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The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the sacrament that gives us God’s forgiveness for the sins that we have committed. It is sometimes referred to as “Penance” or “Confession.”
Penance and Reconciliation - The Catholic Catechism
We are in need of healing because of the existence of sin in our lives. Every day we make decisions about whether to live in harmony with God and with others. We can destroy this harmony and break our relationships by acts of disobedience, pride, and self-centredness.
Sin is an offence against God. Totally rejecting God and others in our lives is a grave (mortal) sin. When the rejection is not so total or serious, it is a venial sin. Mortal sin is serious sin that destroys the divine power of love in our heart. Mortal sin cuts a person off from God. It breaks our relationship with God; whereas, venial sin only strains our relationship with God. Continually committing venial sins gets us in the habit of saying “no” to God and this habit can quickly lead us to mortal sin.
For a sin to be mortal, ALL THREE of the following conditions must be met:
1. The object (or nature) of the sin must be of grave (or serious) matter.
2. The person must have full knowledge of the sin.
3. The person must deliberately and freely choose to consent to the sin.
Sin is not a laundry list of dos and don'ts. Sin is the attitude and resultant action that separates us from God and each other; it is the epitome of selfishness and a state into which we all regularly fall.
Before a penitent enters the confessional to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he or she should make a thorough examination of conscience. An examination of conscience is the act of prayerfully thinking about what we have said or done in light of what the Gospel asks of us.
We also must think about how our actions may have hurt our relationship with God or with others whether it was in thought, word, or deed.
There are several tools that we can use to guide our examination of conscience: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Seven Deadly Sins, the virtues, and the teachings of the Church.
The following questions, based on the Ten Commandments, are good to reflect upon when making an examination of conscience:
My Relationship with God
What steps am I taking to help myself grow closer to God and to others?
Do I turn to God often during the day, especially when I am tempted?
Do I put an activity, person, or myself above God?
Do I pray every day?
Do I participate at Mass with attention and devotion on Sundays?
Do I attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation?
Do I use the names of God, Jesus, Mary, and the saints with love and
My Relationships with Others
Have I set a bad example through my words and/or actions?
Do I treat others fairly and with respect?
Do I spread stories or gossip that hurt the reputation of others?
Am I loving to those in my family?
Am I respectful of my neighbours, friends, and those in authority?
Do I show respect for my body and for the bodies of others?
Do I keep away from forms of entertainment that do not respect God’s gift of sexuality?
Have I taken or damaged anything that did not belong to me?
Have I cheated, stole, or lied?
Do I quarrel with others just so I can get my own way?
Do I insult others to try to make them think they are less than I am?
Do I hold grudges and try to hurt people who I think hurt me?
The Ten Commandments
were given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. They give us God’s laws of love which free us from sin.
God wrote them on two stone tablets.
The First Tablet contains the first three commandments which teach us how to relate with God.
The Second Tablet contains the other seven commandments which teach us how to relate with each other. When we violate love, we offend God since God is Love.
Therefore, the Ten Commandments are a great tool in our spiritual lives since by following them we stay on the path to heaven.
There is more to the Ten Commandments than meets the eye. Each Commandment presents an overall theme which includes a multitude of sins.
In other words, The Ten Commandments are like an umbrella that covers all sins. This is why the Ten Commandments are a great guide to use when making an examination of conscience.
I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange gods before me.
This Commandment requires us to adore, worship, and honour the Trinity (God Himself). It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
Lack of Faith, Hope, and Charity
Sacrilege (desecration of holy objects)
Simony (buying and selling of spiritual powers or offices)
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
This Commandment requires us to honor the Holy Name of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. It also commands us to honor oaths we take invoking God’s Name. This Commandment prohibits us from committing the following sins:
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
This Commandment requires Catholics to attend Mass on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation. It also commands us to abstain from unnecessary work on Sundays. This Commandment prohibits us from committing the following sins:
Deliberately Missing Sunday Mass
Deliberately Missing Mass on Holy Days of Obligation
Performing Unnecessary Work on Sundays
Honour your father and mother.
