The Sacrament of Reconciliation developed in how it is celebrated over the centuries. In the early Church, only the bishop could absolve from sins, as successor to the apostles who had received the breath of Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. The Order of Catechumens were preparing to enter the communion of the Church, through the sacraments of Initiation, offered by the Bishop. Alongside them there was also the Order of Penitents, who were preparing to be restored to communion in the Church, through the sacrament of reconciliation, offered by the Bishop. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was celebrated publicly! Over the centuries, the Sacrament of Reconciliation was transformed through the tradition of Spiritual Direction into the personal and confidential celebration of the Sacrament we celebrate today.
The SEAL OF THE SACRAMENT of Reconciliation IS INVIOLABLE, on the part of the confessor (priest). Regardless of what civil laws may attempt to interfere, priests will NEVER break the confessional seal under any circumstance. Priests have been imprisoned and executed for refusing to break the seal. Outside of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, priests are included among those who are “mandated reporters” of ongoing child abuse or those who present an immanent threat to themselves or others. However, within the sacrament, nothing leaves. In addition to that, there is an actual grace operative in the Sacrament, and priests often do not remember what was said, or who said what. Do not be afraid!
Here are some general guidelines for going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Before everything else– RELAX, BE AT PEACE! The priest is not there to intimidate you, judge you, or tell you that you’re doing it wrong. The priest will help you, especially if he sees that you’re nervous. The priest is on YOUR SIDE (so is God, for that matter!).
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave Judas all kinds of chances to admit of his sin, so that he could show is mercy to Judas. But Judas wouldn’t repent, and even to his death, he refused to ask forgiveness of God for what he had done. Peter, on the other hand, wept with repentance after his denial of the Lord, and Jesus restored him.
The parable of “The Prodigal Son” shows God’s eagerness to forgive his wayward children, if only they would wake up from their moral sleep and come back to Him–and He restores us in our relationship to Him. The sacrament of Reconciliation, it has been said, is also like a 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th, or 70x7th) baptism–wherein we are washed clean of the sins of our life, and made anew through Christ as beloved sons and daughters of God the Father.
On the evening of His Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the Apostles, giving them the Holy Spirit “for the forgiveness of sins.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Unity, of Communion, and of Reconciliation with the Father.
Perhaps in decades gone by there were horror stories of people being yelled at in the confessional. That doesn’t happen, at least not here. “Do not be afraid.” The confessional is not the forum of God’s wrath–it is the forum of God’s mercy. To help you be prepared to enter into the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance, or Confession, it’s all the same Sacrament), try these tips…
Here are some useful tips before celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Don’t think it has to be all formal and stuffy. The priest will help you.
Here is a useful Examination of Conscience. This is a tool to help remember what sins you might have to confess. There are several different kinds of the Examination of Conscience.