"Then the priest extends his hands over the penitent's head... and says:
'...I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'"
Rite of Penance, p. 39

Penance (Confession)
What saith the Scripture?

© 1999, by Diane Dew.  Order the book

Historical Background:  The sacrament of Penance (absolution of sin by telling one's sins to the priest) was introduced to Catholicism by Pope Innocent II in AD 1215. Penance involves a form of self-sacrifice, with the intent of atoning for one's sin (implying that the sacrifice of Calvary is incomplete).



"If anyone shall say that in the Catholic Church Penance is not really and truly a Sacrament instituted by Christ for the reconciliation of the faithful with God so often as they fall into sin after Baptism, let him be anathema."
Council of Trent

"If anyone shall say that together with the sin the whole punishment due is always remitted by God ... let him be anathema." Council of Trent.
Quoted in Catholic Faith, Based on The Catholic Catechism, by His Eminence Peter Cardinal Gasparri (P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1938), p 253 Nihil Obstat, M. McCabe. O.M.Cap., S.T.D., Imprimi Potest, Ignatius Weisbruch, O.M.Cap; Nihil Obstat, Arthur J. Scanlan, S.T.D.; Imprimatur, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop of NY

"I must tell my sins to the priest so that he will give me absolution." Ibid, p 248

"The priest gives me a penance in Confession to help me to make up for the temporal punishment I must suffer for my sins." Ibid, p 252

"It is not enough to change our ways for the better and quit the evil we have done, unless we make satisfaction to God for the evil we have done, by the sorrow of repentance... and accompanying alms." St. Augustine, ibid, p 252

"Good works which help me to make satisfaction for my sins are: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; prayer; fasting; giving alms to the poor." Ibid, p 253

"The penance given to me by the priest does not always make full satisfaction for my sins. I should therefore: do other acts of penance and good works; make acts of love; try to gain Indulgences." Ibid, p. 253

"Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: 'All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in Confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly.' [Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. Ex 20:17; Mt 5:28.] Catechism, para 1456

When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, 'for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know.' [Council of Trent (1551): DS 1680 (ND 1626); cf. St. Jerome, In Eccl.]"

"According to the Church's command, 'after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.'[Cf. CIC, Can. 989; Council of Trent (1551): DS 1683; DS 1708.] Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to Confession. [Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1647; 1661; CIC, can. 916; CCEO, can.] Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.[Cf. CIC, can. 914.]" Catechism, para 1457

"Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church.[Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1680; CIC, can. 988 # 2.] Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful: [Cf. Lk 6:36] Whoever confesses his sins . . . is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear 'man' - this is what God has made; when you hear 'sinner' - this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that God may save what he has made .... When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light. [St. Augustine, In Jo. ev. 12, 13: PL 35, 1491.]" Catechism, para 1458

"Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives.[Cf. CIC, can. 1388 # 1; CCEO, can. 1456.] This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the 'sacramental seal,' because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains 'sealed' by the sacrament." Catechism, para 1467

"Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical action. The elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting and blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance; the confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known to the priest; the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the priest's absolution; a prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dismissal with the blessing of the priest." Catechism, para 1480

"The sacrament of Penance can also take place in the framework of a communal celebration in which we prepare ourselves together for Confession and give thanks together for the forgiveness received. Here, the personal confession of sins and individual absolution are inserted into a liturgy of the word of God with readings and a homily, an examination of conscience conducted in common, a communal request for forgiveness, the Our Father and a thanksgiving in common. This communal celebration expresses more clearly the ecclesial character of penance. However, regardless of its manner of celebration the sacrament of Penance is always, by its very nature, a liturgical action, and therefore an ecclesial and public action.[Cf. SC 26-27.]" Catechism, para 1482

"In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each penitent's confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their sins in the time required. [Cf. CIC, can. 962 #1.] The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not the conditions required for general absolution exist. [Cf. CIC, can. 961 # 2.] A large gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not constitute a case of grave necessity. [Cf. CIC, can. 961 # 1.]" Catechism, para 1483

"'Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession.' [OP 31.] There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: 'My son, your sins are forgiven.' [Mk 2:5 .] He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them. [Cf. Mk 2:17 .] He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church." Catechism, para 1484

"The forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament called the sacrament of conversion, confession, penance, or reconciliation." Catechism, para 1486

"The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting in three actions of the penitent and the priest's absolution. The penitent's acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation." Catechism, para 1491

"One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church." Catechism, para 1493

"Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church." Catechism, para 1497

Scripture teaches the forgiveness of God is complete.(see below*)

Mark 2:7 It is blasphemy to claim such power, according to this scripture. Only God can forgive sin.

