Sacrament Matters: “The Sweet Peace of Reconciliation”
By Dr Christine Wood, Director, Office of Evangelisation & Catechesis
“Peace be with you,” said the risen Christ to his disciples, who had abandoned him during his passion and crucifixion. The extraordinary mercy of God is manifest. Despite our sinfulness, God became human to save us from our sins and to offer us eternal life.
Christ not only bestowed his gift of peace on the eleven disciples, but also his own power to forgive sins. These disciples, sent into the world with Christ’s mission of reconciliation, are known as the apostles.
As successors of the apostles, our bishops (and their priests) continue this ministry of reconciliation, which has a particular expression in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The sacramental confession of sins has been practised under various forms in the Church from the first century. Early on, severe public penances for grave sins were prescribed.
Public sinners were excluded from joining the congregation at Sunday Mass. They were permitted in the vestibule area with the unbaptised until they had undergone their public penance.
Confession was also practised by early Christians for spiritual weakness and smaller sins for the sake of growth in holiness.
The Church has a long tradition of admitting children to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after reaching the age of discretion. This continues today and is required before children receive First Holy Communion in the Western Church.
Ask any parent or teacher and they will tell you that children are capable of sinning. God provides everyone, including children, with the sacramental means to receive absolution of sins, and reconciliation to God and the Church.
Christ knew well the need to confess our sins in order for reconciliation to occur. Psychologists also speak about confession of offences as an essential step in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Our social structures, including the family and workplace, all require us to constantly check our behaviour against some code of practice, which is hopefully in accordance with reason. If we violate the code we typically experience guilt as our conscience internally accuses us. The breakdown of relationships caused by such violations requires amendment, including “fessing up” to our voluntary offences.
No matter what we try to do to alleviate the guilt on our own terms, nothing is a substitute for good old confession to the person we have harmed. Personal and spiritual growth occurs when we have genuine self-knowledge and seek to amend our ways and relationships with others.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation provides us the opportunity to unburden our guilt, and receive forgiveness from Christ and the Church, whom we have sinned against. Reconciliation brings such sweet peace.