So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Cæsar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our enquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours. ~Fortescue
MAN, even though regenerated and justified, is still liable to
fall into sin, on account of the depravity of his fallen nature, and also on
account of the many temptations that surround him: therefore our loving Lord,
in His infinite mercy, instituted another sacrament for the forgiveness of sin
committed after baptism.
This is the sacrament
of penance, in which, by the absolution of the priest, joined with the contrition,
of the penitent, the sins of the penitent are forgiven by God, through the
application of the merits of Jesus Christ, and a grace is given him to help him
to avoid sin in future.
Contrition is an interior grief,
horror and detestation of sin committed, with the firm resolve never more to
relapse into our evil habits.
Contrition thus includes in itself two acts: sorrow of the heart for sin committed,
and the purpose of the will to avoid sin in future.
Confession is an express,
contrite, but secret self-accusation, to a duly authorized priest, of at least
all grievous sins committed after baptism, of which he wishes to receive
absolution, or of all the mortal sins committed since the last confession when
absolution was received, as far as we can recall them to our memory.
Satisfaction means doing the
penance enjoined by the priest in confession, repairing the scandal if any was
given, and restoring the property and good name to our neighbor in case of his
having been injured by us.
Almighty God certainly can, if it so pleases
Him, depute a man to forgive sins in His name. That He did depute certain men
to forgive sins is plain from what our blessed Lord said to His Apostles, and
in the persons of the Apostles to their legitimate successors to the end of the
world: “Peace be to you. As the Father
hath sent me, I also send you. When He had said this, He breathed on them; and
He said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they
are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (St.
John xx. 21-23).
This divine commission to forgive sins in
Christ’s name was always understood to mean what the words just quoted from St.
John naturally and plainly signify; namely, that God has commissioned certain
men to grant, and also withhold, the forgiveness of sin in His name; and these words
have thus been understood from the time of the Apostles until now by the
Catholic Church, and have thus been understood also by the separated Greek and
other Oriental schismatical churches, in which the sacrament of penance is also
believed and practised.
It is of course always God Who forgives when
forgiveness is granted through the instrumentality or ministration of a priest
who acts as minister of God. As in holy baptism, it is God who forgives, yet it
is done through the medium of the minister who dispenses that sacrament of regeneration,
for whether it be Paul or Cephas who baptizes, it is always Jesus Christ Who
baptizes; so in the sacrament of penance, when the priest forgives, it is God Who
forgives through His appointed authorized minister. From the words of St. John,
lately quoted, it is evident that the priest has, by the commission of Christ,
sometimes to forgive, and sometimes to retain, that is, to withhold forgiveness
of sin; therefore it is necessary that the penitent sinner should make known to
the priest in confession the state of his conscience, in order that the priest
may give or withhold absolution with knowledge and prudence, and not grant or
deny it unduly or at hazard, which Jesus Christ never intended.
The priest, in fact, who is called upon to
dispense the sacrament of penance, to remit or to retain sin, has to decide
whether the person who comes to him as a penitent is really guilty of sin or
not; whether, if guilty, the sin is grievous or is venial; whether reparation
to a neighbor is required or not ; he must see what instruction, admonition,
advice, or penance he has to give him; he must form a well-grounded judgment
whether the penitent has or has not the dispositions which render him fit to
receive absolution. In short, the priest in the tribunal of penance is a judge,
and as such he must, as a rule, have full knowledge of the case upon which he
has to pronounce judgment; and this knowledge he can only have from the confession
of the penitent person.
That it is a good thing to confess our sins
appears from the following passages of Holy Writ: “He that hideth his sins shall not prosper; but he that shall confess,
and forsake them, shall obtain mercy” (Proverbs xxviii. 13). St. James
writes: “Confess, therefore, your sins
one to another” (v. 16). If open confession is good for the soul, how much more
advantageous is it to confess to a priest who has deputed power from God to
forgive our sins.
We must bear the shame of showing our wounds
and bruises, and festering sores, if we wish to be cured. To humble ourselves
before the minister of God is some reparation for the evil we have done; that
humiliation pleases God and procures for us many great blessings.
_________________________  See
Council of Trent, Session xiv. Chap. 4.
 † See
Method of Confession, Part II. No. 6
of this book.
TAKEN FROM THE GLORIES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH(VOLUME 1).
In the four pictures below, one can see the "virgula pœnitentiaria" that was abolished in April of 1967 under the Pontificate of (who else?) Pope Paul VI.
Above and below, Cardinal Canali in 1950, with the "virgula pœnitentiaria."