him up and accompanies the penitent on the path of conversion and human and Christian growth.
Some people may decide to not go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation but instead to simply tell God that he is sorry for his sins. Since our sins are committed against others and against the Church and so it is important to ask the pardon of the Church and of our brothers and sisters in the person of the priest.
The Pope counsels that we are to not be afraid of receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After one receives the Sacrament of Reconciliation one leaves “free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy.” The Pope asked the crowd in St. Peter Square, “I would like to ask you – but don’t say it aloud, everyone responds in his heart: when was the last time you made your confession? Everyone thinks about it…Two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is more benevolent than priests, Jesus receives you…”
The Pope ended by using referring to the story of the Prodigal Son. When the Son returned home to the Father and asked for forgiveness the Father did not let him speak, he embraced him, he kissed him and he began to make merry. “But I am telling you: each time we go to confession, God embraces us. God rejoices! Let us go forward on this road. May God bless you!” Fr. Mark