5- How can the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) be of help to your marriage?

The words of Absolution in the Latin Rite take this form: God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

John Paul II who went to confession weekly and who stressed the universal call to holiness as a characteristic mark of Vatican II, enumerated these advantages of frequent confession: we are renewed in fervor, strengthened in our resolutions, and supported by divine encouragement.

St Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, says God will not remember our sins once we confess them to a priest, repent sincerely and "make amends to God out of reverence for him as a father." (St Thomas Aquinas in The Summa Theologiae, Sacramental penitence.)

This is exactly what we find in the Scriptures too:
- "None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced." (Book of Ezechiel, 18:21)
- "I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more".  (Heb. 8,12)

Q: What does the Church teach about confession and the forgiveness of sins? Can we only confess to a priest or are we allowed to ask for forgiveness straight from God? What’s the difference?

A: There is a big difference.  Only God can forgive sins, but Jesus gives power to forgive sins in his name to priests (Jn 20:21-23; Mt 16:19).  Confession has been part of the Church from the beginning.

If we sin, we should immediately repent and ask God to forgive us.  But we should also go to confession, not only to ensure forgiveness, but to bring about real change that can only happen through sacramental grace. 

First, Jesus is sacramentally present through the priest in a profound way, ready to listen and forgive.  We truly encounter Him in the confessional.  Vocalizing our sins to a priest helps develop our relationship with Christ, because we are speaking to him; and humbles us, makes our repentance concrete, and helps us understand his merciful love for us in a way private prayer does not.

Second, the sacramental grace of absolution not only forgives, but cleanses our souls interiorly in a way not available through private prayer, opening our souls more deeply to the presence of God and over time strengthening us against future sinning, as we regularly confess our sins.

Third, absolved and filled with sacramental grace, we receive real interior peace as we are healed of sin and restored to communion with God.  Penance then configures us ever more closely to Christ, his presence growing in and with us.  We are also restored to communion with the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, and all the mystical graces that flow through the Body.

Confession offers so much more than forgiveness.  It offers real interior change, deep transformation in Christ and friendship with God.  We just need to make use of it!

Aimee M. Cooper, M.A.