December 19, 2007

Book Review on Priest as a Man: Counselling for the Clergy

George Manalel V.C, Priest as a Man: Counselling for the Clergy, Kochi: Karunikan Books, 2006, Pp. 120. Paper, INR 80.

"Clergy are not supposed to have problems," was the popular belief. "Or if they did, they could just pray about them and they would go away." I was convinced that they wouldn't just go away. After a quarter of a century of service to more than 2,500 clients, I am convinced the problems are multiplying. In fact, today's clergy are forced to fight their own individual traumas against crushing odds, says Dr. George Manalel. The author is a Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Aluva.
The standard stressors are still there: unrealistic expectations … impossible time demands … loss of privacy … role confusion … power struggles … financial crunches … family conflicts … sexual temptations. But the new ones are overwhelming: fragmenting cultural foundations … sudden shifts in values … secularization and alienation of the church … job insecurity … and readily accessible Internet pornography. The clergy fight complex social needs while the fabric of family, community and church unravels around them. These first-line caregivers, who are expected to have all the answers, are forced to cope somehow.
Often priests are perceived by people in non-human terms. But the fact is that priests are ordinary human beings. Priest as a Man is an attempt to look at the human aspects of the priesthood. Like Jesus, the priest is called not only to care for his own wounds and the wounds of the others, but also to make his own wounds into a major source of his healing power.
Dr. George analysis the theme in 14 chapters.
· Priest and their Mental Health
Psychological studies on Catholic priests show that there is a high incidence of the obsessive compulsive disorder among them.
Clinical studies on the lives and ministry of Catholic priests have revealed that the incidence of the depression is high among them.
Honest self-esteem, Self-acceptance, Realistic Life-goals and sense of security are needed for the priestly personality integration.
· Priests and Psychosexual Maturity
A priest who is psychosexually mature loves individuals, not in an abstract way. He can be psychologically intimate with persons of either sex without domination, possessiveness, jealousy or genital expression. There must be a harmony between thinking, feeling and acting if the individual is to move toward psychosexual maturity in the priestly life.
· Priestly Celibacy and its Challenges
Celibacy is a lifestyle that shapes our attitudes, actions, perceptions and to some degree, evens our feelings about things, persons and events. If celibacy had been viewed as unmarried state, today psychologists are speaking of celibacy as a married state. Celibate life is a voluntary choice to transcend the need for marriage and genital sex in order to satisfy a higher need for personal relationship with God and to accomplish the mission he has entrusted.
· Priestly Solidarity
Man needs intimate relationships. Only through relationships he can be happy and become self actualized. In their difficulties priests should be humble enough to open up their problems to fellow priests.
· Authority and Priestly Ministry
Authority of Christ himself is an authority for the sake of service, an authority to wash the feet of the disciples; an authority to care for others. In Christian obedience three persons are involved: the subject listening to the superior, the superior listening to the subject and finally superior and the subject, listening to God.
· Morale in Priestly Life
Priests who have a healthy self-image and love themselves feel good about their vocation and ministry. One of the reasons of low morale is that many priests cannot accept their shadows.

· Priestly Ministry and Job-satisfaction
Though priesthood is not a job, the concept of job-satisfaction is very much relevant in priestly ministry. A person may feel self-actualized when his capacities, aspirations and values are fulfilled. As far as possible bishops and superiors should try to have a dialogue with their subjects when assignments are made.
· Pastoral Leadership
Pastoral leader is a shepherd whose primary duty is to care his flock. Jesus had time for people, the individual as well as the crowd. Whenever a priest tries to do everything by himself in his ministry his coworkers and parishioners will feel frustrated.
· Self-awareness and Ministry
According to Abraham Maslow, every person has a strong need for love, acceptance, belonging and achievement. Since unconscious factors can have a great influence in the life and ministry of priests they should try to become aware of them.
· The Emotional Priest
Feelings are experiences. And experiences can never be measured objectively. So nobody can really understand our feelings. It is quite natural that priests feel hurt when sincere motivations are questioned. We should not deny the pain of being hurt. Recognize our sensitivity.
· Midlife Integration
When they reach midlife, many priests and religious have a haunting suspicion that they are no good and carry on impossible burden of guilt about their failures and inadequacies. Then they need to re-examine their dreams and expectations. This is one of the important tasks of midlife integration.
· In the Evening of Life
Retired priests should transform their loneliness into solitude. Solitude-alone with God – teaches us who we really are. It forces us to realize that our worth is not based on having or doing.
· Stress Management in the Ministry
Personal prayer offers an opportunity for the priest to share his stress and tension with God. Other methods for stress management are: commitment to the vocation, sharing problems through healthy interpersonal relationships, rest and recreation.
· Developing a ‘Pastoral Personality’
Since pastoral ministry is an interpersonal relationship, the personality of the priests has a decisive role in the success or failure of the ministry. The pastor may not be able to approve certain wrong behaviors of his people, but personal charity demands to accept them and care for them inspite of their problems. The essential qualities of a pastoral personality are described in this last chapter.

December 14, 2007

Dogmatic Part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

-Syamita prayer of the ordination rite-“to give absolution to your people…”
-The first G’hanta prayer of the Syro-Malabar Holy Qurbana: “We may administer the gifts with perfect love and true faith”
3.1. General Understanding of Sacraments
-The sacramental economy of the salvation in Christ
-Latin sacramentum (sacrare+mentum), Greek mysterion and Syriac Qudasa and Raza
-Js as the sacrament of God/Ursakrament/great sarament/source sacrament/primordial sacrament
-Church as the sacrament of Christ/basic sacrament/grund sacrament/fundamental sacrament/root sacrament
-Sacraments as the action of Christ and action of the Church
-CCC division of sacrs.
3.2. Contemporary Catholic Understanding of the SR
The crisis in the sacrament of repentance, noticeably seen in the last few decades, has been inviting all of us to think creatively. Besides, we see in the recent dogmatic discussions on the sacrament of repentance in catholic theology, a renewed interest to emphasise more and more its therapeutic dimension together with the other aspects of the SR.
3.2.1. Sacraments as Ecclesial Celebrations of Healing and Salvation
In recent years, there has grown a renewed consciousness that the Church, following in the footsteps of Jesus, the divine physician, should uphold a holistic vision of man and is to be constantly engaged in continuing the saving mission of her Lord, providing care and cure for the body and the soul. The Church is viewed as a divine milieu and a source of healing and salvation. The Church must use all her spiritual and material resources in effecting this healing and salvation of the whole person. This is realised in a special way in the sacraments of the Church. Salvation as a Gradual Process of Healing and Integration
The contemporary trends in sacramental and pastoral theology understand salvation in terms of a gradual process of therapy. The salvation event in Christ is described as a restoration of the whole man in the integrity of his proper being, of the soul and of the body. It is a therapeutic action realised by Jesus the divine physician. As B. Petrà says, “the movement of salvation is basically a process through which man, overcoming every sign of sicknesses, every passionate connection, becomes a transformed man, a divinised man”.[i] According to S. Harakas, a renowned theologian from the Orthodox Church, the salvific act of Christ has conquered the enemies of authentic life and promoted a new life, the fruits of which are communion with God, communion with creatures and the fullness of humanity in the totality of the body and the soul. He, while writing on the dimension of evil and sin in human life speaks also about ‘therapy for sin’ through repentance, forgiveness and reparation.[ii] This renewed fullness of life is described as theosis or similitude to God and is the state of integral healing and fullness of salvation.[iii] The Wounded Man and His Longing for Healing
Sin fundamentally involves a brokenness, alienation and going away from one’s relationship with God, the consequences of which reflects on every other realm of human relationships.[iv] Hence the need for reconciliation, re-integration, healing and salvation in human life.
