Why Christ Instituted the Sacrament of Confession
by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.
No words can describe the importance
of the Sacrament of Penance in the Catholic Church. Christ instituted
the Sacrament to give us a ready and assured means of obtaining the
remission of our sins committed after Baptism. We must say that this
Sacrament was the first gift to the Church on Easter Sunday night. He
told His disciples, who were overjoyed in seeing their Risen Master,
“Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so I am sending you.”
After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy
Spirit. Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. For those whose
sins are retained, they are retained.” By these words, Christ gave
His Bishops and priests the power to reconcile sinners with God and
restore their title to Heaven if they had deeply sinned.
The value of this Sacrament
is not only in its infallible power to remove the guilt of grave sin.
It is also one of the main means by which a believing Catholic can grow
in sanctity. Pope Pius XII could not be clearer. By the Sacrament of
Confession, “Genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility
grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are
resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary
self-control is obtained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament
itself” (Mystici Corporis Christi, n. 88). That is why the Vicar of Christ warns especially “the younger
clergy who make light of, who lessen esteem for frequent Confession
realize that what they are doing is alien, alien to the spirit of Christ
and disastrous to the Mystical Body of Christ.”
It may be said, without qualification,
that one of the conditions for growing in sanctity is the frequent reception
of the Sacrament of Confession. It is the divinely instituted means
for making us saints. Why? Because we are all sinners and there is nothing
more we need on earth than the gift of God’s grace through the Sacrament
which Christ instituted on Easter Sunday night as His great gift to
those who recognize their sinfulness and receive this Sacrament of peace
as often as they can.
One of the great gifts of the
late Paul VI was his strong encouragement for making this Sacrament
available to children at an early age. He ordered that “Children from
the age of discretion should receive the Sacrament of Penance.” This
will enable them to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion and thus cultivate
the practice of frequent reception of both Penance and the Eucharist
at a very early age.
The experience of the Church
has shown how invaluable is the grace of absolving children almost as
soon as they reach the age of reason, and thus enabling them to receive
their Lord almost as soon as they are capable of seeing themselves as
sinners and, shall we add, as soon as they see themselves as potential
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica. Used with permission.