Written by Laura Kramer
We recently received the question: Why do Catholics need to confess to priests rather than to God?
Hm last time I check, we did need to confess to God.
In fact, within the first 5 minutes of Mass on Sunday the whole congregation recites together The Penitential Rite which goes like this:
I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;
and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Again, during the Sacrament of Confession after I have admitted my sins I say the Act of Contrition:
O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins,
because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.
Yes we do confess to God.
Now let’s talk about the role of the priest. Some make the mistake of thinking that the priest forgives sins, but a few quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) should clarify that:
Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: “Your sins are forgiven.” Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name. (CCC #1441)
In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (CCC #1444)
When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the 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. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner. (CCC #1465)
The priest is truly instrumental in bring us back into communion with God and the Church.
Now sometimes when people ask this questions about confessing to a priest, I wonder what’s beneath the surface. (Yeah I was a psychology major…) Inherent in the question “Why confess to a priest?” there seems to be an aversion to priests as if to say “Why waste my breath?” What is our attitude toward priests? Are priests not our brothers? Our fathers? Our elders? Our mentors? Our pastors? Are they not here to pray for, support, guide, and teach us?
What’s so strange about opening up to another person, trusting him, and receiving support and prayer from him? I don’t think it’s strange at all when you think about it on a human level. Actually I think trust, support, and prayer as we strive to amend our lives is something we could all use a lot more of!
Haven’t been to confession in a while? Contact one of the priests on this blog! With trust, support, and prayer they will guide you through the Sacrament of Confession and bring you back into a life of grace in God’s merciful love!