While speaking about the ‘original state of holiness and justice’ in which the first man enjoyed full communion and friendship with God, the integrity of all the dimensions of man’s life and the orderliness of his whole being, the CCC reminds us also of the wounded nature of man, resulted from the first fall (nos. 374-412). The first parents transmitted to their descendants a human nature, corrupted by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice. As a result, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering, domination of death and inclined to sin. As the CCC says:
Man, enticed by the evil one, abused his freedom at the very beginning of history. He succumbed to temptation and did what was evil. He still desires the good but his nature bears the wound of the original sin. He is now inclined to evil and subject to error. Man is divided in himself. As a result the whole life of man both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness.[v]
Together with other traditional explanations on sin, a fundamental idea of sin as a state or condition of spiritual sickness and a sign of weakness of man is getting importance in the theological understanding.[vi] The situation of man is compared to that of the ‘wounded man’ on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho and of the ‘lost sheep’ among the rocks. He is debilated, corrupted, overburdened with the passions and confused in his perceptions.[vii] B. Häring speaks of sin as a state of alienation from God, from others, from the created world and from oneself.[viii] He also understands sin as a state of the loss of joy, peace, strength and wholeness of life.[ix] Speaking about sin, H. U. Von Balthasar writes: “It is only where God’s love goes to the end that human guilt manifests itself as sin, its inner disposition arising from a spirit that is positively inimical to God”.[x] P. McCormick sees sin also as a diseased state of being alienated from and in need of the living mercy of God.[xi] G. Gatti understands sin as a state of falling away form the proper dignity of a moral being.[xii]
The Church is conscious of the divided and wounded nature of man. Vatican II affirms:
The dichotomy affecting the modern world is, in fact, a symptom of the deeper dichotomy that is in man himself. He is the meeting point of many conflicting forces. In his condition as a created being, he is subjected to a thousand shortcomings but feels untrammelled in his inclinations and destined for a higher form of life. Torn by a welter of anxieties, he is compelled to choose between them and repudiate some among them. Worse still, feeble and sinful as he is, he often does the very thing he hates and does not do what he wants. And so he feels himself divided and the result is a host of discords in social life.[xiii]
In the introductory chapter of the Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, speaking about the shattered world, Pope John Paul II says:
However disturbing these divisions may seem at first sight, it is only by a careful examination that one can detect their root: it is to be found in a wound in man’s innermost self. In the light of faith we call it sin, beginning with original sin, which we all of us bear from birth as an inheritance from our first parents, to the sin which each one of us commits when we abuse our own freedom… But reconciliation cannot be less profound than the division itself. The longing for reconciliation and reconciliation itself will be complete and effective only to the extent that they reach in order to heal it, that original wound which is the root of all other wounds: namely, sin.[xiv]
As Veritatis Splendor says, “as a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of satan, the one who is a liar and the father of lies, man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols… man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened. Thus giving himself over to relativism and scepticism, he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from the truth itself” (n. 1). Referring to the Eastern understanding of the human person, Orientale Lumen, 15 speaks of a ‘sick heart of humanity’ and the bitter state of his limitations and sin. JESUS THE Divine Physician and the Good Samaritan
It was to heal the wounded man that Jesus came to the world as the divine physician and the good Samaritan of humanity.[xv] Scripture amply uses this title to God and Jesus (Ex, 15:26: Jn, 3:16-20; 10:10; Is, 6:9-10, Mt, 13: 14-15, Jn, 12:40, Acts, 28:26-27). ‘Jesus the divine physician’ is one of the favorite titles that we see plentifully in the early theological traditions of both the East and the West.[xvi]
The contemporary theological discussions also think in line with this patristic notion. As B. Häring says, to know Jesus as the saviour and the divine and human physician tells us clearly how salvation and healing relate to each other.[xvii] The healing that Jesus, the divine physician performed, moved by divine goodness and mercy, not only restored health to the body but also gave the experience of liberation from sin, an experience of salvation and sanctification.[xviii] The different healing miracles of Jesus, narrated in the Gospels, saved those persons not only from the physical illness but also from the bondage of sin. By restoring perfect health to people, sick in mind and body, Jesus’ words and actions concerned the destiny of man as a whole.[xix] The physical healings are to be understood in a symbolic sense as referring to salvation for the whole personality. Jesus brought them back to complete health, which affects their whole being. For Jesus, there really was continuity between physical healing and messianic salvation as closely related realities.[xx] Integral healing was equivalent to salvation and sanctification. Jesus came into this world not to condemn or judge the man but for his life and salvation (Jn, 3: 16-17) so that he may have “life and to have it in its fullness” (Jn, 10: 10).
Christ entrusted his healing and saving mission to the Apostles (Lk, 9: 1-2; 10: 9; Mt, 10: 7-8; Mk, 6: 12-13, 16: 17-18) to be continued forever in the Church. The healing and reconciling ministry was an integral part of the preaching mission of the Apostles (2 Cor, 5: 17-21). For the early Church, the miracles of healing were always accomplished in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles transmitted this healing mission to their successors and through them to the whole community of the faithful. The Church as a Divine Milieu of Healing and Salvation
One of the primary missions, which the Lord entrusted to the Church, is to bring each and every person to the ever-flowing stream of the healing grace of God the Father, made available to us through Christ. Notwithstanding her sorrows and difficulties, trials and tribulations, those from within and those from without (LG, 8-9), this mission is continued in the Church through the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Church, which is constituted as a place of healing and restoration, is always engaged in the mission of the integral healing of man through various spiritual and material means.[xxi] The Word of God, the Eucharist and other sacraments, the various ministries in the Church, practice of virtues, prayer, spiritual life, ascetical practices, Church discipline and magisterial teachings of the Church, catechesis, dialogue, social involvement of the Church in the day to day life, etc. are to be understood in this sense. The fathers of the Church compared the Church to the inn to which Christ, the Good Samaritan, entrusts the wounded man for care and healing. Here the wounded man is restored to himself.[xxii]
We see a close relationship between the salvific actions of the Church and the integral healing of man. The Church through her spiritual and material means brings not only spiritual healing but also healing of the total person in his intimate unity of body and soul. The Church herself is viewed as a healed and healing community.[xxiii] As Vatican II says, “In pursuing her own salvific purpose, not only does the Church communicate divine life to men but in a certain sense, she casts the reflected light of that divine life over all the earth, notably in the way she heals and elevates the dignity of the human person, in that way she consolidates society and endows the daily activity of men with a deeper sense and meaning” (GS, 40). This council calls Church ‘the wondrous sacrament’ (SC, 5) and the ‘universal sacrament of healing and of salvation’ (LG, 1, 48; AG, 1; GS, 45). Healing and Salvation through the Sacraments
The Church as the divine milieu of sanctification and as ‘the universal sacrament of healing and of salvation’, continues the healing and saving mission of Christ, who came to be ‘bodily and spiritual medicine’, through the liturgical celebrations, and especially through the sacraments (SC, 5-8). The participation in the event of integral salvation, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, its gradual realisation and the human sanctification occur mainly through the sacramental signs, celebrated in the Church. (SC, 10, LG, 11; PO, 5).
