Article 83 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 976-983 Forgiveness of Sins
Have you ever wondered why the Church urges us to receive the sacrament of reconciliation (penance) as a remedy for our sins, while the Creed we profess at Sunday Mass suggests that the forgiveness of sins is related to the sacrament of baptism? The Catechism even affirms: “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justifi c a t i o n , s o t h a t ‘ w e t o o might walk in newness of life’ Romans 6:4; Cf. 4:25″ (ccc 977).
We might first ask, why do we even believe in “the forgiveness of sins?” Because God has been willing to forgive us our sins again and again. The whole story of Redemption deals with forgiveness. Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary are all a magnificent story of God’s compassionate, loving forgiveness. They represent his willingness to forgive even our most serious sins! As such, we imitate our loving Father in heaven when we forgive others.
Related to this is the amazing gift Jesus gave us, the first sacrament he gave us after his Resurrection. In the Gospel of St. John, we read how Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to the Apostles and their successors (see John 20:22-23). Since then, our Lord has forgiven the sins of millions of people by means of his priest in the confessional.
When you hear someone question the power of the priest to forgive sin, remind that person of how the enemies of Christ objected that he did not have the power to forgive sin. It was at Capernaum. The friends of a paralytic had brought the paralytic to Christ for a miraculouscure. But the first words Christ spoke were: “Take courage, child; your sins
are forgiven you” ( Mt 9:2 ). At once, his enemies said: “This man blasphemes” ( Mt 9:3). They knew, as we do, that only God has the power to forgive sin. Christ’s act of forgiveness was a claim to divine power, to divinity. To the prejudiced Pharisees this was blasphemy. What did Our Lord do? He immediately proved his claim to divinity by telling the paralytic, whose sins he had forgiven, to take up his mat and walk. The Gospel tells us, “And he arose, and went away to his house” ( Mt 9:7 ).
In the opening paragraph of this section of the Catechism we read: “The Apostle’s Creed associates faith in the forgiveness of sins not only with faith in the Holy Spirit, but also with faith in the Church and in the communion of saints. It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the Risen Christ conferred on them and their successors his own divine power to forgive sins: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” ( Jn 20:22-23) (ccc 976) Our faith not only teaches that through the sacrament of reconciliation “the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church” (ccc 980) but, in fact, this sacrament “is neces-sary for the salvation of those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn” (ccc 980).
Many priests have heard it whispered, both inand out of the confessional, “… but Fa ther, I cannot imagine that MY sin could ever be forgiven.” To this, the Catechism responds: “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot for give. There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may notconfidently hope for forgiveness, providedone’s repentance is honest” (ccc 982). TheChurch forgives, not only through the firstsacrament of forgiveness, baptism, and the sacrament of reconciliation given
through the power of the keys (2 Corinthians 5:18), but also through the demands of discipleship, which is limitless forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22).
While in the flesh, Jesus taught that forgiveness is the hallmark of discipleship. The Catechism explains further that Christ’s desire is that “in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin” (ccc 982). No wonder the risen Christ’s gift to his Church is “the mission and the power to forgive sins through the ministry of the apostles and their successors” (ccc 983).
Commenting on the sacrament of reconciliation, fourth century bishop and doctor of the Church, St. Ambrose observed: “The Lord wills that his disciples possess a tremendous power: that his lowly servants accomplish in his name all that he did when he was on earth.” Another fourth century saint, John Chrysostom explained: “Priests have received from God a power that he has given neither to angels nor to archangels God above confirms what priests do here below.” A final fourth century theologian-bishop, St. Augustine, commenting on the forgiveness of sins in the Church, states: “Let us thank God who has given his Church such a gift.” Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies., Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Dis-abilities