“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Shalom.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Shalom. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had 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.”~ John 20:19-23
In the Gospel reading above Jesus visits His Apostles after His resurrection to give us the means of the continuance of one of the greatest gifts that God has given man; that is, knowing that we are forgiven by Him.
The Sacrament of Catholic Penance & Reconciliation (Confession, as it is called) is not so strange once you fully consider it. In the Old Covenant God reconciled man to Himself through the sacrifice of priests, and in the New Covenant God, once and for all, reconciled man to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, the High Priest. Yet, in spite of that, man continues to sin; therefore man needs constant forgiveness. This is why Jesus gave His New Covenant priests the authority to forgive or to retain sins in His name.
To talk more about the Biblical roots of the Sacrament of Confession, I pulled an excerpt from the Sixth Chapter of my Book Cooperating with God: Life with the Cross where I explained how this new Sacrament is the fulfillment of old.
“Like all the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation finds its roots in the Old Covenant and enters the New Covenant by the way of our Lord’s promises not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. “I came not to abolish, but to fulfill the law and the prophets” (Mt. 5:17). Indeed, Kingdom theology is grounded in this promise from God that all things old will be new again. The summation of Fulfilled Theology is this: Whatever God had commanded His people to do in the Old Covenant, we must continue to do those very same things in the New Covenant, but only in their fulfilled/renewed manner. Fulfilled Theology is the cornerstone of Kingdom theology.
“Because sin damages our relationship with God and neighbor, there is a natural call within us to heal what has been ruptured. Our method of Cooperating with God’s desire for us to atone for our sins and to return to Him was achieved in the Old Covenant through the means of animal sacrifice. Whereas circumcision brought us into the community of those waiting to be redeemed, the sacrificial offering is what allowed us to remain wholly a part of that community.
“The English word ‘atone’ is derived from the phrase ‘at one’. To be ‘at one’ with someone is to be in a harmonious relationship with that person. Therefore, ‘atonement’ is the process through which harmony is restored to that which was previously cacophonic. The Hebrew word for atonement, as used in the Old Testament, is kafar (meaning: remedy). It is clear from the use of this word, as it is attached to the Old Covenant sacrificial system, that kafar is both a final and an ongoing process. For example, there were the daily sin offerings, through which the priests and the people make kafar for their sins (Cf. Exo. 29:36; Lev. 4), as well as the official Day of Kafar (Atonement), through which God gave forgiveness for the entire community for their sins (Cf. Lev. 16).
“The Old Covenant sacrificial system was perpetual because sin was perpetual and, because of this ongoing reality, it took on the feature of being a medicinal/healing/chronic care Sacrament, just as it is the case with the New Covenant Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
“The most vital feature of the Old Covenant Sacrament of Kafar was the act of confession in the presence of a priest. Either in private or public, the pertinent had to make his sins known to the priest, who then, in his role (as mediator), would confess the sins (as known by him) of the person/people to YHWH before the sacrifice was offered up (Cf. Lev. 5:5, 16:21, 26:40; Num. 5:7; Neh. 9:3-2; Mishnah, Yom Kippur 4:1-2). In all cases of sin offerings, either the priest or the lay penitent was required to lay their hands upon the head of the goat after they had confessed their sins (Cf. Lev. 4). In this way, the goat literally took on their sins through the imposition of laying hands. Through the shedding of the goat’s blood, the individual or community was made clean and restored to God again (Cf. Heb.9).
“Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world, is Himself the fulfillment of the Old Covenant Sacrament of Kafar. The death of Christ on the Cross, and our participation in His sacrifice through our Baptism (Cf. Rom. 6:3), answers the question: ‘How is it that we are cleansed of humanities’ Original Sin and all personal sin committed before we were Baptized?’ It also answers the question: ‘If the Old Covenant circumcision and animal sacrifice only brought the Jews into the community waiting to be redeemed, how it is that we, in the New Covenant, become full citizens of the community being redeemed in the Kingdom of God?’
“What remains to be answered and fulfilled in the New Covenant is the question: ‘How is it that our sins that we commit after Baptism, and which continue to damage our relationship with God, are healed?’ I answer that by saying, it is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (with confession being the chief cooperative act) that heals the damage that sin causes, and restores us back into a harmonic relationship with God and neighbor.
“As in the Old Covenant, the act of confession during the Sacrament is made through an ordained priest. Whereas in the Old Covenant sins were confessed to the High Priest, who served as a mediator between God and man, in the New Covenant we have one Mediator in Jesus Christ, who is our High Priest (Cf. Heb. 3:1). It is our Catholic priests (the successors of the Apostles and the ordained participants in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ) who we now confess our sins through. These priests either forgive or do not forgive our sins, not because they mediate for us, as the Old Covenant priest did, but because they participate in Christ Jesus’ High Priesthood, they are truly and actively In the person of Christ during the celebration of the Sacrament. It is only to these Apostles and their successors that Christ Jesus gave the authority and power to forgive sins in His name: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn. 20:23).
“Confessing our sins to another human being is oftentimes difficult. Enduring what they have to say in response to our confession is sometimes uncomfortable. Yet, hearing the words, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven of your sins,’ is priceless. In our Life with the Cross, it is those things that are difficult to do and take us out of our comfort zones that are most essential for our spiritual growth. Indeed, because they are necessary, they help us open ourselves up to God’s healing and conforming grace.”
PRAYER FOR MERCY
I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity
of your dearly Beloved Son Jesus,
in atonement of my sins and for those of the whole world.
For the sake of His sorrow passion, have mercy on me and on the whole world.