By Chukwuchebem Samuel
I may not be an authority to write on this topic that falls under Sacramental Theology”. But I just pray and hope that the teaching authority of the Catholic Church will ignore me as I dabble into this sacramental write up. I also desire to be guided against heresy hence, it is not my field of study.
In the first place, is it true that the above sacrament has become a prerequisite to sin? The answer, to some Catholics who really understood what the sacrament of confession entails is simply no; but yes to other Catholics who out of ignorance or rather, their willful sinful actions have made confession a routine exercise believing to gain complete forgiveness from God whenever they go to confession. They forget the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC1451-4) teaches that imperfect/attrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of penance.
However, before I go into the details of this very topic, I will like to consider it necessary to bring out the meaning of the following words contained in the above chosen topic, such as; confession, sacrament, pre-requisite and sin.
1. Confession; The word “confession” generally means the admission/acknowledgement of a wrong doing, request for pardon and a promise by the Grace of God not to do wrong again. Kurian the editor of Testament Christian Dictionary believes that confession designates “the act of acknowledging sin or wrong doing to a priest”. This is confession ad auriculam, that is, confession into the ear of a priest by individual sinner.
In the view of Joseph A. Komonchak et al, confession has two meanings in connection with the sacrament. When talking in relation with penance and reconciliation, it is the name for the sacrament itself, namely, the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation. In relation with contrition and satisfaction, it is one of the elements in the matter of the sacrament necessary for validity, namely, the telling of the sins by the penitent to the confessor. In all opinions, confession is to acknowledge one’s sins before a priest and the resolution not to sin again by the Grace of God.
2. Sacraments; These, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church are the efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the church, by which divine life is dispensed to us, (1131) – – – Catholic defines “grace as God’s free gift of His presence, His help and His salvation”
3. Prerequisite: A thing that is required before something else can exist or happen.
4. Sin; Sin on its own is before all else an offence against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time, it damages communion with the church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (CCC1440).
But sin in the Orthodox Church as was given by the Catholic Dictionary has no categories as found in the Christian West. In the pre-Vatican II Catholic Catechism, sins were categorized as “mortal” and “Venial”. In this definition, a “mortal” sin was one which would prevent someone from entering heaven unless one confessed it before death – – -. Also, let it be noted that the church teaches that there are three major features that make a sin mortal –
Firstly, the sin must be a grave sin
Secondly, you must have knowledge of it
Thirdly, the sin must be committed out of freewill (willful) while venial sin is a small sin which we commit and must try our best to cleanse it both here on earth or in purgatory.
Sincerely, the Sacrament of confession has not in any way become a prerequisite to sin. Instead, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC1422) teaches that “those who approach the sacrament of penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offence committed against Him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the church which they have wounded by their sins and when by charity, by example and by pray labours for their conversion.
Meanwhile, having seen the above headline, some people must have been wondering why the sacrament of confession become a pre-requisite to sin. As I was carried along by some Catholics on how some people willfully decided to be persistent in a particular sin, hopping to go to confession afterwards; In my vast interactions and sharing with some committed Catholics, I was privileged to get the majority opinion especially of those of them who shared the same opinion with me, and I really wish to bring out my interactions with them to your door step.
Please, my candid advice is that we should always try to speak out the truth, especially when it ought to be spoken. Keeping the truth away from the reality will never do us any good, but will rather lead us to doom. Saint Pope John Paul the II, had one of his encyclical titled the “splendor of truth” In it, he said so many things on the power of truth against falsehood. These days, most of us go to confession, not because we are truly sorry for having sinned against God but because we want to be absolved from our willful sins by the priest who is serving as a mediator between us and God, believing and hoping to gain complete forgiveness from God. Let us not forget that the priest will not exceed the level of his ministerial priesthood. He, the priest does the absolution while God grants absolute forgiveness and that forgiveness can be granted only when such a person or persons have gained plenary indulgence. This is because the penance given by the priest at the confessional does not always make full satisfaction for our sins. The peny catechism of the church advised that we should therefore add to it other good works and penances and try to gain plenary indulgence.
Now, what is an indulgence? “An indulgence according to (CCC1471) is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfaction of Christ and the saints. An indulgence could be partial or plenary as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin”. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.
Please lend me your time to make little explanations on the meaning of partial and plenary indulgence. For you to be deeply sorry for the sins you have committed, as well as demonstrating inward and outward remorsefulness, attending the sacrament of confession and carrying out the penance given to you by the priest at the confessional makes you to gain partial indulgence.
