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Why Confess?

Discussion in 'Interfaith Discussion' started by johnnys4life, Mar 31, 2005.

  1. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    Why go to confession? If you are a Catholic, what do you feel going to confession accomplishes? Do you feel that whatever it is couldn't be accomplished any other way? If you are not a Catholic, how do you/ do you confess when you feel you've sinned? Do you feel some sort of confession is ever necessary?

    I was originally asking about this on the Catholic section but apparently I am not to provoke the Catholics or offer my "two cents" in that section. And since that is exceedingly difficult for me I will ask it here and hopefully be able to get some differing opinions from non-Catholic persons as well.

    I will be interested in any thoughts on this subject, and thanks in advance.:)
     
  2. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus
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    Confession

    What goes on inside the `black box' that is the confessional? How does confession `work'? And why do Catholics feel the need to go to confession? These are some of the questions I hope to begin to attempt to answer.

    Let us begin with the first question. Some non-Catholic readers of this article may have seen confession supposedly taking place in films or T.V. programmes, and wondered how accurate it is. Clearly I am unable to refer to every single T.V. programme and film, so I shall outline a general `order of service', based on my own experience.

    Usually once the `penitent', that is, the person going to confession, closes the confessional door, he or she kneels down on a kneeler, or in the case of someone who is elderly or has another reason for doing so, he or she sits down. In most confessionals there is some sort of a `screen' to prevent the priest from seeing who the particular penitent is, although in some there is direct face-to-face contact. The priest begins: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen" whilst the penitent makes the sign of the cross. The penitent will then say "bless me Father/forgive me Father for I have sinned. It was X weeks/months/years since my last confession. Here are my sins…" The `sin list' may go along the lines of "I have been proud, I have been lazy, I decided not to go to Mass on Sunday or a holy day of obligation" or the penitent may feel the need to go into greater detail, which whilst not necessary may help the priest better understand what someone has done. If someone has difficulty confessing his sins, he can ask the priest for help. The priest will then perhaps ask a series of questions based on the Ten Commandments, or perhaps the teachings of Christ, such as the Sermon on the Mount.

    Following the confession of sins by the penitent, the priest may then give some advice on avoiding certain faults or words of general encouragement. The priest will then assign a "penance", which usually consists of a few prayers to say in the church after leaving the confessional. For me this has ranged from two Hail Mary prayers right up to five decades of the rosary (which takes me about fifteen to twenty minutes). And to think you thought I was always a good boy! The reason given for the penance in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1459) is as follows:

    "Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must `make satisfaction for' or `expiate' his sins. This satisfaction is also called `penance.'"

    But at this point, after having being assigned a penance, the penitent still hasn't been granted forgiveness. So next the penitent is asked to say a prayer expressing sorrow for sins committed together with the resolution not to commit them again. This prayer is known as an `act of contrition.' Then the priest gives the `absolution.' The priest then extends either his right hand or both hands over the penitent and says the following:

    "God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

    Then the priest will dismiss the penitent by saying the following or similar words: "The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace." The penitent then leaves the confessional and goes and prays his penance in the church. Following the pronouncement of the words of absolution, many people feel "peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation" (Council of Trent (1551): DS1674), and this has certainly been my experience together with that of other people I have spoken to.

    Having dealt with `what goes on', let us move on to the `spiritual mechanics.'

    How do we know whether something is a sin or not? Do I need to confess everything? What if I forget something? To answer the first two, let us examine the nature of sin.

    To sin is to do something knowing it is wrong; therefore it is possible to do something wrong without sinning, as at the time you didn't realise it was a sin. time you didn't realise it was a sin. However we must also remember that the Ten Commandments are written on the human heart. As St. Paul said, pagans "can point to the substance of the Law engraved on their hearts" (Romans 2:15). So even if we haven't been officially `told' something is wrong, we can still `know' it is wrong, and it would therefore still be a sin.