Sacraments are understood in the Church as one of the primary spiritual means for receiving the healing and sanctifying grace of God. They help us to participate in the healing and salvation, offered in the Church. In the Christian life, there is a ‘sacramental itinerary’ that helps the faithful to be born as children of God, to grow and to mature, to be nurtured, to be renewed, to be strengthened in the spiritual life and to realise themselves in faithful service to true love and authentic communion.[xxiv] These sacraments heal us in different ways and at different stages of life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents vividly the healing dimension of the sacraments. The sacraments are the liturgical celebrations of salvation history especially of the paschal mysteries by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation (n. 1066-1068). The sacraments of the Church now continue the works, which Christ had performed during his earthly life. They heal the wounds of sin and give the whole man a new life in Christ (n. 1129). The CCC divides the sacraments as follows: the sacraments of Christian initiation, the sacraments of healing and the sacraments at the service of communion. On the topic of the sacraments of healing, one reads in the CCC:
Through the sacraments of Christian initiation, man receives the new life of Christ. Now we carry this life in earthen vessels and it remains hidden with Christ in God. We are still in our earthly tent, subject to suffering, illness and death. This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin. The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health, has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation even among her own members. This is the purpose of the sacraments of healing: the sacrament of repentance and the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.[xxv]
Christ continues his healing mission through the sacraments of the Church in his sacramental economy of salvation. The appropriation of salvation in Christ occurs mainly through the sacraments. The sacraments are the divine channels of the sanctifying and healing grace of God.[xxvi] The sacraments are also the means of conversion to God and true signs and instruments of reconciliation.[xxvii] RP writes, “the Church is a sacrament by reason of the seven sacraments which each in its own way makes the Church. Since they commemorate and renew Christ’s paschal mystery, all the sacraments are a source of life for the Church and in the Church’s hands they are the means of conversion to God and of reconciliation among people”.[xxviii]
3.2.2. The Sacrament of Repentance as a Sacrament of Healing
In the sacramental economy of salvation, the sacrament of repentance certainly occupies a privileged place with its profound healing orientation. We have already seen how the Eastern theology in general and the East Syriac theology in particular have maintained the healing dimension down throughout the centuries. This was also a main thrust of Western theology until scholastic times, though in the later periods, it gave way to a more juridical interpretation of this sacrament.[xxix] However, the various contemporary studies on the sacrament of repentance in the catholic theology show a renewed interest in emphasising its therapeutic dimension more and more. Together with other aspects of the ministry of the confessor, they speak also of the role of confessor as the physician of souls. Besides, the New Order of Penance for the Latin Church, renewed according to the spirit of Vatican II and introduced in 1973 clearly demonstrates the theological sensitivity of that Church to the therapeutic dimension of this sacrament.[xxx] The text of the new rite uses the image of judge only twice, whereas more than twenty times, it considers the sacrament as healing ministry. Emphasising the significant role of this sacrament in Christian life, Pope John Paul II calls it ‘the vehicle of grace’.[xxxi] The Holy Father speaks of a ‘pardon which brings healing and peace’[xxxii] and of an ‘absolution of sins that tends and heals in the name of Christ’.[xxxiii] NT basis for the SR
-Jn, 20:22-23+Mt, 16:18-19+Mt, 18:18
Jn, 20: 22-23:
-“He breathed on them” refers to God’s creative breath, mentioned in Gen, 2:7, the breath of life (pnoē of life). Pneuma is also sometimes used. As a whole, this text is interpreted in the broader context of the transmission of the power to forgive sins. After giving a detailed commentary on Jn, 20: 22-23, Raymond E. Brown makes the following observation: “We doubt that there is sufficient evidence to confine the power of forgiving and holding of sin, granted in Jn, 20:23 to a specific exercise of power in the Christian community, whether that be admission to baptism or forgiveness in Penance. These are but partial manifestations of a much larger power given to Js in his mission by the Father and given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commissions. It is an effective, not merely a declaratory, power against sin, a power that touches new and old followers of Christ, a power that challenges those who refuse to believe. John does not tell us how or by whom this power was exercised in the community for whom he wrote but the very fact that he mentions it shows that it was exercised. In the course of time, this power has had many different manifestations, as the various Christian communities legitimately specified both the manner and the agency of its exercise. Perhaps, John’s failure to specify may serve as a Christian guideline: exegetically one can call upon Jn, 20:23 for assurance that the power of forgiveness has been granted; but one cannot call upon this text as proof that the way in which a particular community exercises this power is not true to Scripture” (The Gospel According to John, Vol, II (New York, 1970), 1044-1045).
Mt, 16:18-19 and Mt, 18:18:
-“Keys of the kingdom”, a symbol seen also in Is, 22:22, Rev, 1:18 and 3:7 refers to the authority, given to St. Peter and through him to the college of Apostles. Peter is the authoritative teacher and has the power to declare what is permitted and what is not permitted. Interpreting Mt, 18: 18, some authors say that, the whole community is given power to excommunicate.
The early Church understood the power of binding as the power to excommunicate sinners from the community of the faithful and the power of loosing as the power to reconcile the repent sinner again to the community. The power of keys can hardly be cited on their own as proof texts for the Church’s power to forgive post-baptismal sins but they suggest that the forgiveness of all serious sins necessarily involves an ecclesial aspect. These texts were probably used in reference to the baptismal forgiveness in the early centuries. The issues related to the forgiveness of post baptismal sins developed strongly later in the post-apostolic period. CCC 1444-45 comments that Jesus gave not only the power to forgive sins but also the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church and the power given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles, united to its head.
Also the East Syriac tradition understood the biblical figure of ‘keys’ and ‘binding and loosing’ (Mt, 16: 18-19; 18: 18) not merely in the juridical context of ‘binding and loosing of sins’ in the sacrament of repentance. They took this text mainly as a reference point for the transmission of authority.[xxxiv] However, they considered the Johannine text of 20: 22-23 as a reference point for the divine authority to forgive sins in the sacrament of penance. Commenting on the Johannine text, St. Ephrem teaches about the sacramental significance of the forgiveness of sins. He says that God forgives sinners through the ministers of the Church.[xxxv]
Aphrahat refers only once to Christ’s entrusting of the keys to Peter (Dem, 21: 14-17). More often, he uses the figure of the keys to refer to episcopal authority but his emphasis is usually more on pastoral responsibility than on the apostolic power (Dem, 14: 5-8). Ephrem uses the figure of the keys to stress the transmission of authority to Peter, related to prophecy and priesthood in general and particularly to the priestly act of remitting sins by baptism (SDom, 54-55; HVirg, 15: 6). Ephrem refers to the transmission of the keys also as a symbol of the succession of one bishop to another (CNis, 17: 6).
However the reference to the figure of keys in relation to the ecclesiastical discipline of penance is rather vague in the early Syriac tradition. In Hymns against the Heresies, where Ephrem reproves the Manicheans for their presumptuous claim to forgive sins, he writes: “They have twisted to their will the word of the True One, who gave authority to his disciples once for all to absolve by water the sins of mankind and granted them further to bind and to loose that he who is bound might beseech the forgiver of all, for, the absolver of all absolves us through our suffering” (2: 3). Here, it is not clear whether this refers to the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of repentance. The last two verses seem to imply that the people are ‘bound’ by ecclesiastical penance in order to induce them to repent. However their forgiveness seems to be won by their penitential suffering, as Ephrem speaks elsewhere of the efficacy of tears in forgiving post-baptismal sins (HVirg, 46: 12-27). A context of ecclesiastical penance, however, is not excluded.[xxxvi]
Aphrahat is also equally ambiguous in this regard. He gives some allusions to the ecclesiastical discipline of penance. In Dem, 7: 11, he instructs those who hold ‘the keys of the gates of heaven’ to open generously the gates to the penitents and to be more gentle and merciful towards them as if it were to brothers. In Dem, 14, he repeats the same instruction to the ‘holders of the keys’, correcting the abuses in the spiritual authority. Here, no doubt, Aphrahat refers to the spiritual authority, which Christ has given to his Church but he seems to be most impressed by the horror of seeing a man set in Christ’s place and abusing that authority. There is also a mention of administering penance by the bishops in this Demonstration, where Jesus is presented as the source of our reconciliation between God and man. From the general context of Dem, 14, it is probable that Aphrahat is speaking here of the ecclesiastical discipline of penance.[xxxvii] The Demonstration 23 speaks about a special anointing for the sick and for the grave sinners. Here he also speaks about the imposition of hands.[xxxviii] These could be an allusion to the early East Syriac practice of public penance in which the sinners are purified of grave sins. After having analysed the symbolism of ‘key’ and ‘binding and loosing’ in the early Syriac tradition, R. Murray observes: “We see both Christ, apostles and bishops as ‘key bearers’ and the latter two as holding the power of ‘binding and loosing’, given by Christ. This symbolism clearly refers to the apostolic authority of bishops in the catholic succession but the context in which this authority is used, is only suggested generally as one of the remission of sins, baptism being more clearly hinted at than penance”.[xxxix] The Reality of Sin Christian Life
Sin is an undeniable existential reality of Christian life, confirmed by our own daily experiences. As a free being, man alone can consciously say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to God (Sir, 15:14-20; Dt, 30:15-20).[xl] In Dives in Misericordia, the Pope writes: “It is precisely because sin exists in the world, which God so loved that he gave his only Son, that God who is love cannot reveal himself otherwise than as mercy. This corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which God is but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which is man’s temporary homeland”.[xli] If we deny the reality of sin, we would be denying the reality of man who is created with responsible freedom. Besides it would be a denial of the mercy of God, revealed in Christ.[xlii] The events of day-to-day life also confirm that ever since the beginning, the ‘mysterium iniquitatis’ is always at work in the world and in human history.
The Word of God, addressed to man in the totality of his being sees him as a sinner in the presence of the most perfect and holy God and one who is redeemed by God and his saving action.[xliii] The psalmist writes: “I am a sinner from birth” (Ps, 51: 3-4). The book of Proverbs recalls to mind: “Even the righteous fall seven times a day…” (Prov, 24: 16; Cf. also Rom, 7:19)). St. John reminds us: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves… if we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us” (1 Jn, 1: 8-10). Sin as understood in theology, expresses the reality of the God-related person. Sin and holiness are found only where man, addressed by God, lives in the presence of God and acts together with him. Sin, which is a conscious and wilful ‘no’ to God and to his will, is an opposition to the love and mercy, which he offers us at every moment of our life.
