Catholicism Explained - The Sacrament of Confession

Catholicism Explained is back! Do forgive me for failing to put up a post last week. I've made a firm purpose of resolve not to do that again.

Speaking of forgiveness and firm purposes of resolve, this week we're going to talk about the Sacrament of Confession.

How to Describe Confession to Protestants (Dr. Taylor Marshall's Becoming Catholic Series, Pt.5):


Confession (also called Reconciliation or Penance) is the sacrament by which sins committed after baptism are forgiven.

(The definition of a sacrament is "a outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church - Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, the Eucharist, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.)

The Biblical Roots

"Jesus himself instituted the sacrament of Penance when he showed himself to his apostles on Easter day and commanded 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' (Jn. 20:22a-23)." - YouCat, 227

Forgiving sins was a huge part of Jesus' ministry. Often if not always when he healed someone from a physical disease or hurt, He would forgive their sins and tell them to go and sin no more. Jesus is the Divine Physician, and healing souls is His specialty!

Continuing Jesus' work was the Apostles' special duty, the mission to which they would give the rest of their lives. In His name they were commanded to heal the sick and drive out demons. Doesn't it make sense that they were given the power to forgive sins, too? :)

Jesus writes on the ground...2008. by Yongsung Kim "neither do I condemn you"! FRAMEWORKS GALLERY:

Sacred Tradition

Historically, the sacrament of Confession has always been an important part of Catholic Christianity. Here are some quotes I found on this webpage:

 “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . . On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure” (Didache 4:14, 14:1 [A.D. 70]).

“You [priests], then, who are disciples of our illustrious physician [Christ], you ought not deny a curative to those in need of healing. And if anyone uncovers his wound before you, give him the remedy of repentance. And he that is ashamed to make known his weakness, encourage him so that he will not hide it from you. And when he has revealed it to you, do not make it public, lest because of it the innocent might be reckoned as guilty by our enemies and by those who hate us” (Treatises 7:3 [A.D. 340]).

“It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles” (Rules Briefly Treated 288 [A.D. 374]).

Jesus, I Trust in You. Divine Mercy Image. Venerate this Image Daily - Click image to honor and respect. I promise that anyone who endearingly venerates this Image of My Divine Mercy will not perish. Beautiful Catholic Prayers.

How it Works

To make a good confession, five things are necessary:

1. Examination of Conscience:  in preparing for confession, the penitent takes some time to reflect on the state of his soul and think about his sins. Only mortal (serious) sins (like missing Mass on Sunday, adultery, murder, etc.) must be confessed, but it's a good exercise in humility to confess venial (less serious) sins as well.

2. Sorrow for Sins: the penitent must have true contrition (sorrow) for his sins. Contrition can be either perfect, meaning motivated by love of God; or imperfect, meaning motivated by fear of punishment or hatred for the ugliness of sin. Either perfect or imperfect contrition will do, but perfect contrition is - well, more perfect.

3. Firm Resolve Not to Sin Again: the penitent must be determined to stay out of sin in the future and to avoid the near occasion of sin. I can't have the mindset, "Oh, stealing is bad, but that's okay; I'll just go to confession every time I do it." That's a big no-no. :)

4. Confession of Sins to a Priest: the scary part. Just kidding. :) After the penitent has told his sins as clearly and simply as possible (I'm not very good at this), the priest gives him absolution. At this moment the sins of the penitent are destroyed. (It feels really awesome.)
It isn't the priest who forgives our sins, but Jesus. Just as in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, God uses a man as His instrument in bringing grace to us poor mortals.

Mercy and Confession: 10 Tips on How to Confess Well - Catholic Exchange:

5. Penance: the penitent performs the act of penance which the priest assigned him. In the old days penance was really long and arduous, but now it's usually something simply like five Hail Marys or Three Our Fathers.

And then the penitent does a happy dance.

Let it go, let it go!!!:

Seriously, though:

Harvesting The Fruits Of Contemplation: Confession - The Forgotten Sacrament and Grace:

Well! Thanks for reading! I'm guessing this post will need a Part Two as it didn't really get into anything deep, just covered the basics. Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Corrections? Ideas for how to make Catholicism Explained better? Let us discuss!


  1. Perhaps in a future post could you have a defense and/or explanation of the Marian doctrines? They are so abused, and so little praise when doctrinal errors are repaired. We praise Mary, but do non-Catholics know why? Do they understand? Do we even know the depth of certain things? Like how Mary was free-willed, but born with grace (and without sin), and so inclined to goodness, but still had the freedom to choose. Or the difference of how some Protestants believe that she didn't know of Jesus's divinity until his first miricale, whereas we say otherwise. Or like how she did so many great things in crisis, like going to Elizabeth even though she had her own child. Or like.... uh, maybe I should stop before I rant any more... Sorry, I get very animate when it comes to the much misunderstood Marian doctrines. :) :P

    1. Ooh yes! Very good idea! I'll be sure to discuss a Marian topic sometime in the very near future. :)

    2. Yay!!! :D

  2. I like this :) Especially that Elsa meme. That's how I always feel, like, EXACTLY.

    1. Thanks, Rosie! Yeah, that meme struck me as hilariously accurate. :)

  3. I'm incredibly late to comment this time! Sorry about that. I'm still here, still reading these posts. And I still appreciate how they help me understand more of Catholicism, and how they motivate me to investigate the scriptures and theology.

    I looked over the verses you referenced (Thanks for that, by the way. Those are always the most helpful.) But it didn't look as if the confessors were admitting their sins to John the Baptist or to the Apostles specifically. I gathered from the context that they were only admitting them in public.
    But what concerned me the most was the reference to Matt 10:5-15. I think I can see where you're coming from, Lucy. But I'd advise against using an assumption as a point, especially a theological one.

