The sacraments of healing

The Church teaches that Christ’s call to conversion ultimately continues to resound in the lives of Christians, writes Cathal Barry

The Church teaches that through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. 

The Church notes, however, that Christians remain subject to suffering, illness and death. “This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states.

The Church holds that there are two sacraments of healing: the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

On the Sacrament of Penance, the Second Vatican Council states: “Those who approach the Sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against Him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labours for their conversion.”

The sacrament is referred to as a sacrament of conversion “because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin”. 

“It is called the Sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance and satisfaction,” the Catechism states.


Likewise, it is called the Sacrament of Confession, “since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament”. 

In a profound sense it is also a “confession” – acknowledgment and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man, the Catechism notes.

The key teaching document adds that it is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace”.

“It is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the life of God who reconciles.”

“Jesus,” the Catechism states, “calls to conversion”, adding that this call is an “essential part of the proclamation of the kingdom”.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).

The Catechism notes that in the Church’s preaching this call is addressed first to those who do not yet know Christ and his Gospel. Also, Baptism is the “principal place for the first and fundamental conversion”. 

“It is by faith in the Gospel and by Baptism that one renounces evil and gains salvation, that is, the forgiveness of all sins and the gift of new life,” the Catechism states.

The Church teaches that Christ’s call to conversion ultimately continues to resound in the lives of Christians.