From a biblical background, sin is mainly a breach in the covenantal relationship with God. Sin is best understood in the context of an interpersonal relationship between God and man. The various biblical terms from OT and NT testify this fact. For example, chattat=missing the target; awon=trangression; pesha=rebellion or breaking; shagah=going astray; hamartia= the sinful condition. The following are the main streams of thoughts that could be seen in the Bible regarding sin:
-Law books-sin as a violation of laws
-Prophets-Breach of the covenant
-Wisdom books-Sin as ignorance of God and lack of God experience
-Js emphasised the interior attitude of the heart
-St.Paul highlighted the contrast between life of the flesh and life in the spirit
Sin is understood in the traditional moral theological categories as ‘the transgression of God’s commandments or divine law’ (St. Augustine, Contra Faustum XXII: 27 PL 42, 418; Cfr. Also 1 Jn,3:4), ‘the aversion from God and conversion to creatures’ (Augustine, De Libero Arbitrio, II), “turning away from God and turning towards the creatures” (St. Aquinas, ST 1, 2ae q.71, a.6) “morally evil act” (St. Aquinas, ST 1 2ae q.71, a.6c), ‘the violation of one’s conscience’, ‘the abuse of freedom’, ‘being away from God’, etc.
Sin has its social repercussions as well. Sin is also an offence against the communion of the redeemed. The renewed ecclesiological visions, proposed by Vatican II brought to the fore the relation of sin and reconciliation in the life of the Christian community. It clearly spoke about the personal and communitarian dimensions of sin and reconciliation. The brief description of the sacrament of repentance in the constitution on the Church presents the sacrament in its ecclesiological context, saying “those who approach the sacrament of repentance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for their offences committed against him. They are at the same time reconciled with the Church whom they have wounded by their sins and who by her charity, her example and her prayer collaborates in their conversion” (LG, 11). The sacrament of repentance expresses the mystery of our profound communion and solidarity with God and his Church. In it, we are coming to the very grace of the Church against which we have offended.[xliv]
Therefore we can say that the theological realities of divine love and the supernatural calling of man against which man offends through sin, are not the realities, which concern man only as an isolated individual but as a member of the holy communion of the redeemed.[xlv] Added to this, the interior conversion of the penitent is the work of the praying Church.[xlvi] In the sacrament of repentance, the whole Church prays for the penitent. In earlier times, the Church included this work more tangibly in the sacramental liturgy of the remission of sins.[xlvii] There were beautiful penitential liturgies, joined to the eucharistic sacrifice and to other prayers of the Church. It was not until the thirteenth century that there appeared the indicative formula of absolution and that a beautiful penitential liturgy was permitted to shrink to bare absolution.[xlviii] Forgiveness of Sins and Reconciliation as Regaining of lost relatiohips
Together with the human reality of mysterium iniquitatis, there is also the divine mystery of the mysterium pietatis, which is a gratuitous gift of God. We have a God, who forgives sins and iniquities, who knows our weaknesses and who reconciles and heals us. The picture of the merciful (hesed and rahamim) God, which the Scripture conveys us is a covenanting God, who makes covenant with his people (Ex, 19, 5-6; Jer, 31: 31-34; Is, 63:7; Lam, 3:22). The good news, which Christ brought to us is that we have a merciful and just God and we have the possibility of salvation through Christ. The purpose of God’s mercy is conversion (Is, 55:7). As B. Häring observes, we can speak of sin only by praising God’s mercy, acting as ambassadors of reconciliation and healing the wounds of those who are afflicted by their sins or the sins of others.[xlix] (confessio peccati and confessio laudis, as St. Augustine comments). See also Ps. 32, 51:15-19) Reconciliation is essentially the regaining of one’s lost relationships. Our considerations of forgiveness and reconciliation here include three levels: forgiveness of sins from and reconciliation with God, forgiveness to and reconciliation with oneself and the mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are supremely and primarily personal, having at the same time, an indispensable communitarian dimension. Forgiveness and reconciliation are gradual processes in which we come to discover and admit that we too are at fault that we are offenders as well as victims that we also need to be forgiven and that we must also apologise and change our ways.[l] They have also their cultural and social implications, especially in this post-modern world that is much disturbed by various conflicting human situations like violence, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, war, etc. that foster divisions among the people.
The need for forgiveness and reconciliation is deeply rooted in the human consciousness.[li] We need to forgive and to be forgiven, to offer and to receive forgiveness. It is a constitutive need of the human person. Contemporary studies in psychology also confirm this.[lii] We often carry in our personal lives various internal and external conflicts, several hurts and wounds of past memories; many a time, we bear an unnecessary sense of guilt and hatred; the dark aspects of our personal life need to be shared and healed. To live reconciled is one of the fundamental aspirations of the human being and is a necessary dimension of our own authentic existence in human history as we make our onward way towards ultimate reconciliation in the eschatological fulfilment.[liii] Man is not sufficient in himself or by himself but exists always in a dialogical and relational manner, as confirmed also by the modern psychological, anthropological and sociological studies. He attains self-consciousness only by being conscious of something other than himself. He with his creatureliness, is a ‘dependent being’ on God, his fellowmen and the created world.[liv] Therefore forgiveness and reconciliation are the authentic movements of an individual towards a true healing experience. It is a gradual process of conversion and the transformation of heart. It involves mainly a metanoia and a koinonia.[lv] We break with the past (metanoia) in order to join with God (koinonia).
A ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation, facilitating the offering and receiving of forgiveness, is quintessentially the role of the Church because the Church herself is a ‘reconciled and reconciling community’ (RP, 7-9). And the Church expresses herself as a reconciled and reconciling community through different means, especially through the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and repentance and she continues this ministry of reconciliation down through history in the constant practice of the Church.[lvi] The sacrament of repentance is one of the unique ecclesial moments of grace, in which one experiences in a special way both forgiveness and reconciliation, an experience of the healing and loving mercy of God, who is dives in misericordia. Therefore the Pope invites us to rediscover in this sacrament the presence of Christ as mysterium pietatis, the one in whom God shows his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself.[lvii]
The Church professes and proclaims the love and mercy of God in a very special way through the sacrament of repentance, which is an experience of the regaining of the ‘dignity of man as a son in the father’s house’ and ‘drawing from the wells of the saviour’ (Dives in Misericordia 5, 14). Speaking about the sacrament of repentance, the Pope says:
The sacrament of penance prepares the way for each individual, even those weighed down with great faults. In this sacrament, each person can experience mercy in a unique way, the love that is more powerful than sin… Mercy in itself as a perfection of the infinite God is also infinite. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness, which flow continually from the marvellous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or limit it. On the part of man, only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words, persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.[lviii]
As the Pope writes in RP, this sacrament “gives every Christian and the whole community of believers the certainty of forgiveness through the power of the redeeming blood of Christ”.[lix] The paschal mystery as the culmination of the revelation of mercy was the expression of a love ‘more powerful than death, more powerful than sin’ and which ‘perseveres in spite of infidelity and sin’ (Dives in Misericordia, 8, 12). Speaking about the confession (disclosure) of sins, the CCC says that through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them and thereby opens himself again to God and to communion with the Church in order to make a new future possible.[lx] Thus in the sacrament of repentance, each one is reconciled to God, oneself and to the created world. Repentance, Confession and Conversion as Spiritual Therapy
The infinite mercy of God always invites us to repentance and to the conversion of heart, which are the soul of the sacrament of repentance. This conversion is a ‘permanent attitude’ and a ‘gradual journey’. The call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of each Christian. As the Holy Father says, man is in a statu conversionis, statu viatoris, being continually converted. Our response to this call is repentance, which is a ‘constant discovery of the merciful face of God’(Dives in Misericordia, 13). This continued conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who ‘clasping sinners to her bosom is at once holy and always in need of purification and follows constantly the paths of penance and renewal’ (LG, 8, 39-42; CCC, 827, 1428). Thus there is an ‘itinerary of conversion and penance’ in Christian life (n. 1439).[lxi] The SR is a permanent invitation to conversion as well as the fruit of the conversion of the heart.
