This is the first in a series of articles which are based on the top 9 google searches which come after "Why do Catholics..." in the search suggestions. I start at the ninth and will work my way to #1. If you have follow-up questions or comments, please post them below.
The topic of today's blog is "Why do Catholics Confess to a Priest?"
As a child, the concept of confession to a priest always seems someone scary. It seemed like you would go into a dark room and there would be a priest on the other end and you would be very terrified and you would have to reveal all of your embarrassing secrets and once you were done the priest would sit in judgement and tell you just how terrible and horrible of a person you were. Afterwards he would probably go and tell other people all of the stuff you had done and anytime after that whenever you saw him in public he would look at you judgmentally.
However after I experienced my very first confession which I admit I do not remember very well I can tell you that this is not what happened at all. I felt good about doing it. But as years went by there have been long periods of time where I did not go to confession. But I can guarantee you that every time I do I feel really good about myself. It's practically indescribable how good one feels after confessing one's sins and feeling completely forgiven by God.
Obviously so far I'm just talking about emotions. But my first point as to the legitimacy of the sacrament of confession is the emotional and spiritual benefits that we derive from it. At first many people are skeptical about it, they fear the worst. But once they experience love and forgiveness it is an indescribable feeling that you can attain nowhere else. One thing I often say is that many people are willing to spend a lot of money speaking to psychologists or therapists or psychiatrists or a whole multitude of people who are willing to listen. They put forth their problems and the professional listens to them and give them advice on how to live a better and happier life. People who are cognizant of mortal sins they have committed generally feel bad about those. And they want to go somewhere where they can get them off their chest and receive spiritual counseling and get back into the grace of God.
Many people object to the institution of the sacrament of confession because they say there is no need to go to a man to confess your sins. They say why not simply go directly to God? But again I would ask in response the same question rhetorically when it comes to psychologist: Why must we go to speak to somebody about any mental or psychological issues that we are having? Why not just find information at a library and solve the problem ourselves? But for anybody who has ever experienced a powerful negative emotion can tell you, trying to completely resolved an issue totally on your own can sometimes be very difficult if not impossible.
I would like to add a caveat to say that according to Catholic theology forgiveness obviously can be given directly from God and we do not need to go to confession to receive forgiveness. However this applies under certain circumstances and certain conditions. For example your contrition must be perfect. This can sometimes be difficult to attain.
Also it is very important to remember that according to Catholic theology it is not the man called a priest who is forgiving your sins. It is God himself. In fact according to Catholic teaching there is only one priest and that is Jesus Christ and the men we call priests are actually acting in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ himself becoming somewhat his hands and feet on this Earth. It is the same thing when the priest is saying the prayers of consecration to change the bread and wine into the body and blood soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The priest is not doing this by his own power but rather he is re-presenting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. Therefore Jesus is not being sacrificed again and again at every Mass but rather the one and only sacrifice is being re-presented to us in the modern day. Everything the priest is doing is done in what's called Persona Christi which means in the Person of Christ. It's as if Christ himself is doing it. Therefore when a person goes to confession and the priest hears the confession and gives him absolution he is doing so in the Person of Jesus Christ and not by his own power.
I can imagine at this point that many people are asking where is the proof of this from the Bible? The main biblical proof for the existence of confession is when Jesus Christ tells his followers to tell their sins to one another. He is specifically talking to the apostles who he is giving a special Ministry to. Through Apostolic succession other Bishops retain his power which Jesus intended to pass down after he had departed from the Earth. Therefore he is telling the new apostles to listen to sins. Also he tells the same apostles that they have the power to forgive sins on Earth. But again we must always remember and stress that it is not the apostles or Bishops or priests themselves who are forgiving the sins but God himself. Many times throughout the Bible it is said that only God can forgive sins and therefore we do not contradict this because we do not claim that it is the actual man, the priest, who is himself forgiving sins.
This is just a brief overview of some of my thoughts about the sacrament of confession. Obviously there are thousands of more pages that could be and have been written about this subject already. So by all means if you're looking for anything else please go look for it. If you would like specific biblical references to any of the allegations I have made please feel free to ask me for them in the comments section below. Also keep in mind comments can be anonymous, you do not need to register in order to leave a comment on my blog. I thank you very much for stopping by today and I will be posting a new question and answer tomorrow as we count down the top 9 things people have searched for in relation to why Catholics do certain things.