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Why Christ Instituted the Sacrament of Confession

by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.

No words can describe the importance of the sacrament of Penance in the Catholic Church. Christ instituted the Sacrament to give us a ready and assured means of obtaining the remission of our sins committed after baptism. We must say that this sacrament was the first gift to the Church on Easter Sunday night. He told His disciples, who were overjoyed in seeing their Risen Master, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” After saying this He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. For those whose sins are retained, they are retained.”

By these words, Christ gave His bishops and priests the power to reconcile sinners with God and restore their title to heaven if they had deeply sinned.

The value of this sacrament is not only in its infallible power to remove the guilt of grave sin. It is also one of the main means by which a believing Catholic can grow in sanctity. Pope Pius XII could not be clearer. By the sacrament of Confession, “Genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is obtained, and grace is increased in virtue of the sacrament itself.” That is why the Vicar of Christ warns especially “the younger clergy who make light of, who lessen esteem for frequent Confession realize that what they are doing is alien, alien to the spirit of Christ and disastrous to the Mystical Body of Christ.”

It may be said, without qualification, that one of the conditions for growing in sanctity is the frequent reception of the sacrament of Confession. It is the divinely instituted means for making us saints. Why? Because we are all sinners and there is nothing more we need on earth than the gift of God’s grace through the sacrament which Christ instituted on Easter Sunday night as His great gift to those who recognize their sinfulness and receive this sacrament of peace as often as they can.

One of the great gifts of the late Paul VI was his strong encouragement for making this sacrament available to children at an early age. He ordered that “Children from the age of discretion should receive the sacrament of penance.” This will enable them to receive our Lord in Holy Communion and thus cultivate the practice of frequent reception of both penance and the Eucharist at a very early age.

The experience of the Church has shown how invaluable is the grace of absolving children almost as soon as they reach the age of reason, and thus enabling them to receive their Lord almost as soon as they are capable of seeing themselves as sinners and, shall we add, as soon as they see themselves as potential saints.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica. Used with permission.