    But what I want to know the most is why I would confess to a priest, instead of going straight to Jesus. Would I do both? Now, I understand that it's also a good thing to confess to other human beings (especially to the person I've hurt, but also to mentors and accountability partners who can walk alongside me). But I don't really understand the need for the priest and penance. I've always considered my penance already paid by Jesus, and I remember that when I ask his forgiveness for when I backslide. (Please understand that I'm NOT saying I take my mistakes lightly and don't confess them!)

    I hope I'm not coming off as accusing or offensive, I don't intend that at all! These are just my concerns, and I thought you might like to know.

    Anyhow, thanks again. Looking forward to what the next topic brings!

    1. Thanks, Blue! You don't come off as accusing or offensive at all - that's what this whole feature is for, talking these things over. :) You bring up some great points and I hope to address them in tomorrow's post.

  4. Okay, so, as I understand it (don't look to my explanation solely, as Lucy is the person to be asked here), I will try to answer the two of your concerns that I think I can. Firstly, I don't think you can really just go and say 'Jesus, get rid of my sins, I feel sorry', then going on your merry little way and think no damage is done. That's the purpose of the penance. It is confessing your sins, and showing you are sorry for them with a proof (which also shows that you are willing to make up for it and to try not to sin again). That explains the penance's purpose (saying sorry AND making up for your sins). Now, the priest's purpose. I also think it would be kind-of arrogant to pray and say 'Here are my sins, Lord, tell me what to do to make up for them', and expect a straight-on, immediate answer from Him. That is where the priest comes in. He channels God's answer to you by hearing your sins for God and telling you your penance. He is not going to use it against you. Priests are forbidden most strictly to identify any sins they have heard in confession with any person, and it is a very grave sin if the priests do so. They will not judge you for it: everybody sins. And while Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, we also need to show that we are not lazy bums who simply let Jesus show our sorrow for us. WE need to also tell God we are sorry! We need to show it! If we treated sins like they were already paid for, then we could sin anytime and say' Well, as long as I'm at last a little sorry afterwards, then it's settled, over and done with, it's paid for', which (I think, as I comprehend it) is arrogant. I hope that explains it!

    1. I assume this comment is for me? Seems like it, so thanks for taking the time to explain!
      I think, though, that I might have to clarify my concerns and questions.
      My understanding of penance is (as I like to say) the 'proof in the pudding'. Repentance would not be real repentance without a change of heart. But I don't understand how Hail Marys or Our Fathers change hearts. So I suppose my tangle with this issue here boils down to not the 'why' of penance, but the 'what'.
      As for the priests, I don't mind having someone more mature in faith to mentor or to give words from God. But I consider them spices, not the full meal. I agree, it would be arrogant to expect an immediate answer from God, all the time and on demand like that. But I notice that people grow closer to God while they wait for his answer. And he does answer, sometimes through priests (or people like priests), and sometimes through other things. But the outcome is that the person knows God all the more. That right there is what I consider key. I suppose then that my tangle with this issue is not about going to priests. That's fine. I just consider going to God more important.
      I hope I've said all this clear and clean, without sounding accusing. I'm sorry for bringing such a large comment, and so late too!

    2. Okay, I see where you're coming from then. And yes, that explanation was for you. :) Hail Marys and such are prayer, bringing us closer to God. They are kind-of like hearing God (through a priest) and then answering him that you really are sorry (through such prayer or even physical penance). Pretty much, you are first praying, saying 'God, I have sinned in this way, and in this way', then (through a priest) He is forgiving you and telling you what he wants you to do to make up for it. Then, by those prayers, you are answering, saying 'I will do these things and I will really try not to sin again'. You see, when you are given your penance, usually it's a prayer. Now, prayer helps us to grow close to God. Sinning puts us farther away from God. When we sin, we confess them (so that they are forgiven), and then we destroy the 'distance' between us and God (created when we sinned) through prayerful or physical penance. It's like us trying to reach out to Him to show that we are really sorry. Also, this is straying off topic a little, but I forgot to differentiate in my first note about mortal (really serious) sins, which are the ones we NEED to confess (whereas, it is a choice to confess venial ones). I hope that explained it and didn't just confuse it more......

  5. I was going to jump into this conversation late, but looking over the comments already posted here, I can't really think of anything to add to it. :) I really like that way of looking at penance, Darin. I've never really given much thought to penance at all. The old analogy I've always heard to explain it is that of a boy breaking a window. He's really sorry and tells the man who owns the broken window that, and the man forgives him; but for justice's sake the man still requires the boy to make some payment for the window. The boy can't possibly afford to pay for the entire window, but it's still up to him to show his willingness to right the wrong he has done as far as he's able. See, when we sin, it affects the whole world for the worse. And when we do a good deed, I suppose, it affects the whole world for the better. So saying prayers, doing penance, etc., after we've sinned is like reversing the wrong we have done.

    Ooh. I rambled a bit longer than I thought I would. Sorry. :)

    1. And...that comment was meant to be in reply to the conversation above....:)

    2. Thanks, Lucy! I love the sacraments, I try to defend them very ardently to show my love of them. Soon, I will be receiving another, actually, so, yay! And I'm glad I didn't just confuse things.... after all, it is YOUR blog! :)

    3. Oh, no, you didn't confuse things, you're very helpful. :) Ooh, congratulations! Which sacrament, may I ask? That's so exciting!

    4. Confirmation! I am soooo excited!


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