What is Confession or Reconciliation?
The Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Penance, or Penance and Reconciliation) has three elements: conversion, confession and celebration. In it we find God’s unconditional forgiveness; as a result we are called to forgive others.
Confession is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ in his love and mercy. It is here that we meet the loving Jesus who offers sinners forgiveness for offenses committed against God and neighbor. At the same time, Confession permits sinners to reconcile with the Church, which also is wounded by our sins.
The sacrament, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, is known by many names. Sometimes “it is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion” (1423). But it is also better known as “the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction” (1423).
For many of us it still continues to be known as “the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament” (1424). At the same time, the Catechism reminds us that “it is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace'” (1424). Finally, it is also called the sacrament of Reconciliation because it reconciles sinners to God and then to each other (1424). In this text, we will refer to the sacrament as the sacrament of Penance.
Through this sacrament, we meet Christ in his Church ready and eager to absolve and restore us to new life. The graces of Christ are conferred in the sacraments by means of visible signs – signs that are acts of worship, symbols of the grace given and recognizable gestures through which the Lord bestows his gifts. In the sacrament of Penance, the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of grace are the gifts received through the outward sign, i.e., the extension of hands and words of absolution pronounced by the priest.