There is no doubt that for those who approach the sacrament of repentance with deep faith and with a contrite heart, this is a powerful source of integral healing. This sacrament not only restores original baptismal grace but also represents an ecclesial event of forming a new spiritual man in Christ, in a process of profound re-harmonisation of the whole being into the unity of God and into his Trinitarian communion.[lxii] Confession of sins is a humble recognition of sin on the part of the penitent and knowledge of the sins on the part of the priest, both of which are essential and constitutive for an effective reconciliation. The humility and pain involved in the process of accepting oneself as a sinner, confessing one’s sins before a priest and accepting the due penance, etc. have their “curative (East) and corrective (West) effects” to heal the sins and not to repeat them again.[lxiii]
The sacrament of repentance answers one of our deepest needs to receive pardon from God, to be in peace with oneself and to be reconciled with the community harmed by our sins.[lxiv] To acknowledge and to confess one’s sins and to recognise oneself as a sinner, inclined to commit sin, is the first step in returning to God. There can be no real conversion without the acknowledgement of one’s own sins (RP, 13). This should be a positive experience for a Christian because it is an aspect of our humble acceptance of the need for healing and forgiveness.[lxv] Here we acknowledge our sinfulness and smallness before the holy and infinite God, by imploring his forgiveness in Christ. The opposite of this positive experience of sinfulness is the cul-de-sac to which righteous self-sufficiency leads (Lk, 19: 18). On the other hand it signifies that we are in need of salvation and forgiveness, which are really gifts of God. The recognition of sin looks towards the future. It is a rejection of fatalism and a call to a creative action. Owning up to the reality of sin is the first step to disowning the sins.[lxvi] Therefore we can say that confession of sins is a recovery from sins.
The sacrament of repentance is an acknowledgement and acceptance of the mysterium iniquitatis and the mysterium pietatis Dei amidst the human realities of life. It is an aspect of the ‘free and forgiving self-communication of God’.[lxvii] We need an event, a sensible, historical event in which we can personalise the salvation brought by JS. The SR is the supreme event, a sacramental event in which God’s mercy is extended to us. As K. Rahner says, the sacrament of repentance is an ecclesial event in which Christ’s single word of forgiveness is addressed to a repentant person in the totality of his being with his concrete situation of guilt, the most incomprehensible miracle of God’s grace and love.[lxviii] The single word of God’s forgiveness is articulated in a variety of ways in the Church (CCC, 1434-1439). However this continues to be more efficacious in the sacrament of repentance. It is not merely a word about God’s forgiveness but rather it is the ecclesial event of forgiveness. Speaking on the relationship between the conversion of heart and the sacramental absolution, P. De Clerck sees the sinner as the one who dares to commit himself to God and God as the one who grants him his trust through the mediation of the Church. Thus sacramental absolution is God communicating through human means.[lxix]
This sacrament is an expression of our sincere repentance of heart and our readiness for renewal before the heavenly Father and the community of the faithful. It is the sacrament, which expresses, consecrates and perfects our efforts for true conversion of heart and for sanctification, aided by the grace of God. As B. Häring observes, through a humble self-accusation of sins, we bring ourselves into the light of Christ with all the good we have received but also facing the sinful lack of gratitude and inadequacy of our response. Repentance manifested in humble confession protects us against the darkening power of sin. Confession strengthens the inner dynamics towards wholeness, greater fullness of truth and the truthfulness of a life response. A contrite confession adores God’s saving justice and glorifies his wonderful mercy.[lxx] Since sin involves an offence against God and an inner dissociation from spiritual communion with God’s people, forgiveness of sin presupposes an experience of a return to God and a re-inclusion into the life of the community, which is really a positive experience for a Christian. Sin caused the downfall of man and his opposition to the plan of God; whereas the conversion demanded in the sacrament of repentance makes man disposed to the salvific plan of God. Hence conversion and confession bring an experience of healing.
Contemporary theological studies clearly point out the therapeutic dimension of sacramental confession. L. G. González speaks of confession as having a triple healing: bodily, emotional and spiritual.[lxxi] Researches show that revealing sins, expressing negative sentiments, sharing traumatic experiences, opening oneself completely to a trustworthy person can have positive biological effects upon the human body, in addition to the emotional and spiritual healing. It can positively affect the movements of brain, heart, blood circulation and even the immune system of the body.[lxxii] Wherever and whenever a person is accepted in his own uniqueness and with all his particularities, it brings tremendous growth and integration in his personal life. The confessional is a unique place, where a person can be received with all his uniqueness. Confession brings out a profound emotional relaxation, inner freedom and interior joy, a joy of being heard and understood. It is also an antidote against stress, anxiety and various depressive, obsessive and compulsive tendencies. A real confession that gives a sense of belonging to God and to the community can be of a great help in reducing psychological disturbances.
The spiritual effects of confession are immense. Here the salvific power of God, independent of the disposition and holiness of the confessor, brings about the spiritual healing of the penitent, which touches the whole personality. In it, the faithful personally receive the sacramental gift of forgiveness. On the healing dimension of the sacrament of forgiveness, B. Häring beautifully observes:
In the sacrament of reconciliation we come to an ever-deeper experience that God graciously accepts us, meets us where we are and guides us on the road to wholeness and salvation. He assures us of his friendship whenever we are ready to accept his gracious calling and this allows us to accept ourselves. We discover the good in ourselves, gain confidence about coping with dark shades and in this new self-acceptance and confidence, we accept also our fellow travellers on the way to final union with God. It is, above all, our gratitude and joy for being accepted and loved by God that fosters our continuing conversion to God and fellowman.[lxxiii]
The therapeutic value of confession consists in the quality of the sacrament, namely it makes present the love and mercy of God the Father through the merits of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit and it forgives the sins of the repentant sinner.[lxxiv] Through this sacrament, God cures our spiritual sicknesses and inner wounds, makes our soul restored, renewed and healed. By the power of the Holy Spirit embodied in the sacrament of repentance, the personal relationship and the personal sharing in the confessional can bring about transformation and healing in one’s life. In it, the baptised person carries through afresh in his life the conversion which was already begun in baptism. The negotiation of redemptive grace, which takes place in the sacrament of repentance, is a release of the formal efficacy of the baptismal character. Thus confession could be considered as a ‘constant baptism of life’. Above all, it re-instates the original state of baptismal grace, prepares us for a worthier participation in the Holy Eucharist and leads to a life of communion with God and the Church through Christ in the Holy Spirit. SR as a ‘Healing Judgement’
It would be inaccurate to say that the healing dimension of the sacrament of repentance excludes its judging dimension. A true healing in the confessional always presupposes a sincere opening up of oneself and a balanced judgement of the spiritual situation of the penitent for a prudent application of the spiritual medicine.[lxxv] This is true even at the physical level. When a patient approaches a doctor with complaints of stomachache or headache or back pain or nausea, the physician must judge whether the patient has appendicitis or an acute hangover, tailoring his treatment accordingly. The medical doctor must sometimes tell a patient that stress and strain can cause sickness, that he must alter his life style and that he must take precautions. The Church has always seen an essential link between the divine authority given to priests, the duty of judgement entrusted to them and the need for penitents to name their own sins. Therefore individual and integral confession is suggested by the Church as the ordinary form of administering the sacrament of repentance.[lxxvi]
However the judging in the confessional is not a judgement in the strict legal sense of the term but in an ‘analogous way’. It is a ‘healing judgement’ or ‘spiritual judgement’. The judicial nature of the sacrament of repentance is comparable to the human tribunal only in an ‘analogous’ way. The priest is more a physician than a judge in the confessional (RP, 31, II). Confession of sins does not consist in a dry and cold enumeration of a list of sins, more or less elaborated artificially. The penitent confesses with all his spontaneity and in a direct and lively manner, to the confessor his failures, imperfections, specifying the circumstances so that the confessor can give suitable advice and penance as medicine according to his situation. An experienced confessor knows that the original motivations of sin are really not all that appears but that they go much deeper. Sins are only symptoms and signs that point to deep lying human frailties. He, as a physician must diagnose and evaluate the penitent’s sins and discern recurrent patterns if the typical motives such as pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, gluttony or self-indulgence and other sinful inclinations are to be eradicated. Just as a medical doctor must know well the physical pathologies and proper treatment, so also must the confessor know the spiritual pathologies and the eventual medication that will benefit the penitent.[lxxvii] Speaking about the grandeur of the figure of the confessor as the minister of penance, RP says:
The Christ whom he makes present and who accomplishes the mystery of the forgiveness of sin is the Christ who appears as the brother of man, the merciful high priest, the faithful and the compassionate, the shepherd intent on finding the lost sheep, the physician who heals and comforts, the one master who teaches the truth and reveals the ways of God, the judge of the living and the dead, who judges according to the truth and not according to the appearance”.[lxxviii]
Speaking about the priestly ministry of reconciliation, the CCC writes:
When he celebrates the sacrament of penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up the wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return and of the just and impartial judge whose judgement is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner. The confessor is not the master of God’s forgiveness but its servant…[lxxix]
Besides, the confessor as a skilled pastor with his theological formation in pastoral theology and psychology, must diagnose and evaluate the person’s attitude of life, motivation, psychological background, fixations and discrepancies in a mature psycho-emotional growth, affective-sexual maturity, etc. It is a fact that our human mind is a labyrinth with a vast world of known and unknown truths.[lxxx] Therefore we can rightly conclude that the healing imagery does not exclude the aspect of judging.
