Confession is a critical part of preparing ourselves to meet Our Lord. Sadly, there are many false beliefs that people hold about this beautiful Sacrament. Below are the five most common of these myths debunked.
Myth 1: Confession shows Catholics don’t really believe Christ’s sacrifice was enough.
Truth: This objection usually comes from Protestants who wonder why a person needs any more forgiveness if they’ve already put their faith in Christ. Thus, they see Confession as something separate from and additional to the grace of Jesus.
There are two problems with this objection.
First, the power of Confession depends entirely on the sacrifice of Christ. Christ earned infinite grace on the cross, and the Sacrament of Confession is one important way that grace is applied to an individual. In other words, Confession isn’t a source of grace separate from Christ, it’s an instrument for its application.
Second, this objection usually comes from a misunderstanding of the Christian life. Some Protestants think that after a person’s initial conversion, there is no more additional cooperation and growth in grace needed for salvation. The Catholic Church, on the other hand (following the Bible), teaches that the Christian life is one of continual conversion and growth in holiness by the grace of Christ.
Myth 2: Confession was invented by the Catholic Church and is not in the Bible.
Truth: This might surprise some people, but the core of the Sacrament of Confession is explicitly established by Christ himself in Scripture.
In the Gospel of John, after he has risen from the dead, Jesus appears to his disciples and this happens:
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.‘” (John 20.21-23)
Right there, Jesus explicitly gives his Apostles the power to give and withhold forgiveness of sins, which is the basis for the Sacrament of Confession. And the Church practiced this from the beginning.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the form we use today has not changed since the seventh century.
Myth 3: Confession is optional.
Truth: Confession is definitely not optional for Catholics. It is, in fact, required in two ways.
First, according to the precepts of the Church, all Catholics are required to go to Confession at least once each year.
Second, the Sacrament of Confession (or the desire thereof with perfect contrition), is necessary for salvation for baptized individuals in a state of mortal sin (cf. Council of Trent.)
So the Sacrament of Confession isn’t just a nice optional form of Catholic counseling if you want it. Rather, it is an essential part of being a practicing Catholic and attaining final salvation.
Myth 4: Confession is only for “really bad people.”
Truth: The previous answer to Myth 3 helps to correct this myth. If you are Catholic, you are required to go to Confession once a year anyway.
But most importantly, we are all sinners. As Scripture says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him [Jesus] a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1.10) So if you don’t think you need the grace of Christ’s forgiveness, you may need to take a closer look at your spiritual life.
Myth 5: Confession is scary.
Truth: If someone has never gone to Confession, or hasn’t gone in a long time, they might expect that the priest will be shocked by their sins and react in a cruel or harsh way.
The experience of the vast majority of Catholics today attests that the opposite is the case. If anything, most priests are too easy. Priests have heard everything before (sin is common and boring), and they usually respond with some counsel and encouragement and then assign a very light penance (often simply saying a few prayers). Exceptions to this nowadays are rare.
So if you are a baptized Catholic, and haven’t gone to Confession for a while, you should go!
4 responses to “The Sacrament of Reconciliation”
I was raised in the American Episcopal church — middle of last century. The Anglican roots were entirely different than the Luther-inspired Protestant denominations, and involved some royal beheadings we don’t really like to talk about. But other than no Pope, and the beheadings thing, it was like Reformed Catholic.
We didn’t have confession. Appreciate your information.
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With a few regrettable exceptions, going to confession has been a positive experience for me. A good examination of conscience is always a plus for anyone trying to become holier, which anyone can do on his/her own.
The real benefit is when you take that information and honestly lay it all before someone who, like a good therapist, can sift through the hairball and find the root threads for you.
E.g., one time, after dumping my shame-filled hairball, the priest said, “You are way too hard on yourself. Your penance is to stand in front of a mirror every day for a week and say, out loud, ‘Chrissy, God loves you and so do I.'”
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Thank you for this beautiful meditation on the importance of Confession. I especially loved this line, “Christian life is one of continual conversion and growth in holiness by the grace of Christ.” Your references to Scripture are quite moving. I was reminded of one of my favorite verses of Matthew too. It doesn’t specifically mention Confession, but the importance of forgiveness. In Matthew 5:23-24, it states, “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
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That verse from Matthew is a favorite of mine as well. I once told a fellow believer that he had hurt me with something he had done that, without an apology, I couldn’t safely continue in a relationship with him.
He crossed his arms very defensively and said, “Well, you have to forgive me. But I don’t have to apologize.” Uhhhh … no. Cuz Matthew 5:23-24 says that is EXACTLY what you have to do.