Session 9    The Sacrament of Reconciliation


This is the Sacrament which enables us to unburden ourselves of our sins by confessing to a priest.  It is sometimes known as Confession or the Sacrament of Penance.  Like all the Sacraments, it gives us grace.


A week after Jesus had risen from the dead, he appeared to the Apostles and told them that as the Father had sent him, he was sending them out to preach the Gospel.  He also gave them power to forgive sins:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven;

  if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”   (John 20:23)



Read the parable told by Jesus about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31).  The lesson for us in this story is that God, our Father, will always forgive our sins whenever we are ready to ask for forgiveness. In Matthew’s Gospel we read about brotherly correction (Matthew 18:15-18).  We are advised to sort things out on a one to one basis.  In the letter of James, we are advised to “confess your sins to one another” ( James 5:16)  The Church in her wisdom teaches that the best person to tell our sins to is the priest (who is one of us as we all belong to the Body of Christ) who is bound by the seal of confession, which means that anything he hears in confession must be kept secret.  This makes a great deal of sense. Imagine if we were all going round telling everyone our sins!  Throughout history, there have been priests who have been martyred rather than reveal things which have been told to them in confession.  One important point to remember is that we are really confessing to God in the presence of a priest;  only God can forgive our sins.


History of the Sacrament.

In the early Church, the penitent would ask the bishop for forgiveness. He would then be excluded from Communion and after a period of penance, fasting, prayer and almsgiving, the penitent would be given absolution. Then a new way of celebrating the Sacrament was practised in the Celtic church. Sins were confessed to the priest who kept them secret but the penance still had to be done before the absolution was given. Eventually, priests gave absolution before the penance (on condition that the penance would be done) Finally the Sacrament was celebrated as follows: Confession, absolution, penance followed by restitution (if this was necessary e.g in the case of stealing someone's property or damaging their character) firm purpose of amendment.


Receiving the Sacrament.

·         We must first examine our conscience, thinking of the wrong things that we have done or things we have failed to do since our last confession.  We are not bound to receive this Sacrament unless we have done something very seriously wrong eg committed a murder, inflicted some grievous bodily harm, committed adultery or robbed a bank but we may wish to go at other times.  Have we gone against any of the Ten Commandments? (See Exodus 20:1-21 or Deuteronomy 5:6-22)   Remember the words of Jesus: “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.”  The first three Commandments deal with our relationship with God while the other seven deal with our relationship with each other. We also need to consider if we have been a true disciple of Jesus.  (Check The Sermon on the Mount, Mt. Chapter 5.)  Before we confess, we must be truly sorry for our sins and also have a firm intention of not committing those sins again. 

·         We kneel down before the priest and say words such as: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”  Then say how long it is since your last confession or “This is my first confession.” Then tell the priest your sins and when you have finished, say something like “That is all, Father.”  Do not hesitate to ask the priest about anything you are not sure about.  That is why he is there.  In recent years it has become the custom to confess our sins face to face with the priest although some people prefer the old idea of not being able to be seen. 

·         The priest will then give you a penance which is usually a prayer.  It may be the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed with a suggestion of how we can improve our life.

·         You will then be invited by the priest to say an Act of Contrition (sorrow) such as:

O my God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against because you are so good and with the help of your grace I will not sin again.  Amen.

·         The priest then says the words of  absolution which end with: “I absolve you from your sins…..”


How often should we receive the Sacrament?

As often as you like but probably about two or three times a year is sufficient. More if we feel that we have difficulty with a particular sin!  If we are guilty of serious sin, we should go as soon as possible.


How to avoid sin.

·         Regular Mass and Holy Communion.  (The Eucharist also frees us from sin that is not serious)

·         Prayer that the Holy Spirit will keep us from sin.

·         Avoid occasions of sin: places, people or events which may lead us into sin.

  • Possibly join a small group with people who are willing to encourage each other in the practice of their Christian faith.



Sacrament of the Sick

 The Sacrament of the Sick
The Sacrament of the Sick


In former times, this Sacrament was referred to as Extreme Unction which means the last anointing.  (Our Christian life started with anointing at Baptism then at Confirmation)  Since the Second Vatican Council, the emphasis has been on the Sacrament as being one for those who are seriously ill although not necessarily dying.  Jesus had great compassion for the sick and there are many accounts in the Gospels of him healing them.  He also identified with them when he said:

“I was sick and you visited me.”  Mt. 25:36


Illness can be a time when a person does some soul searching and may find God!  There are accounts of some of the saints coming to faith while on their sick bed and then following the call of God.  Pain and suffering can give us an insight into the suffering of Christ on the Cross and lead us into the Kingdom of God on earth. 


Jesus told his Apostles to heal the sick (Mt. 10:8) and we find in Acts many incidents of them doing this.  In the Letter of James, we read: “Any one of you who is ill should send for the elders [priests] of the Church and they must anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over them.  The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again: and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:14-15


What does this Sacrament do?

  • Comforts and strengthens the sick person spiritually.
  • Forgives sin.
  • Sometimes the person may experience an improvement in health.


Who administers the Sacrament?

Only a priest may administer this Sacrament although a lay person who is an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist may have brought Communion to the sick person.  On the occasion of the anointing, the priest will most likely bring the Holy Eucharist to the person.


How is the Sacrament administered?

The priest will read a passage from Holy Scripture.  There is also the laying on of hands and then using holy oil, he anoints the person on the forehead and the hands saying:

“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the     

  Holy Spirit.  May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.


Can a person receive this Sacrament more than once?

Yes, as many times as is necessary.


Where can this Sacrament be celebrated?

The Sacrament can be celebrated at home, in hospital or in church and may be celebrated as part of the Eucharist. It is always liturgical and is best celebrated with the community so it is ideal if it is part of the Mass.


This Sacrament is particularly suitable for someone on the point of death when the priest would offer the person Holy Viaticum (Food for the Journey) the name that is given to the Eucharist given to the dying person.  These two Sacraments given at this time give rise to the phrase The Last Rites.