Here we should not misunderstand that the healing imagery is only of a recent understanding. The ecumenical councils had already spoken over this. It is interesting to recall how the Fourth Lateran council (1215) instructed the confessors to be discerning and prudent physicians. It presents beautifully the healing imagery of the sacrament of repentance, saying:
The priest shall be discerning and prudent so that like a skilled doctor he may pour out wine and oil over the wounds of the injured one. Let him carefully inquire about the circumstances of both the sinner and the sin so that he may prudently discern what sort of advice he ought to give and what remedy to apply, using various means to heal the sick person.[lxxxi]
It is true that the council of Trent upheld a more juridical vision of this sacrament. However this council also referred to the healing dimension of the sacrament of repentance. Commenting on the value of confession, the council of Trent adds:
Hence when Christ’s faithful strive to confess all sins that occur to their memory, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon. But those who fail to do so and knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission, for “if the sick is ashamed to lay open his wound before the physician the medicine does not heal what it does not know”.[lxxxii]
Together with divine justice, it also emphasised divine mercy. On the necessity of the sacrament of repentance, the council remarks:
But since God, who is rich in mercy, knows our frame, he has given a remedy of life also to those who after baptism have delivered themselves up to the bondage of sin and the devil’s power, namely, the sacrament of repentance, whereby the benefit of Christ’s death is applied to those who have fallen after baptism.[lxxxiii]
Both the expiatory and medicinal purposes of penance are also seen. Speaking about penance, the council says that satisfactory penance greatly detaches penitents from sin; they act like a bridle to keep them in check, more cautious and vigilant in the future. They also heal the after effects of sins and destroy evil habits acquired through a bad life, by practising acts of virtue. As the council reminds us, the satisfaction imposed by the priest is meant not merely as a safeguard for a new life and as a remedy for weakness but also as a vindicatory punishment for former sins. It is also enlightening to note that St. Alphonse Maria De Liguori, patron of moral theologians and confessors, had always emphasised the role of confessor as the physician of the soul in his pastoral instructions to the confessors.[lxxxiv]
Thus it is clear that notwithstanding the relative predominance of a juridical framework in the course of the gradual development of the sacrament of repentance, the official teachings of the Church have continuously referred to the therapeutic dimension of this sacrament. So what is important now is a balanced view of both the healing and judging aspects of this sacrament and of the medicus and judex roles of the confessor. The Pope speaks of a ‘wise pastoral balance’ here. As he says, “severity crushes the people and drives them away; laxity misleads and deceives” (Message to Priests 2002, 8; see also RP, 18).
3.3. The CCC on SR (Cfr. nos. 1420-1498)
4. Canonical part
4.1. CCEO on the SR
Cfr. CCEO Can. 718-736
Cfr. CIC Can. 959-997
4.2. The Canonical Disciplines on the Healing Dimension of the Sacrament
Adding to the various theological discussions and magisterial teachings, the present canonical disciplines of the Western and Eastern Churches also bear witness to the medicinal and juridical orientations of the sacrament of repentance.
As B. Petrà says, the early patristic and canonical traditions emphasised the therapeutic character of the sacrament of repentance.[lxxxv] The priest was always seen as a minister of mercy and divine justice. This is confirmed by the Apostolic Canons (can. 52), the ecumenical council of Nicaea (325, cans. 12-13), the synod of Laodicea (343-381, can. 2), the synod of Carthage (419, can. 43) and the Trullan council (691, can. 102).[lxxxvi] A summary of the patristic notions of the sacrament of repentance could be seen in the canon 102 of the council of Trullo. D. Salachas enumerates the main elements of the Trullan teaching, related to the sacrament of repentance under six points. They are:
1. The ministers of the sacrament (priests) receive from God the divine authority to forgive sins. Personal confession and absolution constitute the ordinary means for reconciliation with God and the community.
2. The sinner is seen as a sick person and sin as a sickness or wound of the soul. Therefore the priest is seen as a spiritual doctor, who as a physician, examines the actual spiritual situation of the sinner and proposes the appropriate medicine for healing.
3. The confessor is also a spiritual father, who makes an objective diagnosis and judgement with regard to the sinner’s personal disposition to conversion, forgiveness and healing.
4. There are two modes of behaviour that can be followed; exact observance of the commandments (akribeia) and of condescendence and mercy (oikonomia). But if the rigorous attitude is the cause of further sins, the merciful attitude should be followed. Above all, the confessor is a minister of mercy and divine justice.
5. The sickness of the soul is not simple in its nature but complex and varied, caused by the various ramifications of evil. The divine power, given to the spiritual doctor absolves the sinner and reconciles him to God and to the community.
6. The spiritual doctor exercises his function through the action of the Holy Spirit.
Thus the medicinal character of the sacrament of repentance is clear from the early period onwards. In addition to these, we can also speak of a sacramental orientation, especially of a Eucharistic orientation of the sacrament of repentance. A worthier participation in the Holy Eucharist is a theological basis for the sacrament of repentance and also of other penitential disciplines. The ecclesiastical disciplines are intended to make a thorough renewal of conscience so that the sinner may understand his own spiritual deviation and he may purify himself through a renewed spiritual life of repentance and thereby become a truly healed member of the ecclesial community, which is nurtured daily by the sacraments and especially by the Holy Eucharist.[lxxxvii]
The general approach to the sacrament of repentance, which the Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches present is both medicinal and pastoral.[lxxxviii] Both canons do not make any explicit statement on the judicial character of the act of absolution. The more prevalent character of the confessor is that of an instrument of mercy. Speaking about the nature, effects and essence of the sacrament of repentance, canon 959 of the CIC says:
In the sacrament of penance, the faithful, confessing their sins to a legitimate minister, being sorry for them and at the same time proposing reform, obtain from God forgiveness of sins committed after baptism through the absolution imparted by the same minister and they likewise are reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by sinning.
Canon 718 of the CCEO says:
In the sacrament of penance, the Christian faithful, who have committed sins after baptism, internally led by the Holy Spirit, turn back to God, moved by the pain of sin, intent on entering a new life through the ministry of the priest, having themselves made a confession and accepted an appropriate penance, obtain forgiveness from God and at the same time are reconciled with the Church which they injured by sinning; by this sacrament they are brought to a greater fostering of the Christian life and are thus disposed for receiving the Divine Eucharist.
The picture of a confessor, which the canons present, is that of a physician, spiritual father and judge. To fulfil his role as a confessor, he must know how to distinguish between the various diseases of the soul and to evaluate his actual motivations to propose suitable medicines. However he should be prudent and discreet enough because he is mainly a minister of divine justice and mercy. Canon 978 of the Latin Code says:
In hearing confessions, the priest is to remember that he acts as a judge as well as a healer and is placed by God as the minister of divine justice as well as of mercy, concerned with the divine honour and the salvation of souls… The confessor is to enjoin salutary and suitable penances in keeping with the quality and number of the sins but with attention to the condition of the penitent.
Canon 732 of the Eastern Code says:
The confessor is to offer a fitting cure for the illness by imposing appropriate works of penance in keeping with the quality, seriousness and number of the sins and considering the conditions of the penitent as well as his dispositions for conversion. The priest is to remember that he is placed by God as a minister of divine justice and mercy; as a spiritual father, he should also offer appropriate counsel so that the penitent might progress in his or her vocation to sanctity.
Penance or satisfaction is seen mainly as a spiritual medicine in order to progress in the Christian vocation to holiness, rather than merely as an expiatory act. It is the pledge and remedy for a new life and a fitting cure for the illness. It is not the price for pardon. We are forgiven out of the infinite mercy and goodness of God, the infinite satisfaction that the Son of God has gained for us through his paschal mysteries. True conversion is complete with the penance that we undertake freely for the reparation for our faults.
