A Lay Person's Guide
to Pope John Paul II's Teaching on the Sacrament of Penance

By Dr. Joseph Bagiackas
on the Papal Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia

In 1983, the World Synod of Bishops took up the theme "Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church." At the close of the Synod, the bishops asked Pope John Paul II to sumarize their conclusions in a document on the Synod. About a year later, in December of 1984, the Pope published his Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, in response to the request of the bishops. This exhortation is, to a large degree, a reflection of the work of the Synod. However, the Pope also contributes many of his own insights to the document, and the document is written in his own personal style, combining meditations on Scripture passages, Church teaching, reflections of philosophical issues, and commentary on the modern situation.

The exhortation deals not only with the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation but also with the broader notions of penance and reconciliation in the life of the Church. Only about 20% of the document directly discusses the Sacrament of Penance. Nevertheless, the whole document can be viewed as a "refresher course" for us lay persons, a vision of the Sacrament of Penance in the context of our modern situation.

This series summarizes the papal teaching in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia. It is intended to be an introduction to the reading of that document. However for those of us laity who do not have the time to work through this sometimes complicated document, this series presents the papal teaching contained in the Papal Exhortation.

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