The Sacraments: Penance & Reconciliation

Posted on April 3, 2023 by Published by

Now that we’ve reviewed the three sacraments of Initiation, we will move on to the Sacraments of Healing – and first up is the Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation.

We are called to live our lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments – especially the two greatest – I. Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with all your mind, and II. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. We sin when we knowingly make choices that are not in line with these commandments, resulting in harming others and breaking our relationship with God and with the Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church categories sinfulness into venial and mortal sins – both damage the core component of being human—the ability to love God and to love others. They are choices that we make that either wound (venial) or destroy (mortal) our ability to love.

Living our lives in a Christ-like way is not easy, and as a result we are all sinners! How wonderful it is for us that we have this beautiful sacrament always available to us that not only restores God’s grace within us but strengthens it.

There are four primary actions in the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, all of which contribute to the healing that takes place:

  1. Examination of Conscience – Before you even enter the sacrament, you should review your lives since our last confession, searching your thoughts, words, and actions for that which did not conform to God’s commandments. This is called an examination of conscience. Tip! My favorite guide for this can be found on the Fathers of Mercy website –-
  2. Contrition – This is the most important part of your confession – you must feel remorse and regret for your sins, intend to not sin in the future and have a sincere desire to change.
  3. Confession – Confess your mortal sins to the priest in number and kind. Confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is also recommended.
  4. Absolution – This is when the Priest, through the authority of Jesus Christ, absolves you of your sins.
  5. Penance – The Priest offers a suggested act of penance. It can be a concrete action to make amends or it can be an act of charity or prayer or devotion.

There are two “movements” in this sacrament; our movement towards God, and God’s toward us. The effects of this sacrament are many! Not only forgiveness of sins, but reconciliation with God and the Church, restoration of God’s grace in our soul, an increase in spiritual strength to fight temptation and finally – peace in our hearts.

Here are some commonly asked questions about Penance & Reconciliation:

How often should I receive the Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation? 

Once past the age of reason (usually 7 years of age) Catholics are obligated to confess serious sins (mortal) at least once a year.  Anyone aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion until they have received absolution through Reconciliation.  Having said that – confession of everyday faults (venial sins) on a more frequent basis is strongly recommended.  Regular confession of our venial sins helps form our conscience and fight against evil (CCC 1457-1458).  Also, when we receive God’s mercy more frequently, it moves us to be more merciful to others.

I haven’t been to reconciliation in years – do I have to recount all my sins since my last confession?  Is that even possible?

First of all, if you haven’t been to reconciliation in a long time, but feel you are being called to this sacrament – that’s incredible!  It’s the Holy Spirit working in your heart.  In terms of preparation – I think most Priests would tell you not to over prepare or get overwhelmed – they are there to help you.  You can certainly go through an examination of conscience – but think of your sins in more of a general sense – what types of sin do you fall to most often? You do not need a very specific laundry list.  Go ahead and tell the Priest that it has been a long time, ask him to help you make a good confession – he will guide you and rejoice that you came to him.  Remember always that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of love.

Why do I have to talk to a Priest to be forgiven?  Can’t I talk directly to God?

Jesus asked believers to approach God for forgiveness through the apostles who were commissioned to act as his agents. After the resurrection, Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22,23). Priests alone carry out this apostolic role (Canon 965; CCC, 1461 & 1462).

Additionally, the Priest is not just “another human being”, but one who acts in the person of Christ.  With faith we believe that when we speak to the Priest, we speak to Christ.  And when the Priest speaks to us, he speaks on behalf of Christ. When the priest says, “I absolve you,” it is Christ who absolves (Mk 2:10).

Finally, when we confess our sins to a priest, we are able to receive individualized counsel, advice that fits our unique circumstances, and we can be given a penance that is “medicinal,” specifically tailored to help us in the spiritual healing process (Canon 981).

This is the fifth installment in a series of articles about the Seven Sacraments, contributed by Deacon Peter LeTourneau, Director of Parish Ministry and Evangelization at Our Lady of the Wayside Parish. Please feel free to reach out to Deacon Peter with questions or comments at

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