    But do I need to confess everything? The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1456 says:

    "When Christ's faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest, `for if the sick person is too ashamed to show his wound to the doctor, the medicine cannot heal what it does not know'"

    Council of Trent (1551); DS1680 (ND1626); cf. St. Jerome, In Ecclesiastes 10,11: PL 23:1096

    But what about the sins I forget? To answer this I must explain the two `types' of sin: mortal and venial. 1 John 5:16 talks about "a sin that is death", and this is what a mortal sin is. Anyone who dies unrepentant in a state of mortal sin doesn't go to heaven, as such sins `cut you off' from God. Note that we reject God, not vice versa. On the other hand, venial sins do not have this effect, as not even a million venial sins make up a mortal sin. In order for a sin to be mortal, it has to fulfil these criteria: the offence must be serious, we must know and realise that we are committing a mortal sin, and we must have full consent of the will. Serious matter includes a deliberate and grave breaking of one of the Ten Commandments. All mortal sins must be confessed in order to be forgiven (and how could your conscience let you forget them?), whilst if venial sins are forgotten they will be forgiven together with those that are confessed.

    Finally, the question everybody wants to know the answer to: why go to confession?

    The Catholic Church, together with (most if not all; I am uncertain) of the Orthodox Church, believes there are seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. The institution of the sacrament of Penance (or `confession') is found in John 20:19-23. After His resurrection, Jesus breathed on the Apostles, the first Pope and bishops (now you know where the idea of `apostolic succession' comes from), and said to them (verse 23):

    "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained."

    Therefore because of this belief, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have `passed on what they have received' and have gone to confession down the ages. However, even the Catholic Church realises that for venial sins confession is not the only way of receiving forgiveness. But we believe it is the best way, given by Christ Himself. It must also be remembered that confession is not only forgiveness of sins, but also healing and strengthening against further sin. Perhaps the words of Pope John XXIII are a good explanation to finish with:

    "It is here in the sacrament of Penance that God's mercy will at last win the victory over human wickedness. It is here that men will be cleansed of their sins and reconciled with God. We condemn the theory that the frequent confession of venial sins is `not a practice to be greatly valued.' On the contrary, for a constant and rapid advancement in virtue, we highly recommend the pious practice of frequent Confession, introduced by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

    (1958-1963) (Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia)
    (Quote from http://www.christis.org.uk/archive/issue84/confession.php):)
     
  3. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus
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    Hi; hopefully, I have answered your first question.
    As for the understanding of repentance, http://www.acts17-11.com/repent.html is pretty 'heavy going', but seems to look at every aspect.
    As far as I am concerned, when I sin, I know I have sinned; I have no need for confession; the mere act of recognising the fact that I have sinned is the confession in itself.
    Mostly this comes up in meditation, which I try very hard to do on a daily basis; and the repentance, for me, is the determination 'to do my best' not to repeat the sin; I sometimes have to go round with quite a long mental list !:eek:
     
  4. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    Interesting. I see this verse a bit differently: "For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained." I was always taught that forgiveness came from God alone, not by men. In which case, this verse could only mean that they are bringing people to God to be forgiven, not that they are doing it themselves, which in fact they were out to win converts at that point, so that interpretation seems to make sense. They "forgive sins" by bringing the person to a knowledge of the gospel, in order for God to actually forgive them.

    It seems like a lot of hoops to go through in order to go through Catholic confessional. Why do you have to go through a priest? Why not just go directly to God through Christ? If you feel the need to do pennance, that should be something internally imposed, not externally, or else it isn't as likely to be heartfelt. It's more likely to be, "Well the priest told me to do x and y in order to be forgiven, so I better go do it" than "Well I have really offended God and had better set about trying to make things right in order to be obediant to him" - whether that means fasting and prayer, good deeds, confessing to another Christian, or whatever is impressed upon your heart to do.

    The major problem I have seen with Catholics going to confession is they take it very likely, it's almost a robotic act. It's as if they just go and do what they're told and yet it never sinks in, it never means anything to them other than "woohoo, now I'm not going to hell!" And it's not, at least from what I've seen, a problem inherant in the person that makes them take it lightly, but in the ritualistic attitude in which it is often presented. It becomes just what you do, going to confession, but whether or not you actually feel sorry for your sins, or care that you've misrepresented or gone agaist God, it's almost irrelevant as long as you go through the motions and have absolution.

    My thinking is, if you really listen and pray about it, God will tell you what is wrong and right. I don't know many Christians who don't know when they are doing wrong. And I think you really have to be aware of that and WANT to confess, and want to repair things insofar as you are able, afterwards. Because you LOVE God, not because it's what the church expects of you.