Luke 5:21 God alone can forgive sin. Even the Pharisees recognized this truth, and called it blasphemy for another to claim such power. (Their error, of course, was not recognizing Jesus' Deity.)

1 John 2:1-13 Jesus Christ, not the priest, is our advocate in approaching the Father. 1 Timothy 2:5 Jesus is the only Mediator (go-between).

1 John 1:9 Confession is to be made to God; it is against him that we sin (Psalm 51).

Scripture does speak of confessing our sins one to another (Matthew 5:23, 24; 18:15, 21, 22; Acts 19;18; James 5:16). But this is not our means of forgiveness. The blood of Jesus is our only means of grace.

John 20:23 This phrase was spoken not only to the apostles but to disciples as well. (See Luke 24:33, to prove this.)

Absolution (forgiveness) is not the decision of a priest or any other individual. Matthew 12:31 (Mark 3:29); John 6:37; Romans 11:34, 35; 1 Timothy 2:5

Acts 8:22 "penance" = "Repent!" in Mark 1:15 and Luke 17:4 ... It is "to God": "BE penitent" in Acts 3:19 (attitude of the heart)

Our forgiveness comes:

       - through his name. Acts 10:43
       - by his blood. Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7-9
       - from Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:13, 14; Acts 13:38, 39
       - through the sacrifice of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:21, 24

See also: Colossians 2:13, 14; Hebrews 8; Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24-28; Hebrews 10:9-14; Hebrews 7:3 "continually"

Acts 16:31; Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Acts 13:38, 39; 1 Peter 2:21, 24

Following are verses on self-sacrifice, fasting, etc.: Deuteronomy 10:12, 13; Psalms 24:1; Psalms 50:8-14; Psalms 51:16, 17; Isaiah 40:16; Isaiah chapter 58; Jeremiah 7:22, 23; Matthew 12:7, 8 (Hosea 6:6); Mark 7:13-19; Mark 2:23-28; Romans 11:34-36; Romans 14:6, 14; 1 Corinthians 8:8; 1 Corinthians 10:27-30; Colossians 2:16, 20-23; 1 Timothy 1:4

The Forgiveness of God

"For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, 
and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Hebrews 8:12

I.   God is faithful to forgive our sins. 1 John 1:9

II.   Through Jesus Christ, and because of the debt He paid (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19; Colossians 1:21, 22), we can draw near to God with freedom and boldness.

          Hebrews 4:15, 16; 10:19, 22
          1 John 3:21

III.   Scripture well describes the completeness of our forgiveness in Him.

          Psalms 85:2
          Isaiah 55:7 (" ... He will abundantly pardon!")

A.   All our past sins have been forgotten. (The Lord forgives and forgets!)

          Isaiah 43:25
          Jeremiah 31:34
          Hebrews 8:12; 10:17

B.   God has blotted out our transgressions as a thick cloud.

          Isaiah 44:21, 22
          Colossians 2:13, 14

C.   He has cast them into the depths of the sea.

          Micah 7:18, 19

D.   Our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west.

          Psalms 103:11-14

E.   Scripture says our sins are covered up. God does not look upon them any more.

          Psalms 32:1

F.   We are washed whiter than snow.

          Psalms 51:7
          Isaiah 1:18

G.   God has cast all our sins behind His back.

          Isaiah 38:17

Taken from "Fundamentals of the Faith--Studies in Basic Bible Doctrine," by Diane S. Dew, Copyright © 1976, 1977, 1997

.This series of studies is available in printed format, at cost. Order the book

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