From their earliest days as members of the Church, Catholics are taught about the importance of reconciling their sins. That importance is formally recognized through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Confession, and the frequency with which it should take place, varies depending on where a person is. People, parishes and even some areas of the world do it differently. While the expression and forgiveness of one’s sins may vary, confession remains a cornerstone of the Christian faith.
Many people are first introduced to reconciliation as young children. Children preparing for their first Holy Communion must complete certain lessons and rites prior to being given the gift of the Eucharist. That includes participation in the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession and clearing oneself of mortal sin is done before receiving holy sacraments. It’s also customary during particularly solemn seasons of the Church, such as Advent and Lent. Parishioners who have become lax in attending church may want to visit the confessional to have their sins absolved before they can, in good conscience, receive the Eucharist once again.
According to reference material provided by Catholics Come Home, Inc., an independent, nonprofit Catholic apostolate that inspires and educates, the sacrament of reconciliation was established by Jesus Christ so that people could have their sins washed away and experience the renewal that such absolution provides.
Some may question why they have to confess their sins before a priest and why sins are not absolved when confessing them to God directly through prayer? Daily prayer is an important component of the faith, but reconciliation involves priests because of a belief in the Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful collectively form this “One Body,” so their actions are not independent of one another. When one person sins, all of the faithful are affected, and when one part of the Body shares joy, so do all others. This is best exemplified by the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:26.
Even if the sins are not heard by others, they still have an impact. Therefore, confession before a priest serves as a more public way to be absolved of sin by the entire Body of Christ, as the priest is a representative of this faithful community. Sin can form a separation among the Body, and the sacrament of reconciliation helps mend that rift.
A core tenet of Christianity is that God loves all sinners. It’s understood that even the most faithful can falter, and by participating in reconciliation, men, women and children demonstrate that they recognize their errors and that, in spite of those mistakes, they will always be welcomed in the eyes of God.