But plenary indulgence is the full indulgence you gain after fulfilling the basic requirements of the sins you committed, either here on earth or in purgatory. For example, if you have stolen somebody’s money, the requirement states that you must undergo restitution, that is, returning that which you have stolen and not just praying the penitential prayers given to you by the priest at the confessional.
Secondly, if you have slandered someone, the act of contrition which you say at the confessional, coupled with the penance given to you by the priest who is serving as the mediator between you and Christ does not give full satisfaction for the sin of slandering. You must add other good works such as trying your best to ensure that you restore the reputation of the person you slandered. So if really the meaning of this word “indulgence” is well understood by us, then we have to amend our foot-steps and ideologies about the sacrament of confession, and not to be seeing confession as a certificate to sin. Practical examples abound where some of us willfully, commit different types of sins from Mondays to Fridays, hoping to attend confession on Saturdays so as to receive Holy Communion on Sundays after which they go back to the same sin during the week days and to return back to confession as a normal empty spiritual exercise on Saturdays. Who is deceiving who? I wouldn’t know. The earlier we begin to tell ourselves the truth, the better for us.
On the other hand, there are some of us who always feel that they are holy and without blemish, therefore have no need for this sacrament. Some will stay up to six years without going to confession. Yet, they receive Holy communion frequently. To such people, let it be made known to them that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1426) stated clearly that new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed towards holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
No wonder Psalm 130 verses 3 and 4 says “If you oh Lord should mark our iniquities, Lord who could stand? But with you is found forgiveness, that you may be feared”. This particular reference verses depicts God’s in-exhaustible mercies upon us. Do we continue to abuse the graces and unmerited mercies of God, simply because His mercies seemed to be endless? St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans 6:1-2 asked. “Do we continue to sin and expect the grace of God to abound in us? My response to that question is certainly no, the verses 1 and 2 of that same chapter 130 of the Psalms, portray the remorseful inward heart of someone who in-advertently must have committed one sinful act or the other and is genuinely sorry for his or her actions. Let us look at it very well, verse one says “Out of the depth I cried to you oh Lord, Lord hear my voice”. While verse 2 says “Let your ears be attentive, to the voice of my supplication”.
Honestly, if we are to abide strictly on the word of God and the teaching authority of the church on indulgence, one may be prompted to say that we only gain priestly absolution from the confessions. This is because we repeat the same confession every week and have not made any effort to renounce those sins we usually find ourselves committing all the time. Please pause for a while and reflect on the meaning of priestly absolution. Here, the answer means formal forgiveness by the priest at the confessional and not the supposed total forgiveness from God after gaining indulgence.
Unfortunately too, we cannot make any head way without working seriously to attain salvation and until we do away with those constant sins of ours, we may not stand the chance of gaining plenary indulgence from the confessions we made eight/nine months or even over one year. At this point, the major emphasis is placed on making untiring efforts by at least undergoing a period of sincere repentance through contrition, penance, restitution and good works. Only then, can we be free from experiencing or encountering the retribution of God’s anger.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT THIS SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION
According to (CCC 1465), whenever the priest celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, he is fulfilling the Ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful.
In the variegated definitions, it is also called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God”. He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go, first be reconciled to your brother (CCC 1424).
It is called the sacrament of conversion because it make sacramentally present Jesus call to conversion the first step in returning to the father from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called sacrament of penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance and satisfaction.
I am not trying to disabuse the minds of the readers or the Catholic faithful from benefiting from the Sacrament of Confession. Rather, the message I am struggling to pass across is that we should always try to gain plenary indulgence in any confession we make before the priest at the confessional rather than running to confession at will without achieving its divine aim and objectives. I am also calling on the Catholic faithful, including my unworthy self and more especially, all the communicants to desist from the ungodly act of using the Sacrament of Confession as a right to sin.
Mind you, if you continue to commit a particular sin constantly, as well as deriving much pleasure in it, it will become nothing but obsession and captivity.
Finally, the obvious truth is that whenever you attend the Sacrament of Confession without making any effort to ensure that you allow the sacrament to make impart in your life, the result is that you become sacramentalized and not evangelized.
Thanks and God bless; I love you all.
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
REVISED EDITION 2002
Published by Pauline’s/St. Pauls
2. George Thomas Kurian, Editor, The Testament Christian Dictionary. New York: The Testament Books, 2005, P.201
3. Joseph A. Komanchak, Mary Collins and Dermot A. Lane. The New Dictionary of Theology. Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2006, P.220