Friday, March 02, 2018 - Updated: 11:42 am
QUESTION: I recently went to confession and told the priest that I had not committed any sins but just wanted to obtain the grace of the sacrament. He seemed irritated and said that I didn’t understand the purpose of the sacrament. Any thoughts?
ANSWER: The purpose of the sacrament of reconciliation is forgiveness and healing. The Second Vatican Council affirms that when it says: “Those who approach the sacrament of penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for offenses committed against him. They are at the same time reconciled with the church which they have wounded by their sins” (“Lumen Gentium,” 11).
Thus, the sacrament presupposes some sin to be forgiven or disposition to be reconciled. I would imagine that the priest more clearly heard you say that you had no sins, which may account for why he reacted as he did.
At the same time, however, you are correct in stating that over the centuries obtaining grace was offered as a reason for “going to confession.” This was true in the context of the belief that, in each sacrament, we meet the Lord and that encounter is a gift (a grace).
So, while grace is a part of all sacraments, each specific sacrament is directed toward a purpose or phase of our life (e.g. baptism as incorporation and adoption). Thus, the “grace” of reconciliation (confession) is specifically directed toward forgiveness. For a person who has no sins to confess, grace might also be obtained by some other means.
It has always been taught that grace is obtained by the reception of the Eucharist. Grace is also to be found in prayer and acts of charity.
The point remains that a Catholic is always free to approach the sacrament of penance (confession). But timing is important as well. Before Christmas and Easter many people seek the sacrament of confession. There are still times when people are lined up to do so. That puts pressure on a priest who wants to meet the needs of these people, but must also teach a class or attend a meeting or even celebrate the next Mass. To hear someone in that line say that they “… have no sins to confess” may be a little challenging.
QUESTION: I am a very senior citizen Catholic. I was taught and still believe that I should go to confession every time I intend to receive Communion. My grandchildren tell me that this is not at all correct. Am I wrong?
ANSWER: The significant response to this question is that the primary focus is reception of the Eucharist. This sacrament is indeed food for the journey. It has been aptly described as the “manna” in the desert of our everyday lives. One is free to receive the Eucharist each day if one is properly disposed.
However, if one is conscious of a serious (mortal) sin, the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) should be celebrated before one receives the Eucharist. The point being that a Catholic should feel free to receive Communion anytime unless they are in serious sin.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.