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236 • Part II. The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated

Only God can forgive our sins. But Jesus willed that the Church

should be his instrument of forgiveness on earth. On Easter night the

Risen Christ imparted to his Apostles his own power to forgive sins. He

breathed on them, imparting the promised Holy Spirit, and said, “Peace

be with you.” Jesus was actually filling them with peace that is rooted

in friendship with God. But he did more. He shared with them his own

merciful mission. He breathed on them a second time and said,

As the Father has sent me, so I send you. . . . Receive the holy

Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins

you retain are retained. (Jn 20:21-23)

That night Jesus gave the Church the ministry of the forgiveness

of sins through the Apostles (cf. CCC, no. 1461). By the Sacrament of

Holy Orders, bishops and priests continue this ministry to forgive sins

“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In

this Sacrament, the priest acts in the person of Christ, the Head of the

Church, to reconcile the sinner to both God and the Church. “When he

celebrates the Sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry

of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. . . . The priest is the sign

and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (CCC, no. 1465).

The Sacrament of Penance involves a conversion of our hearts to

God, a confession of sins to a priest, the forgiveness of our sins, a pen-

ance to make some amends for sin, and reconciliation with God and the

Church. For those who commit mortal sin after Baptism, this Sacrament

is necessary for being reconciled to God and the Church.


The Sacrament of Penance must be seen within the context of conversion

from sin and a turn to God. Peter wept bitterly over his triple denial of

Christ but received the grace of conversion and expressed it with a three-

fold confession of love for Jesus (cf. Lk 22:54-62; Jn 21:15-19). Paul was

converted from persecuting Christians to becoming one of the greatest

disciples of Christ who ever lived (cf. Acts 9:1-31). These moments of

conversion were only the beginning of their lifelong commitment to liv-

ing in fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.