Why not to a friend, an adviser or a community of people? Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who is not Roman Catholic, nevertheless judges that the Catholic Church has “more adequate means” for dealing with a sense of guilt than other religions and institutions (Donald De Marco, “The Decline of Private Guilt and the Need for Confession” pp. 99-106). Here area a few reasons why that may be true:
- The priest charges no fee. He freely received from God the power to declare sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and thus must freely exercise for others that ministry of mercy.
- The priest strictly keeps confidences learned in the reconciliation chapel. Church laws governing what we term “the seal of confession” under severest penalty prohibit a priest from revealing any sin of an individual penitent to any person under any conditions. The long history of this sacrament indicates that priests, despite their human their human weaknesses in other areas, have nevertheless observed those restrictions remarkable well. Confessors take these rules very, very seriously.
- The priest’s wide experience, acquired through regularly hearing many confessions, gives him deep insights into human guilt and divine mercy.
- The priest pronounces with authority and in an audible voice God’s 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.” – Rite of Penance
People walk away from the Sacrament of Penance having actually heard these clear and certain words of liberation. They know guilt is gone and sins are removed. Friends, advisers and others can comfort or reassure on this matter, but not announce with such certitude.
- The priest carries out the promises of Christ. After the resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples: “receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained: (John 20:22b-23).
- The priest seeks to mirror in his attitude, words and actions the gentleness of Christ. There are over a dozen incidents in the Gospels which either describe Jesus actually forgiving a repentant sinner or teaching about God’s mercy, which has no limit and lasts forever. The Savior’s example serves as a role model for priests in the sacrament.
- The priest and the penitent actually celebrate a sacrament, the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. Confession of sins with absolution is more than a merely human ritual that cleanses away unpleasant guilt. As one of the seven sacraments established by Christ, Penance not only forgives sins, but also restores or increases sanctifying grace. Moreover, Reconciliation bestows actual graces that heal the wounds caused by sins and strengthen the virtues needed for our progress.
- The priest in the name of the Church reconciles us with the community. Sin, as we have seen, weakens or ruptures our relationships with God, others and the world around us. In this sacrament, the priest both declares that those fractured relationships have been restored and aids in rebuilding them.
from Rev. Joseph Champlin – “Why go to Confession?”