FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a Sacrament?

A Sacrament is what Catholics believe to be "a rite in which God is uniquely active." The Sacraments (gifts) were granted to the Twelve Apostles by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit which conveys divine grace, blessing, or sanctity upon the believer who participates in it. The Twelve Apostles passed down these gifts to the clergy of the Church through ordination. This can be traced back all the way to Simon Peter which is known as apostolic succession.

What is the Sacrament of Penance?

God has given us the Sacrament of Penance also known as Confession or Reconciliation. He told us to confess our sins to one another, and he gave the power to forgive or retain sins to his ordained priests.

Isn't penance punishment for sins?

No. Although the Latin poena, the root of pen(it)ance, means "punishment", that is not the intent of the sacrament. A better word to focus on would be the Latin poenitentia which means the desire to be forgiven. Penance is a gift from our Lord to grant us forgiveness and heal us, not punish us.

My friend told me that they do not need to confess to a man. They confess directly to God. Why do Catholics confess to a priest?

Catholics confess directly to God as well we use the method taught to us in the Scriptures. The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. It also tells us that God gave men the authority on Earth to forgive sins. Jesus sends out His disciples with the authority on earth to forgive sins:

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to 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’” (John 20:21-23).

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Is there any other reason besides Scripture to confess to a priest?

There sure is. One of the reasons to confess to one another is that it is humbling. Becoming meek is helped by giving your sins to God through confession. Confessing to a priest also gives you a better chance of hearing God through the work of the Holy Spirit as penance and absolution is given to you through the priest. Some other reasons include:

Conscience is purified
The Will is strengthened
Gives us peace (In mind, heart, and soul)
Self-knowledge is increased
Self-control is reinforced
Bad habits are corrected
We become more sinless
Lessens our feelings of guilt
We conform more to Jesus Christ
Become more submissive to the Holy Spirit

What is the Seal of Confession?

This is the absolute confidentiality for Roman Catholic priests, of anything that they learn from penitents during the course of confession.

According to Roman Catholic Canon law, "The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason." (983 §1)

Priests may not reveal what they have learned during confession to anyone, even under the threat of their own death or that of others. For a priest to break confidentiality would lead to a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication, the lifting of which is reserved to the Holy See - in fact, to the Pope himself (Code of Canon Law, 1388 §1).

In a criminal matter, a priest may encourage the penitent to surrender to authorities. However, this is the extent of the leverage they wield. They may not directly or indirectly disclose the matter to civil authorities themselves.

Priests may not reveal what they have learned during confession to anyone, even under the threat of their own death or that of others. For a priest to break confidentiality would lead to a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication, the lifting of which is reserved to the Holy See—in fact, to the Pope himself (Code of Canon Law, 1388 §1).

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