Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation


Confession, Penance and Reconciliation

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also known as Penance and Confession, among other names.

Although often called Reconciliation in common usage, the term "penance" best describes the essential interior disposition required for this sacrament. 

In fact, there is a virtue of penance.  This is a supernatural virtue by which we are moved to detest our sins from a motive made known by faith, and with an accompanying purpose of offending God no more and of making satisfaction for our sins.  In this sense the word "penance" is synonymous with "penitence" or "repentance."

Continuing the Work of Redemption

The sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament in which the priest, as the agent of God, forgives sins committed after Baptism, when the sinner is heartily sorry for them, sincerely confesses them, and is willing to make satisfaction for them. 

By his death on the Cross, Jesus Christ redeemed man from sin and from the consequences of his sin, especially from the eternal death that is sin's due. 

So it is not surprising that on the very day he rose from the dead, Jesus instituted the sacrament by which men's sins could be forgiven. 

A Power Granted by Christ

It was on Easter Sunday evening that Jesus appeared to his Apostles, gathered together in the Upper Room, where they had eaten the Last Supper.  As they gaped and shrank back in a mixture of fear and dawning hope, Jesus spoke to them reassuringly. 

St.  John (20:19-23)

Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, 'Peace be to you!' And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his side.  The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord.  He therefore said to them again, 'Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.'

To paraphrase our Lord's words in more modern terms ...

As God, I have the power to forgive sin.  I now entrust the use of that power to you.  You will be My representatives.  Whatever sins you forgive, I shall forgive.  Whatever sins you do not forgive, I shall not forgive. 

A Power of the Priesthood

This power to forgive sin which Jesus conferred upon his Apostles was not, of course, to die with them; no more so than the power to change bread and wine into his Body and Blood, which he conferred upon his Apostles at the Last Supper. 

Jesus did not come upon earth just to save a few chosen souls, or just the people who lived on earth during the lifetime of his Apostles. 

Jesus came to save everybody who was willing to be saved, down to the end of time.  He had you and me in mind, as well as Timothy and Titus, when he died on the Cross. 

It is evident then that the power to forgive sins is a part of the power of the priesthood, to be passed on in the sacrament of Holy Orders from generation to generation. 

It is the power which every priest exercises when he raises his hand over the contrite sinner and says, "I absolve thee from thy sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen." These are called "the words of absolution."

When do I have to go to confession?

When we have committed a mortal sin, sacramental confession is the ordinary way through which we Catholics seek and obtain forgiveness.  But the sacrament is not only for those who have sinned grievously.  Confession is for anyone who realizes they have offended God or neighbor, are sorry for this, and want to begin to do something about it.

The sacrament of reconciliation is among the ordinary ways and means of our spiritual life.  It is one of those regular ways we can make use of to grow in grace and make our lives and the lives of those around us better.

How to Make My Confession

Sacrament of Reconciliation1.  The priest may begin by greeting you or reading Scripture.  You may respond by making the sign of the Cross then saying, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been [the number of days, weeks, or months] since my last confession.  These are my sins ...."

2.  Listen to what the priest tells you.  He will give you a penance - usually a prayer to say, a Scripture passage to read, or a charitable act to perform.

3.  Then he will invite you to express the sorrow you have for your sins.  You may offer the following or some other act of contrition:

"O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins because of your just punishment:  but I am sorry most of all because they offend you who are all good and worthy of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sine no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.  Amen."

Click here for other Acts of Contrition

4.  After the priest sees that you are genuinely repentant, he will give you absolution, saying:

"God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins:  through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from the sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

4.  Finally, the priest may say:  "Go in peace."  And you say, "Thanks be to God."  Or he may say, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good."  And you say, "His mercy endures forever."

5.  After Confession, say or do the penance the priest gave you.  Then thank God for forgiving your sins and ask his help to avoid sin in the future.


What will the priest think of me?

The fear is understandable.  What many don't realize is that what impresses priests the most about what happens in the confessional is not the sins they hear confessed but the humility and the courage they see displayed by those who confess the.  Penitents usually think that their priests see them at their worst.  But ask the priests, and they'll tell you they see their parishioners at their best.  They see them as they truly want to be:  people who know they have sinned, people who know they can do better, people who are committed to giving "doing better: another sincere try.


Click here for a Guide to making a thorough Examination of Conscience and a Good Confession




On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."  (John 20:19-23)


Last Updated:  21 Jul 19

St.  Patrick's Church at Moody Air Force Base