Why do Catholics go to Confession?

Why do Catholics go to Confession?
Questions of Faith

The Sacrament of Confession can seem not only a daunting practice for many Catholics but also a bizarre one – privately asking for forgiveness from God for your sins makes sense, but confessing them to a priest seems weird. Why not go past the middle man and straight to God?

It’s not an easy question to answer in a few sentences as it draws upon complex topics about Church history, the meaning of sin, the power of the Sacraments, and the role of priests.

It firstly needs to be pointed out that Catholics can go straight to God and ask for forgiveness. As baptised Christians, we have direct access to God through prayer, and have the ability to repent for any of our wrongdoings – especially venial sins.

However, the early Church fathers are clear that through the Sacrament of Confession – sometimes called Penance or Reconciliation – our fractured relationship with God is able to be restored.

This is especially the case when it comes to committing mortal sins, which cuts our relationship with God.

Although it has developed over time, the Sacrament of Confession isn’t some crazy invention of the Church, but finds its roots in the Bible. The most famous passage to highlight the practice is John 20:21-22: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’.  And when he has said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”

After his Resurrection, Christ delegated the power of forgiving sins to the apostles so it could be passed on to their successors such as priests and bishops.

During Confession, the priest acts as both the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner, and is used by God to administer and communicate absolution.

While the number of people practicing Confession has diminished significantly over the last few decades, it’s important to remember how vital it is in bringing vitality to the spiritual life. This is why Pope John 
Paull II said in 2002, 
“…the Church has insistently reiterated that ‘all the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their mortal sins at least once a year’”.

The benefits of confessing to a priest rather than just practicing private Confession are also aplenty: it’s what the Bible and Church tradition teaches; Catholics receive sacramental graces which they wouldn’t receive in a private capacity; the priest can guide the confessor; and finally, Catholics are assured their sins are forgiven.

Many people have only ever gone to Confession once or twice in their lives, and while it can seem like a scary prospect to confess all of your guilt and failings to someone else, Catholics can be assured by the fact that everyone is in the same boat and God is calling all of us to relationship with Him.