What is the sacrament of confession?
Many people don’t know what the sacrament of reconciliation is, or even understand its significance in their lives. The sacrament of reconciliation—also known as the sacrament of confession or penance—is the sacrament of great mercy, in which God performs the greatest of miracles, over and over again, for people who have truly sorrowful hearts. To have true sorrow someone must hate all their sins and resolve to sin no more–strive for perfection–in other words, someone must change their sinful ways. Literally, confession saves souls, since no one can enter Heaven with sin on their souls and confession removes sin and restores the soul to a state of grace. This is the greatest gift He bestows upon us—outside of baptism—as it’s the only ordinary means to restore a soul who is dead in their sins (meaning lost saving grace as a result of their mortal sins) and bring them back to life again, by forgiving all of their sins. Truly, not even the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist or the sacrament of the sick can do that.
There [confession] the GREATEST miracles take place
–Jesus- St. Faustina’s Diary—#1448
Even if the priest doesn’t fully understand a word of what someone is confessing, or doesn’t provide any helpful advice, God, who knows the minds and hearts of the penitent (the person confessing), will forgive their sins as long as that person has a truly (contrite) sorrowful heart. That’s it. What a miracle! To have sins forgiven, outside of perfect contrition, all God requires of someone is that they go to confession with true sorry for their offenses against God. Then God will pour out an abundance of graces upon that person’s soul to lead them to an eternity of bliss. What love and mercy!
God can literally transform someone’s soul from that of an unforgiven, undeserving sinner into a soul that’s forgiven, purified, and able to receive the gift of eternal life. Without confession, many souls who’ve lost sanctifying grace (saving grace) through committing serious sin—see mortal sins as listed in the Bible—who only have imperfect contrition for their sins would be lost. In other words, they’d be banished to Hell, since only confession to a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation forgives and restores life to a soul who has imperfect contrition. Furthermore, confession is the main source of grace to heal a hurting soul from the consequences of sin. It also restores and maintains that soul’s wonderful relationship with God, so the soul can experience a life of true peace and joy that only God can give.
Confession delivers bounds of graces to help souls find actual sorry: detest all of their sins, while resolving to not sin again (striving for perfection) either for the love of God (perfect contrition) or the fear of perishing in Hell (imperfect contrition). Actual sorrow isn’t easy to possess and maintain as it requires constant work to truly strive to reject sin for following God’s will.
Graces From penance
If someone is actually sorry for their sins, they will first desire to become aware of any and all offenses they are committing against God by reading the Word daily and examining their conscience daily—since someone can’t say they hate their sins if they don’t desire to know what they are. Next, they will need to come up with a plan to avoid the temptations which are leading them into sin. Then, along with prayer, spiritual reading, following God’s Word, and of course frequent confession, God will help that person to develop a true hate for their sins—out of love for Him—which will aid them in never committing those sins again. If all this is done with great effort, sincerity of heart, and perseverance, change will happen. Fortunately, even if someone doesn’t yet have actual sorrow, or has lost true sorrow for their sins, through the sacrament of reconciliation God provides grace after grace to help the soul who desires to have a truly sorrowful heart obtain—and keep—real contrition.
Among the penitent’s acts contrition occupies first place [since contrition is needed in order to be forgiven]. Contrition is sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin [hate for sin] committed, together with the resolution not to sin again [to strive for perfection]. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1451
During confession, the souls who possess contrition (perfect or imperfect sorrow) for their sins are restored to life by the saving power of the Holy Spirit, coming forth from the sacred hands of the priest. This miracle is truly too amazing to fully comprehend, but nonetheless, confession is given to us by God’s incredible mercy to restore life to baptized souls who’ve committed mortal sin, and provide them with help—through grace—to find, and stay, on the pathway to eternal life.
Before Jesus instituted the sacrament of reconciliation to His apostles, this outpouring of grace and mercy wasn’t available for God’s children. Only those with perfect contrition (perfect sorrow) had the possibility of salvation, and they never received the abundance of grace (help) to obtain contrition from Jesus’ mercy that now pours forth from the heart of Jesus. Praise be to God, because once Jesus came He showed us the pathway to eternal life, died for the forgiveness of sins, and opened up the gates of Heaven. We now have—through Jesus’ merit—forgiveness of our mortal sins through the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation as a free gift for us from the desires of our hearts to be reconciled with Him.
Without the sacrament of reconciliation there’s very little hope for salvation. We desperately and constantly need the graces which pour forth from God’s fountain of mercy, through confession and others means of grace, in order to combat temptation. This is God’s gift of mercy to help us in our fallen nature, so we can be with Him in Heaven for all of eternity.
In her diary (#113) , St. Faustina speaks of the many graces Jesus wishes to dispense in the sacrament of reconciliation, and how souls not only don’t do what’s necessary to receive them (by not being open, humble, and obedient) but don’t even desire them (by not wishing to give up their sins and strive for perfection). Our Lord also asked us, through Sister Faustina (#975),— to “pray for souls that they not be afraid to approach the tribunal of My mercy.” God’s mercy is waiting for us!
Visit “How to receive additional graces from God outside of the sacrament of reconciliation.”