One of the Church’s most efficacious sacraments, and one of the most necessary, is the Sacrament of Penance. In this sacrament, your sins are forgiven and many graces are received which aid you in striving after Christian perfection. This sacrament was instituted by Christ on the first Easter Sunday. The form is the words said by the priest, and the matter is the sins and actions of the penitent. There are five essential parts to the Sacrament of Penance: the examination of conscience, contrition, firm purpose of amendment, the actual confession, and satisfaction. Penance should be a sacrament that you receive frequently, as it provides numerous graces and for your spiritual life.
The word “penance” comes from Latin and means sorrow, or regret. This makes it a fitting name for the sacrament through which our sins are forgiven. The Sacrament of Penance was promised to the apostles by Christ long before its institution, “Whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in Heaven” (Matt. 18:18). It was instituted by Christ on the evening of the first Easter. The apostles were gathered in the upper room when Christ appeared to them, breathed on them, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23). In this sacrament, priests are given the power to forgive, or retain, sins. The form of this sacrament is the words of absolution said by the priest. The remote matter of this sacrament is the sins of the penitent, and the proximate matter is the acts of the penitent (contrition, confession, and satisfaction).
Most Catholics consider the actual confession of their sins to be the most important part of the Sacrament of Penance. However, this is not the case. There are five essential parts to this sacrament. To begin the preparation for the Sacrament of Penance, the penitent should first thoroughly examine their conscience. Then (and this is the most important part of preparing for confession) the penitent needs to have true sorrow for his sins. Without contrition, no sins will be forgiven. Being truly sorry for his sins, the next step in preparing for confession should follow naturally for the penitent. The penitent should have a firm purpose of amendment, or resolve to never commit the same sins again. Next comes the actual confession. After the confession, the priest gives a penance, which provides a modest satisfaction for the sins committed, to the penitent. Once this penance is finished, the penitent has made a worthy confession.
The Sacrament of Penance is one of the most important sacraments because it is a necessary means to salvation for those who have fallen into mortal sin after Baptism. Yet even for those who have never committed mortal sins, this sacrament is still extremely important. The Sacrament of Penance not only forgives sins, it also imparts many graces to the souls who receive it worthily. Some of the effects which a worthy reception of this sacrament bestows on your soul include: a remittal of eternal (and some temporal) punishments due to sin, a restoration or increase of the supernatural life of your soul, and strength to avoid falling back into sin. The frequent reception of this sacrament is essential if you wish to advance in the spiritual life.
This post concludes the series on Fr. Laux’s book: Mass and the Sacraments. I highly recommend reading the book itself, as it not only covers all seven of the sacraments, but also gives a comprehensive look at the Traditional Latin Mass.
Laux, Fr. John. Mass and the Sacraments. Charlotte: Tan Books, 1990.