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Celebrating the Sacrament of Penance, First Holy Communion and Confirmation

Penance, Reconciliation, Confession

First Holy Communion


Penance, Reconciliation,Confession

Sacrament of Penance, Reconciliation, Confessions...Fr. Patrick Lee

The sacrament described here has been known by many names - Reconciliation, Penance, Confession, Sacrament of forgiveness etc. Its reality and its affect on us are much too vast to be contained in one word. It brings us the joy and healing power of reconciliation with God, His Church, and those fellow human beings with whom we need to be reconciled. It is a sacrament that requires us to do penance, to repent, to make reparation. It is a sacrament characterized by the confession of specific sins that the penitent has committed, and for which he or she is sorry. And it is the sacrament by which we experience most fully the joy of restoration and reunion; “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7).

God reveals Himself to us a little at a time. In the earliest years of the Christian Church, nobody knew there was a Sacrament we now call Confession. The experience of conversion to the Christian Faith, it was thought, should be such that the possibility of ever sinning again would be nil. The person would never sever that magnificent union with God and his or her fellow Christians. But human nature asserted itself and soon there were many people who found themselves cut off from the Christian Community by sin, but who were genuinely sorry and wanted to return.

As Christians wrestled with this problem, they rediscovered the infinitely forgiving and reconciling power of God so abundantly revealed in the Scriptures. They knew there had to be a way by which Christians who had cut themselves off from God and the Community could be reinstated. There would have to be genuine sorrow of course. There would have to be penance and reparation. There would have to be a resolve not to sin again. Given all that, the Church knew God would not withhold His loving forgiveness from such people. The Church was thus becoming aware, though somewhat dimly as yet, of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

By our standards the penances were extremely severe, the time involved extremely long, and the process extremely public. A penitent might have to proclaim his or her specific sins in front of the assembly at each Sunday celebration for a year, before requesting absolution and restoration, again in the presence of the Community. We can look back now almost with amusement on these practices, but they serve to remind us of the seriousness of sin and of the fact that the sins of each individual hurt the Community. Gradually it was realized that a sinner who is genuinely repentant should be forgiven and reinstated as soon as possible, rather than be denied, for a long time, the graces that come from participating in the Christian community. The time involved was shortened. It was likewise with the canonical penances. Progressively more emphasis came to be placed on the act of repentance than on the rigors of doing penance. The Church also came to realize that while the sacrament had to be of a public nature (since each one’s sins affect the Community) the individual’s privacy had to be respected. A way had to be found to do that without losing sight of the fact that a sacrament is a communal event. Today our practice of private confession accomplishes that purpose well. Unfortunately it has often led people to think that Penance is a very private matter “between me and God”. That was one of the reasons why the Church introduced the “Penitential Services” which are conducted in nearly every parish, especially during Advent and Lent. In order to deepen the somewhat shallow understanding of the sacrament that so many people have, the Church decided to draw on its rich theology of Penance developed over two thousand years. Thus, now we have the opportunity to participate in a very public ceremony of reconciliation, and at the same time confess our individual sins to the priest (who represents God and the Community) as the Church has always required.

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First Holy Communion