    But I suppose if you are a Catholic it is POSSIBLE to feel that way, and really be wanting to please God instead of just wanting to alleviate your guilt with as little concern for him as possible, but in my experience it doesn't happen too often, unfortunately.
     
  5. Green Gaia

    Green Gaia Veteran Member

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    I see confession as helpful psychologically. If the person talks about what they feel they've done wrong, they can release that guilt, get on with their lives and maybe not do those same bad things in the future. I view it as not too much unlike seeing a therapist.





    I spelled 'psychologically' right on the first try! :woohoo:
     
  6. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    Hmm...re-reading my post, maybe I am being too hard on Catholics. Come to think of it there aren't too many other Christians I know who ever seem to want to do pennance for thier sins, they merely confess to God, and hope all is well, myself included. But that seems to be a problem of the human condition - ei, selfishness. Not wanting to do anything that isn't as fun as something else that you'd rather be doing. Still I'm not sure that having someone else tell you what you ought to do and sort of give you a guilt trip into doing it is much better. It should definately be a repentance of the heart, not just the lips.

    I certainly wish we had some sort of time set aside in church to recollect and pray about our sins, because we rarely ever do, and I think it would help a lot.

    Too many people sit in church and hear the Bible being preached and nod and say "amen" because they are sitting there thinking "That is so true. My nieghbor is just like that, it is so wrong to cuss all the time like that." Then go home and start cussing at thier wife and kids. We just love finding fault in others a lot more than in ourselves.
     
  7. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    That is true Maize, confessing can be very therapeutic, and I'm almost sure I spelled that one wrong!
     
  8. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus
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    Well done; I refuse to use the spellCheck because I realize how appaling my spelling has become - I have to use the on line dictionary very often!!
    If I understand you correctly, according to you, a I am a mad therapist. I talk to myself, and I am my own therapist ! At least I cut out the 'middle man' !:jiggy:
     
  9. Scuba Pete

    Scuba Pete Le plongeur avec attitude...

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    I always confess to the person I sinned against, or to a close brother.
     
  10. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    I almost always confess things to my husband, but after a while you know people get sick of hearing how bad you are, so I just try to confess to God as much as I can.
     
  11. Master Vigil

    Master Vigil Well-Known Member

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    It is much harder to confess your sins to a person than just saying it in your head. (Or when you think your confessing to god.) That is why the catholics do it that way. And besides, why confess all of your sins to a person who doesn't or may not want to hear it, when you can to a priest who is there for that sole purpose?
     
  12. Unedited

    Unedited Active Member

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    I don't have any religious reasons to confess, but I do think it's a great practice. If I have something I feel guilty about, I usually find my brother and tell him. Just saying it out loud to him can do wonders. He usually does the same to me. Sometimes I just listen, and sometimes I try to help him.

    I think sins should atleast be said out loud, even if no one's there to hear you. Realising you've sinned as it passes, compared to taking the time to remember and reflect on it later, and distinctly voice the sin - they can have entirely different effects.
     
  13. Steve

    Steve Active Member

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    I can see how it may be helpful to a persons conscience.

    Although i belive it is not nessesary, if the you have somthing you need to confess to God then you can just do it in prayer. God knows your heart and if you are truly repentant. If you have sinned against someone else then in some cases then you should confess to them also, but like i said before i dont think a priest or another person is nessasary for you to confess to God.

    For through him (Jesus) we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. - Ephesians 2:18
    For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus - 1 Timothy 2:5
     
  14. Prima

    Prima Well-Known Member

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    I don't know whether someone said this or not...but in case...

    There is no 'little black box' anymore. That's way pre-Vatican II. At my church we just do it sitting in the pews. Regardless, it's no longer behind a screen.
     
  15. Prima

    Prima Well-Known Member

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    Oh. Er. Hmm.

    In fact, most of what Michel said about what happens is pre-Vatican II. Almost all of that has changed.

    But since we're here now, j4l...

