Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest, and not directly to Jesus? Why is it so important to go to Confession?
Catholics always confess their sins to God. We do it directly as well as through His ministers because that is what God requires, as clearly taught in Scripture.
The Sacrament of Penance is one of the seven sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ Himself on Easter Sunday, when He first appeared to the apostles after his Resurrection. Breathing on them, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). Jesus is clearly giving the disciples the authority to forgive, and not to forgive sins.
Think about it . . . the only other time that God breathed on anyone was when He breathed life into the first human being. (Genesis 2:7.) Both breathing instances were that of an intimate and very powerful moment between God and man.
Sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace. In this case, the outward sign is the absolution, or forgiveness of sins, that the priest grants to the penitent (the person confessing his sins); the inward grace is the reconciliation of the penitent to God.
But how would His priests” forgive or retain” unless they actually “hear” the sins? If Jesus intended for everyone to confess their sins directly to God, why would Jesus need to give His apostles the authority to forgive? In Matthew 18:18, Jesus again gives the apostles authority to forgive sins by stating: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever y shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” Powerful stuff here.
There are many non-Catholic Christians who believe that sins are wiped away in Baptism. This means they believe that their ministers or pastors are used by God as His instruments in the forgiveness of sins through a sacrament, Baptism, which they administer. Catholics also believe this about Baptism, but we also believe that priests are used by God as His instruments for the forgiveness of sins in three sacraments: Confession, Anointing of the Sick, and Baptism. Many Christians believe God can use their ministers and pastors as instruments in His physical healing, so why wouldn’t God do the same with spiritual healing?
Three things are required of a penitent in order to receive the sacrament worthily: You must be sorry for your sins; you must confess those sins fully, in kind and in number to the best of your knowledge, and you must be willing to do penance and make amends for your sins. Since it was instituted by Christ as the proper form for the forgiveness of sins, the Catholic Church requires us to receive it at least once per year, and whenever we have committed a mortal sin. The Church strongly recommends that we take advantage of the sacrament often, since it confers graces that help us to live a Christian life. It is a beautiful gift that we should embrace and use frequently. Many people go once a month, some every week. We all need more grace in our lives.
Remember, to receive Holy Communion worthily, you must be in a state of grace. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:27–28). To receive the Eucharist without sanctifying grace in your soul profanes the Eucharist in the most grievous manner.
As Christ well knew, to confess your sins to a priest, whom God has given the authority to be His stand-in, and actually state aloud the sin is not an easy thing to do. It requires humility, a heart-felt examination of conscience, trust in God and His Church, and a true contrition of heart. It can often seem like a frightening, humiliating act, especially if you have been away from it for years. But once you do, it is guaranteed that a relief and cleansing will immediately follow, as well as a strong sense of forgiveness. There is no doubt that you are forgiven when you hear the words of absolution spoken from Jesus’ representatives on earth, His priests.
Nothing in the world can compare to the joy of the soul after a good confession. The veil of sin falls away and the light of grace fills the soul. If you have not been to confession in a while – just go. God knows we all need it. If you’re nervous, pray for peace in your heart, and that you will make a good confession.
Don’t be afraid – just go – and keep going back. What a great way to start out the new year.
God loves you, and can’t wait to see you there. (How about tomorrow?)
Trust in His mercy.