I Confess to Almighty God…

Penitence is as much individual as it is ecclesial: “God makes no distinction; He promised mercy to all and to His priests He granted the authority to pardon without any exception” (St. Ambrose, De Paenitentia 1.3.10). The Church forgives sins for the sake of sinners and for the Church herself as the “people of God”. Indeed, in the very early understanding of the sacrament, penance was often done publically and required much heavier penances than we would expect today. Those who had committed grave sins at one point were even classified in an ecclesial “Order of Penitents.”  The Church “forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction, [and] also prays for the sinner and does penance with him” (CCC1448). In fact, penance must be ecclesial if it is to be of any good. Its relation to the Church guarantees its efficacy as a sacramental sign. “Willingness to submit to ecclesiastical penance is an indispensable condition and an essential element of fruitful contrition.” Penance is “a reality which belongs both to the Church and to the human person.”  It is necessarily ecclesial because of the nature of one’s baptismal character and one’s submission to the Church’s authority.

 

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