The Sacrament of Reconciliation

I.  Ten Commandments, God’s Rules of Love

As members of the Body of Christ, we must live by certain rules.  God gave rules to Moses and the Israelites in the form of the Ten Commandments. 

A. Love God Above All Others

  1. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. Deuteronomy 6:4-5.  Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.  It calls us to love God above everything and all creatures for him and because of him.  Images of Mary and the saints is not contrary to this commandment for “the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype.”

  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. The Lord’s name is holy and we should not abuse it.  One should not introduce the name of God into his own speech except to bless, praise and glorify it.  One also should not abuse the name of Mary and the saints.

  3. The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. This commandment recalls creation where God rested the seventh day and blessed it.  It is a day to rest and rejuvenate and a day to honor God.  It is also a day to be observed by celebration of the Eucharist.

 B. Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. 

4.  Honor your father and your mother.  This commandment requires respect and honor for our parents and elders.  It also requires respect to others in authority: pupils to teachers, employees to employers etc.  Respect for parents shows gratitude for those who gave you life.  Respect is shown by obedience.  Grown children must provide material and moral support for their parents in their old age, illness, loneliness or distress.  Parents have a duty to provide for the moral education and spiritual formation of their children.

5.  You shall not kill.  God asks us to respect God’s gift of human life.  As such, we should oppose homicide, killing in self defense, abortion and euthanasia.

6.  You shall not commit adultery.  In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses is a sign and pledge of spiritual communion.  Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.  Physical intimacy allows the bond between husband and wife to strengthen and also permits procreation.  Fidelity expresses faithfulness.  Adultery and divorce hurt the dignity of marriage.

7.    You shall not steal.  The seventh commandment prohibits the unjust taking or keeping of another person’s property or wronging him in any way with respect to his property.  It further enjoins respect for creation, animals and plants alike.  We are stewards of the earth.  Employers should pay employees a just wage as a legitimate fruit of their labor.

8.    You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  One should have respect for the truth and should not harm another’s reputation.

9.    You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.  To covet is to have lust in your heart for or to engage in intimate relations with her.

10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.  The tenth commandment forbids greed and the desire to accumulate material goods.  It also warns against envy in one’s heart.  Envy harms us against one another and is a capital sin.  According to St. Augustine envy is “the diabological sin.”  “From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.


II. Sin

Sin is alienation from God and from others.  It is our failure to respond to God’s love.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin as: “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.” (§1849 Catechism of the Catholic Church).   Sin is, “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” (§1850 Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

There are three types of sin: original sin, mortal sin and venial sin. 

Original sin:

Original sin is that sin which we are born with as a result of the sins of Adam and Eve.  It is the environment of evil in the world.  The love and mercy of God overcome this evil.  Original sin pulls us toward selfishness and independence while the grace of God moves us toward inter-dependence and communion with God and one another. 

Mortal sin:

“For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met:  ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent (§1857 Catechism of the Catholic Church)”. 

Whether the act is a “grave matter” depends on whether the action affects the sort of person we are becoming, our fundamental character.

“Full knowledge” presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act.

 “Complete consent” implies a personal choice.  Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense.  God has given us free will.  Complete consent reaches the core of our character and the direction and commitment of our lives.

Richard Gula, in Reason Informed by Faith, outlines two ways one commits a mortal sin: 

One way occurs when a person, who has a sharp awareness that a particular act contradicts the love of God, decides nevertheless in favor of that act in a way which reaches into the depths of the heart, and so reshapes his or her whole being.  The other way occurs when mortal sin comes as a result of frequent failures to love or to do the good within one’s reach.  This increasing laxity deadens the person’s sensitivity to the good and responsibility to others (Gula 111).

Venial sin:

Venial sin is committed when, in a less serious matter, one does not observe the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or consent.  §1862 Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Richard Gula defines venial sin as, “acting inconsistently with our basic commitment for life and love (115).”  It does not change our fundamental character, but frequent inconsistent acts may change our fundamental character and lead to mortal sin.

III. Moral Development of Children (Kohlberg)

1.  Pre-conventional: pleasure or punishment

2.  Conventional: what will satisfy my needs. Begin to identify with order and a group.

3.  Interpersonal: what pleases or helps others is good; expectations of others drives us in what we do.

4.  Law and order: sin is breaking the law.  Obedience to the law is good, keeps me in good with the group.

IV. Forgiveness

Four ways we deal with hurt:

  1. Deny hurt – deny reality and the wound gets bigger and more intense

  2. Ignore hurt – choose not to deal with it although we experience the pain of being hurt.

  3. Revenge – an active way of dealing with hurt.

  4. Forgiveness – only option that is ultimately healing.

 Side effects of experiencing the pain of hurt

  1. Physical pain: stomach pain, headache, tense muscles, back pain etc.

  2. Relationships: break off relationships with people who are close to you.

  3. Stop going to church.

  4. Obsessions with the hurt, the feeling of being paralyzed.

 Process of forgiveness

  1. Acknowledging the hurt

  2. Forgiveness

  3. Reconciliation

 In Scripture

In the Old Testament there was an emphasis on God’s covenant of love with his people  “Come back to me with all your heart.”  And “I will give you a new heart.” God gave Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments to help them live.  We see forgiveness in the Old Testament in Genesis in the story of Joseph and his brothers.

In the New Testament Jesus’ ministry was one of forgiveness.  Jesus gives us a new commandment to love God and to love one another as one loves oneself.  He established a new covenant, one written in our hearts.  He enabled people to know they are loved.  He enabled them to experience the goodness and forgiveness of God.  Stories of God’s mercy and forgiveness in the New Testament include:

Matthew 5: 23-24 - Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 6: 11-12 - Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;

Matthew 18: 21-22 - Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

Luke 23: 34 - Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

1.  Forgiveness In Baptism

Through our baptism we are absolved of all our sins, including original sin.  Through our baptism we become part of God’s family.  We are called to live in a relationship of love with God and others.

2.  Forgiveness In the Eucharist –

We ask forgiveness from God and others during the Eucharist

3.  Forgiveness in the Penetential Rite

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;  therefore I ask blessed Mary, ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.


Priest or Lay Minister: You were sent to heal the contrite: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy


Priest or Lay Minister: You came to call sinners: Christ, have mercy

Response: Christ, have mercy


Priest or Lay Minister: You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

4.  Forgiveness in the Eucharistic Prayer – We remember Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins

5.  Forgiveness in the Our Father – we ask God’s forgiveness and we ask for his help in doing what is right.

6.  Sign of Peace – We say “Peace be with you” as a sign of forgiveness to our neighbor before we receive Communion.

7.  Forgiveness In the sacrament of Reconciliation

The sacrament of Reconciliation is a time of healing and forgiveness.  We go to a priest because he is a representative of the community.  When we hurt someone, it affects the whole community.  We come together with the community to acknowledge our failings and to declare that we will make an effort to restore that friendship.  We go to the priest who receives us and loves us back into the relationship with God and each other.  We express sorrow for our actions and promise to change.  Through God’s unconditional love we are forgiven.  The laying on of hands by the priest is a sacred symbol of God’s healing power.  We become fully participating members once again.  The emphasis on the relationship, which is shown by the change in terminology from “Confession” to “Reconciliation,” is the reconciliation and healing of a relationship.

V. Forms of Reconciliation

   1.  Private: face to face or anonymously

   2.  Communal: the community gathers. We proclaim scripture, pray for forgiveness and receive individual confession.

   3.  General absolution: the community gathers, proclaims scripture and prays for forgiveness, but there are no individual confessions. This is generally used in an emergency situation such wartime.

Examination of Conscience