Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation
The Sacraments are part and parcel of our lives and so we continue our "capsule series" on each of the Sacraments, bringing you a few capsule paragraphs each day from both the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and the old Baltimore Catechism. It is appropriate that we begin Advent with the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, better known as "Confession." There are various terms for this sacrament of healing. It has often been called the key to the door, for without this key sacrament we cannot receive Jesus in Holy Communion nor can a candidate be confirmed. The Sacrament of Penance reminds us of our humanness and our total dependence on the Mercy of God. Along with the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick or Extreme Unction, Penance/Reconciliation is a sacrament of healing.
No. 1459 and 1460 page 366 and 367 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery; Chapter Two - The Sacraments of Healing; Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Urbi Et Orbi Communications:
FULFILLING THE PENANCE RECEIVED
Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. 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."
The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, Who alone expiated our sins once for all. They allow us to become co-heirs with the risen Christ, "provided we suffer with Him." (Romans 8: 17, Romans 3: 25; 1 John 2: 1-2; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1690).
The satisfaction that we make for our sins, however, is not so much ours as though it were not done through Jesus Christ. We who can do nothing ourselves, as if just by ourselves, can do all things with the cooperation of "Him Who strengthens" us. Thus man has nothing of which to boast, but all our boasting is in Christ...in Whom we make satisfaction by bringing forth "fruits that befit repentance." These fruits have their efficacy from Him, by Him they are offered to the Father, and through Him they are accepted by the Father. (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1691; cf. Philippians 4: 13; 1 Corinthians 1: 31; 2 Corinthians 10: 17; Galatians 6: 14; Luke 3: 8).
From the Baltimore Catechism No. 3; Benziger Brothers, Inc. and Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. Nos. 800, 801 and 802, pages 168 and 169.
Q. Why does the priest give us a penance after Confession?
A. The priest gives us a penance after Confession, that we may satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to our sins.
Q. Why should we have to satisfy for our sins if Christ has fully satisfied for them?
A. Christ has fully satisfied for our sins and after our baptism we were free from all guilt and had no satisfaction to make. But when we wilfully sinned after baptism, it is but just that we should be obliged to make some satisfaction.
Q. Is the slight penance the priest gives us sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed?
A. The slight penance the priest gives us is not sufficient to satisfy for all the sins confessed: (1) Because there is no real equality between the slight penance given and the punishment deserved for the sin; (2) Because we are all obliged to do penance for sins committed and this would not be necessary if the penance given in confession satisfied for all. The penance is given and accepted in confession chiefly to show our willingness to do penance and make amends for our sins.