A Guide to the Sacrament of Penance
from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference of Bishops
Discover God's Love Anew
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has asked "for renewed pastoral courage in ensuring that the day-to-day teaching of Christian communities persuasively and effectively presents the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 37). A renewed appreciation for this wonderful sacrament which leads many to return to the life of grace will bring about a new springtime, a new era of growth and life for the Church.
In response to the Pope's invitation, this statement will speak of our need for reconciliation and explain how we receive it. While we hope that all Catholics properly understand the nature and importance of the sacrament of Penance, this statement is directed in a special way to those who do not understand it or who have drifted away from its use.
We invite every Catholic to celebrate the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation or, as we have traditionally said, "go to Confession," on a regular basis. There can be no better way to make progress on our spiritual journey than by returning in humble repentance and love to God, whose forgiveness reestablishes us as his children and restores us to peace with his Church and our neighbors.
With every prayerful best wish, we remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Bishops of Pennsylvania
Examination of Conscience
As you prepare to make a good confession, you want to ask God's forgiveness for any way in which you have offended him but particularly for any serious sin. If you are not certain what you should bring to the priest in confession, do not be afraid to ask him for help. The priest is there to assist you and to share with you God's love and mercy.
Many people find the Ten Commandments to be a good frame of reference for an examination of conscience. The Commandments are listed here as a reminder that you might find helpful.
- I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
- You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.
Glossary of Terms
Original Sin is the sin committed by Adam and Eve, the first human beings. This sin was a willful act of disobedience, a rejection of God's command that was so devastating that it ruptured the relationship which our first parents enjoyed with God. As a result of this sin, paradise was lost to them and to their descendants until our Redeemer, Jesus Christ came to conquer sin and death and restore us to our inheritance of the Kingdom of God. Original sin taints all human beings and is washed away through the sacred waters of baptism. However, while original sin is removed, its effects remain. One of these effects is concupiscence, that disordered desire within us which produces an inclination to sin (1264, 1426, 2515).
Mortal Sin is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as "a grave infraction of the law of God that destroys the divine life in the soul of the sinner (sanctifying grace), constituting a turning away from God. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be present: grave matter, full knowledge of the evil of the act, and full consent of the will" (1855, 1857). The Catechism emphasizes that "to choose deliberately - that is both knowing it and willing it - something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal (happiness) is impossible. Unrepented, mortal sins brings eternal death" (1874). This "eternal death" we call Hell, where those who have died unrepentant of mortal sin suffer the eternal separation from God and loss of eternal happiness, i.e., seeing God face-to-face.
Venial Sin, according to the Catechism, "does not destroy the divine life in the soul, as does mortal sin, though it diminishes and wounds it" (1855). Venial sin is a failure to observe necessary moderation, in lesser matters of the moral law, or in grave matters acting without full knowledge or complete consent" (1862). We must realize, however, that while venial sins do not have the grave effects of mortal sin, "deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin" (1863). It should be the goal of every Christian to strive, through steadfast prayer, acts of penance and works of charity, for a life free of sin.
© 2002 Pennsylvania Catholic Conference
Used with permission.
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