    Oh, I definitely agree with you there. Let me explain to you what I keep saying about pre/post Vatican II. Vatican Councils are held when there need to be some major changes in the church. We rely so much on tradition that every once in a while we need to hold a Vatican Council to change so we don't get stagnant! It's up to the Pope to decide if we need a Vatican Council or not. The last Vatican council was a 'turning point' for a lot of ideas. We became (officially) more friendly towards Protestants, where before it was BAD PROTESTANTS! BURN IN HELL! Note how I said officially - it isn't to say that all Catholics were actually like that. Well, also at the most recent Vatican, or because of ideas surrounding it, the leaders of the church realized that there was too much emphasis placed on confession. That's where the changes involving how it was done came in, and that's when instead of once a week, it became once a year. (before it was generally thought that we should go once a week, every Saturday) It became much less secretive, and more community-oriented and open. However, as with any change, it takes a while for people to accept it. Most churches have accepted the new idea of confession at least a little (still using confessionals, maybe, but it being less rigid and secretive, maybe)

    There are also churches that have made a concious decision to stay traditional (a bible-up-their-butt rigid, in my opinion) They still have masses in Latin, still do everything that you think of when you think traditional catholic. Those would be the ones who still have confessionals, etc.

    Well, that's a matter of opinion and differs from person to person. I don't think it really matters which order you go in. I think the only problem arises when you use one as a substitute for another.

    'course we pray to God for forgiveness. You silly goose :D

    How what could be a pitfall? confession? Confession isn't making it external instead of internal. It's making the external a sign of the internal. I'm sure you've worn a cross/crucifix before, right? Well, does it take the place of your faith? of course not! it's a sign of the internal, and it reminds you and others of what the internal is.
     
  16. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    Hmm...okay I got you, but still, just from my own experience I have seen many Catholics just "going through the motions" so to speak and not actually living out a spiritual life at all. It makes me really sad down to the core to see and hear about people who go to confession every week, but still do drugs, steal, and live with thier boyfriends in sin. I'm thinking of one person in particular who has put a huge brick up for my family between us and the Catholic faith. At this point I feel like the church should give her an ultimatum to either clean up her act or get out, because we look at her and think, if that's Catholicism, no thank you. And there are many others like her.

    I know Christians aren't all expected to be perfect, but we aren't supposed to be blatant hypocrites either, and to me going to confession is a public act that represents something. Even if I don't believe it's necessary, you know. I still think people should mean it when they confess, not just to confess to get it off their chest and feel better about themselves, do a little pennance now and again, and keep on stealing and screwing around.
     
  17. Prima

    Prima Well-Known Member

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    You're ignoring what I'm saying. Of course we should mean it, of course we shouldn't be hypocrites. But if you're talking about being a hypocrite, you can't limit it to confession. Being a hypocrite isn't limited to confession, it isn't limited to catholicism. There are not more hypocrites in this area than in others, it's just more obvious to you that they're there. It's more obvious to you because you've had a bad experience. But I'm the same about your religion! I've had some terrible experiences with baptists and protestants in general. But there are 'bad' people in every religion. I just as easily could have had your experience with Roman Catholicism and you could have had mine with baptists/protestants! You can't let your experiences make a general statement, because not all people are like that. I've discovered that not all baptists/protestants are narrow-minded, rude, and cruel. It was just those few! and it's just those few Catholics who go to confession and then screw around anyway.
     
  18. johnnys4life

    johnnys4life Pro-life Mommy

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    Actually I think the majority of all Christians are hypocrites, but then again you can't be a hypocrite if you don't have any values to begin with. That's just my own jaded world views. I wasn't ignoring what you were saying at all! I'm just saying that since it's a ritual, you may find it easy to just go through the motions without meaning it, but perhaps the church is less ritualistic and stuffy than it used to be. I'm just saying like for example, I don't pray out loud before meals becaue I feel like that is just going through the motions after a while, after a while you forget to even feel thankful. I know cause I used to do that. And with confession, I think it would be the same, just going through the motions of pennance, but not actually feeling repentant,you know?
     
  19. magnolia

    magnolia Member

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    remember, that saved Christians repent but do the same sins over and over again too. I'm not defending Catholicism, but we must remember that we are sinners just the same despite the fact that we have been forgiven. I usually don't pray out loud before a meal when I'm by myself, but if I'm with others, praying out loud helps everyone else be in agreement. The thing we must look at with Catholicism though, Johnny's, is not whether they are "less stuffy" but whether they have changed- and they have. Remember, God's word hasn't changed a bit.
     
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