This Commandment requires children to respect and obey their parents and those in legitimate positions of authority over them. It also commands all to respect, honour, and obey all Church and civil authorities, whose power originates in God. This Commandment prohibits us from committing the following sins:
You shall not kill.
This Commandment requires us to respect the lives of others and our own, honoring our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
Illegal Drug Use
You shall not commit adultery.
This Commandment requires us to use our sexual powers correctly according to our state in life. It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
In Vitro Fertilisation
You shall not steal.
This Commandment requires us to respect the belongings of others, to be good stewards of creation, and to have a special care and concern for the poor and needy. It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
Charging Unfair Interest Rates
Destruction of Property
Keeping Borrowed Property
Avoiding Payment of Debts
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
This Commandment requires us to speak the truth. It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
Defamation of Character
Perjury (lie under oath)
Detraction (disclosing the faults or sins of another to a person who does not need to know them)
Calumny (telling lies that will harm another person’s reputation)
Duplicity (practice of exhibiting different conduct at different times in relation to the same thing)
Dissimulation (using false pretence with others)
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
This Commandment requires us to purify our hearts, to control our eyes, and to dress modestly. It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
This Commandment requires us to respect the property of others, avoiding attachments to objects, and infatuations with material goods. It prohibits us from committing the following sins:
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Seven Deadly Sins, also known as the capital sins or cardinal sins, is a grouping and classification of vices within Christian teachings.
The Seven Deadly Sins are the following: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath (Anger), Envy, and Pride.
The following information gives the definition of each deadly sin (in red) and the virtue which opposes it (in blue):
is an uncontrollable passion or longing, especially for sexual desires.
Chastity or self-control cures lust by controlling passion and using that energy for the good of others.
is an excessive ongoing consumption of food or drink.
Temperance cures gluttony by implanting the desire to be healthy, therefore making one fit to serve others.
is an excessive pursuit of material possessions.
Charity cures greed by putting the desire to help others above storing up treasure for one’s self.
is an excessive laziness or the failure to act and utilise one’s own talents.
Diligence or zeal cures slothfulness by placing the interest of others above a life of ease and relaxation.
is an uncontrollable anger and hate towards another person.
Patience cures wrath by allowing one to first understanding the needs and desires of others before acting or speaking.
is the intense desire to have an item or experience that someone else possesses.
Kindness cures envy by placing the desire to help others above the need to supersede them.
is an excessive view of one's self without regard for others.
Humility cures pride by removing one's ego and boastfulness, therefore allowing the attitude of service.
The list of Seven Deadly Sins do not appear in any Bible verse. However, a slightly different set of sins can be found in Proverbs 6:16-19:
"These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that are swift in running to evil,
a false witness who speaks lies, and
one who sows discord among brethren.”
Additionally, Galatians 5:19-21 mentions several more sins to be on our guard against:
"Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
God calls us to repentance and a true conversion of heart in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we repent because we love God above all else, it is called “perfect contrition.” In other words, perfect contrition is true sorrow for having offended God and hatred for the sins committed. “Imperfect contrition” (also called, “Attrition”) is being sorry for sins due to fear of God’s punishment or Hell.
There are two essential elements for a valid confession and for Absolution:
The person must have a contrite (sorrowful) heart. In other words, the penitent (the person confessing their sins) must be sorrow for the sins committed.
The person must have a willingness to change (reform) their lives. In other words, the penitent must be willing to have a conversion of heart.
Absolution is the forgiveness we receive from God through the priest. The priest is in “Persona Christi” (meaning “in the person of Christ”). In other words, Jesus is working through the priest. What is said between the penitent and the priest falls under what is called the “Seal of Confession.” With the Seal of Confession, under no circumstances can the priest reveal what was said in the confessional. Any priest who would tell another person something he had learned in the confessional would be excommunicated, even to a police officer about a crime that was committed.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation produces the following effects:
1. It reconciles us with God and the Church.
2. The sacrament restores God’s grace lost from mortal sin.
3. Reconciliation gives peace of conscience.
4. It imparts actual grace to avoid sin in the future.