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Chapter 18. Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation • 237

Sin harms our relationship with God and damages our communion

with the Church. Conversion of heart is the beginning of our journey

back to God. Liturgically this happens in the Sacrament of Penance. In

the history of the Church, this Sacrament has been celebrated in different

ways. Beneath the changes, there have always been two essentials: the acts

of the penitent and the acts of Christ through the ministry of the Church.

Both go hand in hand. Conversion must involve a change of heart as well

as a change of actions. Neither is possible without God’s grace.


In the Liturgy of Penance, the elements are ordinarily these: a greet-

ing and blessing from the priest, a reading from Scripture, the confes-

sion of sins, the giving and accepting of a penance, an act of contrition,

the priest’s absolution, a proclamation of praise of God, and a dis-

missal. We offer here a description of the acts of the penitent and that of

the priest.


In order to be forgiven, we need to have sorrow for our sins. This means

turning away from evil and turning to God. It includes the determina-

tion to avoid such sins in the future. Such sins may either be mortal

or venial.

Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinc-

tion between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture

(cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17), became part of the tradition of the Church. It

is corroborated by human experience. (CCC, no. 1854)

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave viola-

tion of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ulti-

mate end and beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and

wounds it. (CCC, no. 1855)

Contrition that arises from the love of God above all else is called

“perfect contrition.”This loving sorrow remits venial sins and even mor-