The canons on the sacrament of repentance in the Eastern Code are more pastoral in the sense that they are less juridical in their formulation, compared to the Latin Code of Canon Law.[lxxxix] On the obligation of the faithful to confession, canon 988 of the CIC says:
A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and in number all serious sins committed after baptism… After having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.
Canon 719 of the CCEO says:
Anyone who is aware of serious sin is to receive the sacrament of penance as soon as possible; it is strongly recommended to all the Christian faithful that they receive this sacrament frequently, especially during the times of fasts and penance, observed in their own Church sui iuris.
The obligation to confess grave sins at least once in a year is not expressly mentioned in the Eastern Code, may be in respect to the Eastern traditions. However the faithful are recommended to approach this sacrament frequently, especially during periods of fasts and penance. Still the obligation of the faithful to receive the Holy Eucharist at least once a year (can. 708), implies indirectly also confessing grave sins at least once a year.
From the very beginning of the Church, penitential discipline and practices developed progressively with their public and private aspects.[xc] Individual and integral confession is suggested as the only ordinary mode of the confession of grave sins, meanwhile it is highly recommended in both Codes that the individual confession should be in a context, which is explicitly ecclesial and communitarian because reconciliation with God is also a reconciliation with the ecclesial community.[xci] This personal and ecclesial character is also emphasised in arranging the place for the sacramental confession and in the liturgical formulas.[xcii]
The possibility for collective sacramental absolution is viewed with great reservation in both Codes (CIC, cans. 961-963; CCEO, cans. 720-721). Also the motu proprio Misericordia Dei in clear terms corrects the false resort to ‘general’ or ‘communal’ absolution, which is to be used in wholly ‘exceptional’ situations. The arbitrary extension of the general absolution militates for a lessening of the divine configuration of the sacrament and specifically regarding the need for individual confession with consequent serious harm to the spiritual life of the faithful and the holiness of the Church.[xciii]

[i] B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo”, 122.
[ii] S. HARAKAS, Toward a Transfigured Life: The Theoria of the Eastern Orthodox Ethics (Minneapolis, 1983), 77-90.
[iii] L. J. GONZÁLEZ, Terapia spirituale, 29.
[iv] P. KOCHAPPILLY, “Healing through Celebration: A Short Survey of Selected Christian Sacramental Celebrations”, Journal of Dharma 24 (1999), 54-56.
[v] CCC, 1707. See also 1739, 2340, 2516, 2527.
[vi] B. PETRÀ, “La prassi penitenziale nelle Chiese Orientali”, Credere Oggi 16 (1996), 71-85.
[vii] B. PETRÀ, “Sacramenti ed etica: l’Occidente incontro all’Oriente”, Seminarium 36 (1996), 236-238.
[viii] B. HÄRING, Il peccato in un’epoca di secolarizzazione, 47-124.
[ix] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 234-239, 259-263, 314-319.
[x] H. U. VON BALTHASAR, “Nine Propositions on Christian Ethics” in Principles of Christian Morality, ed. H. Schürmann et al (San Francisco, 1986), 87.
[xi] P. McCORMICK, Sin as Addiction, 130-145.
[xii] G. GATTI, Confessare oggi: Un manuale per i confessori (Torino, 2001), 9-19.
[xiii] GS, 10. See also GS, 13.
[xiv] RP, 2-3.
[xv] B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo”, 113-124. See also, La Chiesa dei padri, 67-75. A beautiful prayer from the Latin liturgy clearly testifies to this idea: … In his earthly life, he has passed on, doing good and healing all those who were under the bondage of evil. Still today, he comes nearby to every man, who is wounded in his body and spirit and pours out the oil of consolation and the wine of hope into his wounds… (Holy Mass in the Latin Rite, Common Preface VIII).
[xvi] R. DUFFY, “The medicus and Its transformation from Its Patristic to Its Medieval and Tridentine Usages” in Rule of Prayer, Rule of Faith: Essays in Honour of Aidan Kavanagh, eds. N. Mitchell& J. F. Baldovin (Collegeville, 1996), 106-111.
[xvii] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ III, 42.
[xviii] L. J. GONZÁLEZ, Terapia spirituale, 127-137; GINAMI C., “Gesù e la buona notizia del perdono”, Credere Oggi 36 (1996), 13-24.
[xix] For details see, PETRINI, “Healing Themes in the Bible”, Camillianum 9 (1998), 209-226; P. M. BEERNAERT, “Jesus Christ and Health: The Testimony of the Gospels”, 35-48.
[xx] P. M. BEERNAERT, “Jesus Christ and Health: The Testimony of the Gospels”, 47.
[xxi] B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo”, 122. See also, H. J. POTTMEYER, “Die Kirche, Sakrament des Heils für alle Menschen”, Seminarium 50 (1998), 811-826.
[xxii] RATZINGER J., Jesus of Nazreth.....; B. PETRÀ, La Chiesa dei padri, 69-70. See also, A. AMATO, “Itinerari e modelli teologico-pastorali del sacramento della riconciliazione” in Giovani e riconciliazione, ed. M. Midali & R. Tonelli (Roma, 1984), 221-223; R. DUFFY, “The medicus and Its transformation from Its Patristic to Its Medieval and Tridentine Usages”, 107-109.
[xxiii] Cf. L. SANDRIN, Chiesa, comunità sanante: Una prospettiva teologico-pastorale (Milano, 2000); A. LAMBOURNE, Community, Church and Healing (London, 1963); B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo”, 113-124; R. GALLAGHER, “New Life for a ‘Great Sacrament’ ”, The Furrow 4 (1996), 199-205.
[xxiv] C. M. MARTINI, Sul Corpo, 11, 73-110.
[xxv] CCC, 1420-1421.
[xxvi] C. ROCCHETTA, “Salute e salvezza nei gesti sacramentali”, 22-27. See also G. BONACCORSO, “Il ritorno dell’uomo al Padre nella celebrazione”, Rivista Liturgica 82 (1995), 45-62; J. CASTELLANO CERVERA, “I sacramenti di guarigione”, 209-229; L. J. GONZÁLEZ, Terapia spirituale, 168-178; B. PETRÀ, “Sacramenti ed etica”, 234-244.
[xxvii] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 430-445.
[xxviii] RP, 27. See also, nos. 8, 11.
[xxix] C. COLLO, “La penitenza, sacramento della Chiesa”, Credere Oggi 36 (1996), 57.
[xxx] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE SACRAMENTS AND WORSHIP, Misericordiam Suam, Introduction to the New Order of Penance in the Latin Church, 7 February, 1974.
[xxxi] John Paul II, “Messagio del Papa all’Arcivescovo De Magistris, Pro-Penitenziere Maggiore in occasione del tradizionale corso sul foro interno promosso dalla Penitenzieria Apostolica”, L’Osservatore Romano ( Sabato 16 Marzo, 2002), 2.
[xxxii] JOHN PAUL II, Letter to Priests 2002, 8.
[xxxiii] Misericordia Dei, Introduction.
[xxxiv] R. MURRAY, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, 182-187, 199-204.
[xxxv] Die Auferweckung im Grab, 533-561 in Ephrem Syrus Sermones in Hebdomadam Sanctam, ed. E. Beck (CSCO 412-413; SS 181-182, 1979), 136-137.
[xxxvi] R. MURRAY, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, 185.
[xxxvii] R. MURRAY, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, 186.
[xxxviii] F. P. RIDOLFINI, “I sacramenti negli scritti del Sapiente Persiano”,168-170.
[xxxix] R. MURRAY, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, 187.
[xl] K. RAHNER, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, 90-115.
[xli] Dives in Misericordia, 13. See also RP, 13.
[xlii] S. MAJORANO, “Senso morale della colpa e senso cristiano del peccato”, 41.
[xliii] K. RAHNER, “Guilt and its Remission: the Borderland between Theology and Psychotherapy”, in Theological Investigations II (London, 1963), 266.
[xliv] Cf. P. ANCIAUX, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Penance”, Theological Digest 11 (1963), 33-54; R. HATER, “Sin and Reconciliation: Changing Attitudes in the Catholic Church, Worship 59 (1985), 18-31; E. MAZZA, “Dalla penitenza antica alla riforma di Paolo IV : dati storici ”, Annali di Scienze Religiose 2 (1997), 15-33; B. E. HINZE, “Ecclesial Repentance and the Demands of Dialogue”, Theological Studies 61 (2000), 207-238.
