Last modified on December 2, 2019, at 15:40

Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (also known colloquially as Confession, Reconciliation, and Penance) is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Old Catholic churches. Among Protestants, it is not considered a sacrament but is practiced in one fashion or another, often as a general confession recited by the entire congregation prior to receiving Communion. The admission of guilt usually is coupled with a request for forgiveness from sin.

One may confess privately to God, but the Bible calls on believers to confess to each other, and many denominations—especially the ones named above—expect members to confess their sins to a priest so that he can absolve the penitent of his sins or reassure him of God's forgiveness. In the Catholic Church, the penitent is customarily given a penance (certain prayers) to be performed so that there will be a sense of reparation for sin and to remove some of the temporal punishment consequent to sin.[1]

In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, all mortal sins are to be confessed in order to obtain full forgiveness, while not all venial (lesser) sins need be expressed.[2] The sacrament of confession is for baptized believers; if one has not been baptized yet, then sins are forgiven through the sacrament of baptism instead.

Sacramental Confession is usually made in a confidential manner, and clergymen are duty-bound never to disclose a confession. Numerous legal protections also respect this confidentiality in the very rare instance of an attempt to force disclosure.

In churches within the Anglican Communion, private confession to a priest is offered, but not required under the mantra of "all can, some should, none must." A general confession is offered during the service for all sins as in Anglicanism no distinction between mortal sins and venial sins exists.

The Bible teaches distinctions between greater and lesser sins, blasphemies forgiven and never forgiven, sins not mortal (venial) and mortal: John 11:19; Matthew 12:31-32; 1 John 5:16-17.

Alternate Definitions of Confession

Confession in a secular sense is any admission of a wrongdoing, written or spoken.[3]

In Church history, Confession in a non-sacramental sense has played a central role in Christianity from its earliest days, as in the example of the Confessions of St. Augustine.

The word "confession" also has the alternate meaning of "profession", of professing true Christian faith, making a Christian profession by confessing Christ before unbelievers as a testimony of witness, including the witness of martyrdom in the face of persecution (Greek μαρτυς (martus) martyr = "witness"). "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." Hebrews 3:1.[4]

See also


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1430-1498.
  2. "We commit a venial sin (one which can be forgiven outside confession) [...]" and "God will forgive the sinner of these minor sins if he confesses them to God in prayer with sincere repentance." - Reaching Catholics For Christ: Mortal and Venial Sin
  3. Merriam-Webster - "confession"
  4. See also 1 Timothy 2:10; 6:12; Hebrews 4:14; 10:23.