Why Do Catholics Practice Confession of Sins to a Priest?
Jesus appeared to his disciples, breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23). This moment, when Jesus breathed on his apostles, began both the institution of the priesthood and the sacrament of confession. Christ gave his first priests, the Apostles, the authority to forgive and retain sins. It was his intention that all sin be forgiven though the Church by a confession of sins to the priests. The apostles passed on this authority to the Bishops and Priests.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this; “In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church…. ‘I will give you the Keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ ‘Since Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation, bishops who are their successors, and priests, the bishops’ collaborators, continue to exercise this ministry.” (CCC 1444,1461)
Now that we know that this is how Jesus intended confession, there are still questions as to why Jesus did this? Why not make a private confession during prayer? Why confess to another human?
Always keep in mind; it is necessary to repent before God for your sins. And the sacrament of reconciliation, Catholics are primarily repenting to God and seeking to reconcile with God. But there are some very specific reasons why, Jesus intended confession to happen through a priest. First, as Christ well knew, confession of sins to a priest, who re-present Jesus Christ on earth, requires a lot of humility, trust in God and the Church, and contrition of heart. The humility to sit in front of priest, the representative of Christ, and confess outwardly all the wrong things you have done is sometimes very difficult but yet very powerful. And thus, when the forgiveness is granted by the priest, the confessor experiences the mercy of Jesus himself through the priest. Second, by confessing to a priest, it reminds a person that the sin not only affects the individual but also others. The priest, not only represents Jesus, but also the entire Catholic community. God’s forgiveness, granted by the priest, reconciles the confessor to the entire Catholic Church. Lastly, by confessing to a priest, the confessor has someone to counsel and encourage the confessor, so that the sin does not happen again.
There is no other feeling in the world compared to the joy and peace in your soul after a good confession. God’s forgiveness through reconciliation is one of the many precious gifts given to us by Jesus. If you haven’t been to Confession in some time, the priest will understand, and help you through the process. No priest will ever condemn a penitent man. Do not let your pride stand in your way from receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As a rule of thumb, Catholics should go to Confession monthly and should never receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin. Frequent participation in the Sacrament of Confession is a great way to weed out the destructive habits that result in mortal sin and will bring you closer to God.