I have been teaching our RCIA Catechumens and Candidates about the Sacraments. There are seven sacraments that we can separate into three categories.
Under the category of Initiation are Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Marriage and Holy Orders are categorized as Sacraments of Service. Lastly, Reconciliation and Anointing are Sacraments of Healing.
We seek the Anointing of the Sick when we are facing a serious physical illness, seeking God’s grace as we face the illness. We seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation when our souls are in need of healing from our sins. Unfortunately many do not seek the grace of this sacrament. Some because they fail to see their sins and others because they don’t fully understand the sacrament.
Before continuing I should say a few words about the name of the sacrament. I am calling it the Sacrament of Reconciliation but its more traditional name is Confession. For some it is known as “Penance.” Both confession and penance are part of the sacrament but are not the whole sacrament. I like the name “Sacrament of Reconciliation” because it signifies the purpose of the sacrament, seeking reconciliation with God.
I said that confession and penance are part of the sacrament. There are four parts to this Sacrament. They are contrition, confession, absolution, and penance.
Contrition is to be sorry for our sins. To be open to the grace God offers us in the sacrament, we must admit our sins and be sorry. But it is not just about admitting our sins. We must really want to change our ways to resist temptation and change our lives.
Confession is an important part of admitting our sins. Since God is everywhere God already knows our sins. But there is a therapeutic value in being willing to speak aloud our sins. It shows that we acknowledge what we have done is wrong and that we know we need God’s forgiveness.
Absolution is the act of God forgiving us for our sins. It is what we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for. It gives us the grace we need.
Penance is the fourth and final part of the Sacrament. Penance is not about serving a punishment. It is about conversion, seeking to change our lives to live in accord with God’s will.
I have to admit for a while I wasn’t going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as often as I should. When I got myself back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation I became all the more aware of how much I needed it and that I need God’s grace to do better in the future.
How often should we go? The answer is different for each of us. We should not go, say once a month, just to say we went. We are to go to this sacrament whenever we are aware that we have offended God by failing to live in accord with his Will. Sometimes, it might be a few days between our need for the sacrament and at other times a few weeks.
I titled this article “The Forgotten Sacrament” because it seems a lot of people don’t come to the sacrament on an individual basis. When was the last time you went and what do you need to seek God’s forgiveness for?