[xlv] The various magisterial documents clearly testify the personal and communitarian dimensions of sin and reconciliation. For example see, Redemptor Hominis, 20; RP, 15-18, 31, IV; CCC, 1440-1445.
[xlvi] K. RAHNER, “Forgotten Truths concerning the Sacrament of Penance”, 162-166.
[xlvii] W. KASPER, Confession outside the Confessional, 19-20.
[xlviii] K. RAHNER, “Problems concerning Confession”, 191; B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 443. The short prayer of absolution, used today, can be said to be a reminder of that part of the old penitential liturgy in which the Church made intercession for her members.
[xlix] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 379.
[l] C. DUQUOC, “Real Reconciliation and Sacramental Reconciliation”, 31-34. See also P. E. FINK, “Reconciliation and Forgiveness: A Theological Reflection” in Alternative Futures for Worship IV, ed. B. J. Lee (Minnesota, 1966), 43-72.
[li] R. GALLAGHER, “New Life for a ‘Great Sacrament’ ”, 199; D. MARMION, “The ‘Unloved Sacrament’: The Demise of the Sacramentum Penitentiae”, 40.
[lii] Cf. H. DREHER, The Immune Power Personality (New York, 1996); J. W. PENNEBAKER, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (New York, 1997).
[liii] C. DUQUOC, “Real Reconciliation and Sacramental Reconciliation”, 27.
[liv] K. RAHNER, Foundations of Christian Faith, 42-44, 75-81; K. RAHNER, , “Guilt and Its Remission: the Borderland between Theology and Psychotherapy”, 269-271.
[lv] M. HURLEY, “Reconciliation and Forgiveness”, Jurist 56 (1996), 465-486.
[lvi] C. DUQUOC, “Real Reconciliation and Sacramental Reconciliation”, 26-27; B. SORO, “The Church: A Reconciled Community through the Eucharist”, Ephrem’s Theological Journal 2 (1998), 143-148.
[lvii] Misericordia Dei, Introduction.
[lviii] Dives in Misericordia, 13.
[lix] RP, 28.
[lx] CCC, 1455.
[lxi] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 417-470; D. MONGILLO, “L’Esistenza cristiana: conversione e peccato” in Corso di Morale I, eds. T. Goffi & G. Piana (Brescia, 1989), 508-535.
[lxii] C. ROCCHETTA, “Salute e salvezza nei gesti sacramentali”, 24.
[lxiii] D. BOROBIO, “The Tridentine Model of Confession in its Historical context”, 22.
[lxiv] G. O’COLLINS & E. FARRUGIA, A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Edinburgh, 1997), 177.
[lxv] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 445-467; R. GALLAGHER, “New Life for a ‘Great Sacrament’ ”, 199-200.
[lxvi] J. M. GRONDELSKI, “Confession of Sins as an Essential Element of the Sacrament of Penance”, Angelicum 78 (2001), 59-61.
[lxvii] K. RAHNER, Foundations of Christian Faith, 116-138.
[lxviii] K. RAHNER, Foundations of Christian Faith, 421-423.
[lxix] P. DE CLERCK, “Conversion du cœur et absolution sacramentelle : leurs relations, examinées en perspective historique”, Annali di Scienze Religiose 2 (1997), 45. See also C. COLLO, “La penitenza, sacramento della Chiesa”, Credere Oggi 36 (1996), 51-59; B. SESBÖUÉ, “Perdono di Dio, conversione dell’uomo e assoluzione attraverso la Chiesa” in Il sacramento del perdono: Tra ieri e domani, eds. L. M. Chauvet & P. De Clerck (Assisi, 2002), 175-196.
[lxx] B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ I, 453-454.
[lxxi] L. J. GONZÁLEZ, Terapia spirituale, 178-184.
[lxxii] J. W. PENNEBAKER, Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, 56, 114.
[lxxiii] B. HÄRING; Free and Faithful in Christ I, 444-445.
[lxxiv] L. J. GONZÁLEZ, Terapia spirituale, 183.
[lxxv] J. M. GRONDELSKI, “Confession of Sins as an Essential Element of the Sacrament of Penance”, 49-67.
[lxxvi] CIC, can. 960; CCEO, can. 720; Misericordia dei, Introduction.
[lxxvii] F. NIKOLASCH “The Sacrament of Penance: Learning from the East”, Concilium 7:1 (1971), 75; J. M. GRONDELSKI, “Confession of Sins as an Essential Element of the Sacrament of Penance”, 56-59.
[lxxviii] RP, 29.
[lxxix] CCC, 1465-1466.
[lxxx] M. MAIRLOT, “The Four Dimensions of Health”, 8-13.
[lxxxi] Fourth Lateran Council, Constitution 21, ET in N. P. TANNER, ed. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils I (London, 1990), 245.
[lxxxii] Council of Trent, Session 14, ch. 5, ET in N. P. TANNER, ed. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils II, 706.
[lxxxiii] Council of Trent, Session 14, ch. 1, ET in N. P. TANNER, ed. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils II, 703.
[lxxxiv] He speaks of the four roles of confessor, namely, confessor as father, teacher, physician and judge. Cf. A. DE LIGUORI, Pratica del confessore per ben esercitare il suo ministero, Ch. 1, Degli offici del confessore, nos. 2-20 (Frigento, 1987), 5-36
[lxxxv] B. PETRÀ, “La prassi penitenziale nelle chiese Orientali”, 71-85; R. DUFFY, “The medicus and Its Transformation from Its Patristic to Its Medieval and Tridentine Usages”, 106-122.
[lxxxvi] For details see, D. SALACHAS, Il diritto canonico delle Chiese Orientali nel primo millennio: Confronti con il diritto canonico attuale delle Chiese Orientali cattoliche, CCEO (Roma, 1997), 220-228, 328-331; B. PETRÀ , La Chiesa dei padri, 67-75.
[lxxxvii] D. SALACHAS, Il diritto canonico delle Chiese orientali nel primo millennio, 328. See also, V. PHIDAS, “Caractère de la peine ecclésiastique”, Episkepsis, 403 (1988), 14-15.
[lxxxviii] V. DE PAOLIS, “Il sacramento della penitenza” in I Sacramenti della Chiesa, ed. A. Longhitano (Bologna, 1989), 163-237; DĺAZ J. M., “Penitenza” in Nuovo Dizionario di Diritto Canonico, eds. C. Corral Salvador et al (Milano, 1993), 772-781; D. SALACHAS, Teologia e disciplina dei sacramenti nei codici Latino e Orientale: Studio teologico, giuridico, comparativo, (Bologna, 1999), 219-269; J. P. BEAL et al, eds. New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (New York, 2000), 1138-1178; A. PERLASCA & M. RIVELLA, eds. Codice di diritto canonico commentato (Città del Vaticano, 2001), 783-809; P. V. PINTO, ed. Commento al codice dei canoni delle Chiese Orientali (Città del Vaticano, 2001), 603-618; G. NEDUNGATT, ed. A Guide to the Eastern Code: A Commentary on the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Kanonika 10 (Roma, 2002), 519-800.
[lxxxix] D. SALACHAS, Teologia e disciplina dei sacramenti nei codici Latino e Orientale, 266-267. The obligatory positions under mortal sin are not seen so much in the formulation of the canons in the Eastern Code. It is also quite interesting to note that in the Eastern Code, all the latae sententiae punishments are abolished, since they do not correspond to genuine Eastern traditions. This code preserves only the ferendae sententiae punishments, applied by a competent authority through a particular judicial sentence or administrative decrees (can. 1408).
[xc] D. SALACHAS, Il diritto canonico delle Chiese Orientali nel primo millennio, 220.
[xci] CCEO, can, 736; CIC, can, 964; CONGREGATION FOR THE EASTERN Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, 6 January 1996, 89-90.
[xcii] CIC, can, 964; CONGREGATION FOR THE EASTERN Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions , 89. Such practice is suggested, when the code affirms that the proper place of its celebration is the church. The instruction reminds us that the confessional, used in the Latin Church is not of the original Eastern tradition. In the Eastern Churches, the sacrament of repentance is normally celebrated in a sacred building, in some traditions, in front of an icon of Christ or of Gospel. The instruction also invites the concerned authorities to revise the formulas so as to express the rich traditions of each Church sui iuris.
[xciii] Misericordia Dei, Introduction; see also n. 4-7.