I can recount the countless times that older parishioners, priests,and nuns have told me that when they we're growing up that it was always made a point for the whole family to go to confession, and how many people they saw waiting in that long line to enter the confessional, kneel down, confess there faults, and receive absolution. well as many of us can see those days are gone (but slowly returning) and personally I think the reason for this are in today s American culture is The Loss of a true sense of what sin is, misunderstanding the Sacrament itself, lack of humility, lack of true contrition, and finally the ignorance of the ramifications that our sins cause.
First things first, what is Sin? first we must realize that in Catholic Moral theology all sin is not created equal which stands true to human reason. the two type of sins that one can commit are Venial sins and Mortal sins. Venial sins are according to The Traditional Catholic Catechism by Faerber is a sin in which the matter is less important while a Mortal sin or a Grievous sin, is a sin that the matter is very important. we determine which type of sin is which by our conscience which is formed by natural law,the commandments, our parents and the Church. now that we know what theses sins are lets see what they do to our soul. According to the Catechism when we commit Venial sin we offend God who is all good, we bring on temporal punishment due to our sins, and it gradually leads us to commit Mortal sin. Mortal sin Offends God Grievously, we loose sanctifying grace (which is the life and light of the soul) we lose heaven and all our merits. as you can see committing sin leads us into serious spiritual trouble. in an analogy venial sin is turning from God slightly, while committing a Mortal sin is turning completely away from God and leads to the death of the soul (eternal damnation in hell). its important to realise that no venial sins no matter how many equal a mortal sin, and Mortal sins will never be a venial sin. Sin is like a disease that eats away at the image of God in our soul. we become spiritually sick due to sin. we never loose our image and likeness with God but it is diminished in us. we need confession to get the grace to heal our souls of the wound of sin (and in the case of mortal sin to replenish sanctifying grace).
So how does one commit any sin? that's easy, you commit sin by knowingly and willingly doing what has been forbidden by God. we know what has been forbidden by God by the ten commandments and the teaching instruction of The Church (which is from the ten commandments) The ten Commandments are what follows.
I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember to keep holy the Lord's day
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
You shall not covet you neighbor's goods.and here's a link to to making an examination of Conscience based on the ten commandments http://www.scborromeo.org/confess.htm
Many people believe that we only commit sin by actions but this is not true! many people use the excuse "well I'm a good person and I'm not hurting anyone, so I'm good" but we do not just sin by our actions the ways in which we sin are by our Thoughts, desires, words, actions, and omissions. which are all covered in your examination of conscience.
So now that we know what sin is we can move on to what The Sacrament is, The Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka confession,penance) is the usual way that God forgives sins after Baptism. Jesus institutes this Sacrament in scripture when he says the Apostles " He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." John 20: 21-23. and the apostles who were the first priests and bishops have passed this power on for over 2000 years.
It is important to realise that God ( the Trinity Father, Son and Holy Ghost) is the one who forgives sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation . so many people ask why must i confess my sins to a priest? If God forgives my sins why cant i just confess directly to God? these are very understandable questions. it is true that God forgives sins and that his forgiveness is free, God expects a little work on our part, first God requires Contrition (the act of being sorry) and there are two different types which are Imperfect Contrition and Perfect Contrition. Imperfect Contrition is Contrition when we are sorry for reasons other than we offended God(ie. for fear of hell and punishment) who we should Love with our whole heart, and whom by our sins have not loved as we should, while perfect contrition is sorrow for offending God alone. the only type of Contrition that suffices outside of the Sacrament of penance is Perfect Contrition (and even if you think that you've made an act of perfect contrition you should still go to confession) we can never assume that any of our contrition is perfect because as humans we are always fearful of punishment and even a hint of that makes our contrition imperfect. Another thing God asks for us o be forgiven is humility many of us have heard our dads or some one else say "it takes a big man to admit when he is wrong" well the same applies to Confession, it takes humility to tell our faults to another human. It is easier to say God I'm sorry for XY and Z and not have the slightest sense of humility (or contrition) doing so. so God gives us a human to physically confess our sins to (because we are Physical creatures) and God has given the power to that human (the Ordained Priest) to forgive those sins. it is important to not that the priest is in persona Christi which means in the person of Christ which means that what ever the priest does in the sacraments it is really Jesus doing it. so Christ makes himself present to us through his Priests.
Another reason we must confess our sins to a priest have to do with the ramifications of our sins. most people think that sin only affects themselves and is personal, this thought is false. sin no matter how personal affects everyone in the Church and the world , and the universe. Because we all belong to the body of Christ by baptism our sins have an effect on everyone. if your foot, head, or and hurts does it not affect the rest of your body? so it is the same with the Church when one person is wounded in the Body of Christ the whole body suffers if they know it or not! we can never apologise to every person who we hurt by our sins, so the priest is the Representative of every person who we knowingly and unknowingly hurt by our sins.
Another reason for confessing sins to a priest is the mental affect that it gives on the penitent. confessing what we have done wrong gives us peace and solace of mind and hearing that you have been forgiven is a greatly freeing experience.
So what Exactly Happen in The Sacrament of the of Reconciliation?
when you enter the Church you will go to the designated area where confessions are heard (a traditional Confessional or a Reconciliation room in newer Churches)
if there is a line wait in line and make your examination of conscience(if not done prior to coming to Church)
Go into the Confessional and kneel Down on the kneeler in front of the screen (or sit face to face with the priest in a Reconciliation room)
The priest will say the greeting (The sign of the Cross "in the name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost)
You say "Bless me father for I have sinned its been X days, years,etc since my last confession i am guilty of committing the sins of(here list sins in the case of mortal sins which must be confessed the name of the sin and the number of times committed, it is not necessary to confess venial sins, even though its a good practice to do so)
After you confess your sins the priest will give you spiritual advise and than impose a penance (usually prayers or some Good work to do)
and than Father will give you Absolution (the prayer that takes away your sins)
After you leave the Confessional do your penance or ASAP if you are not able to do right away.
What is a penance?
a penance is prayers or good works that ease the ramifications and punishment due to our sins.
In short Think of your soul as a computer. you download a program that has a virus on it to your hard drive (sin) you take your computer to a specialist (the priest, and God) who removes the program and the virus from the computer (Confession) but you computer may suffer from the affects of the virus after it is removed (temporal punishment due to sin) so you must work to correct these problems (penance)
I hope this is helpful!! if you have any questions please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org don't forget to send topic ideas and questions!! God Bless