The Church's Year
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
On this Sunday the Church
redoubles her ardent sighs for the coming of the Redeemer, and, in
the Introit, places the longing of the just of the Old Law upon the
lips of the faithful, again exhorting them through the gospel of the
day, to true penance as the best preparation for the worthy
reception of the Savior. Therefore at the Introit she
INTROIT Drop down dew, ye heavens, from
above, and let the clouds rain the just (Is. 45). Let the earth be
opened, and bud forth a Savior. The heavens show forth the glory of
God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands (Ps. 18:2).
Glory be to the Father.
COLLECT Raise up, O Lord, we pray Thee,
Thy power, and come, and with great might succor us: that, by the
help of Thy grace, that which our sins impede may be hastened by Thy
merciful forgiveness. Through our Lord.
EPISTLE (I Cor. 4:1-5). Brethren, Let a
man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the
dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among
the dispensers, that a man be found faithful. But to me, it is a
very small thing to be judged by you, or by man's day: but neither
do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of
anything, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is
the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time, until the Lord come:
who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will
make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man
have praise from God.
Why is this
epistle read on this day?
The Church desires by this
epistle to impress those who received Holy Orders on Ember Saturday
with the dignity of their office, and exhorts them to fill it with
becoming fidelity and sanctity, excelling the laity in piety and
virtue, as well as in official dignity. She wishes again to remind
the faithful of the terrible coming of Christ to judgment, urging
them, by purifying their conscience through a contrite confession,
to receive Christ at this holy Christmas time, as their Savior, that
they may not behold Him, at the Last Day, as their severe
the faithful regard the priests and spiritual
They should esteem and obey
them as servants, stewards, and vicars of Christ; as dispensers of
the holy mysteries (I Cor. 4:1); as ambassadors of the most High (II
Con 5:20). For this reason God earnestly commands honor to priests
(Ecclus. 7:31), and Christ says of the Apostles and their successors
(Lk. 10:16): Who despiseth you, despiseth me; and St. Paul writes (I
Tim. 5:17): Let the priests that rule well be esteemed worthy of
double honor: especially they who labor in the word and
priest dispense the sacraments according to his own
No, he must have power from
the Church, and must exercise his office faithfully, in accordance
with the orders of the Church, and act according to the will of
Christ whose steward he is. The priest dare not give that which is
holy to dogs (Mt. 7:6), that is, he is not permitted to give
absolution, and administer the sacraments to impenitent persons,
under penalty of incurring eternal damnation.
Why does St.
Paul consider the judgment of men a small matter?
Because it is usually false,
deceptive, foolish, and is consequently not worth seeking or caring
for. Man often counts as evil that which is in itself good and, on
the contrary, esteems as good that which is evil. St. Paul says: If
I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Gal.
1:10). Oh, how foolish, and what poor Christians, therefore, are
they, who not to displease man, willingly adopt all silly customs,
and fashions in dress, manners and appearance, making themselves
contemptible to God, the angels, and saints. Recall the beautiful
words of the Seraphic St. Francis: "We are, what we are in the sight
of God, nothing more"; learn from them to fulfil your duties
faithfully, and be indifferent to the judgment of the world and its
Why does not
St. Paul wish to judge himself?
Because no one, without a
special revelation from heaven, can know if he be just in the sight
of God or not, even though his conscience may accuse him of nothing,
for "man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred"
(Eccles. 9:1). Thus St. Paul goes on to say, that though he was not
conscious of any wrong, he did not judge himself to be justified,
God only could decide that. Man should certainly examine himself as
much as is in his power, to find if he has anything within him
displeasing to God; should he find nothing he must not judge himself
more just than others, but consider that the eyes of his mind may be
dimmed, and fail to see that which God sees and will reveal to
others at the judgment Day. The Pharisees saw no fault in
themselves, and were saintly and perfect in their own estimation,
yet our Lord cursed them.
ASPIRATION "O Lord, enter not into
judgment with Thy servant: for in Thy sight no man living can be
justified" (Ps. 142:2).
GOSPEL (Lk. 3:1-6). In the fifteenth
year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor
of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his
brother tetrarch of Iturea and the country of Trachonitis, and
Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina, under the high priests Annas and
Caiphas: the word of the Lord came to John the son of Zachary in the
desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching
the baptism of penance for the remission of sins, as it is written
in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one
crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his
paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and
hill shall be brought low: the crooked shall be made straight, and
the rough ways plain: and all flesh shall see the salvation of
Why is the
time in which St. John commenced to preach so minutely
The Evangelist, contrary to
his usual custom, describes the time minutely, and enumerates
exactly, in their precise order, the religious and civil princes in
office, that, in the first place, it could not be denied that this
was truly the time and the year in which the promised Messiah
appeared in this world, whom John baptized, and the Heavenly Father
declared to be His beloved Son. Furthermore, it shows the
fulfillment of the prophecy of the Patriarch Jacob (Gen. 49:10),
that when the scepter would be taken away from Juda, that is, when
the Jews would have no longer a king from their own tribes, the
Savior would come.
meant by: "The word of the Lord came to John"?
It means that John was
commissioned by divine inspiration, or by an angel sent from God, to
preach penance and announce to the world the coming of the Lord. He
had prepared himself for this work by a penitential, secluded life,
and intercourse with God. We learn from his example not to intrude
ourselves into office, least of all into a spiritual office, but to
await the call from God, preparing ourselves in solitude and quiet,
by fervent prayer and by a holy life, for the necessary
meant by: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his
It means that we should
prepare our hearts for the worthy reception of Christ, by penance,
amendment, and the resolution to lead a pious life in future. To do
this, every valley should be filled, that is, all faintheartedness,
sloth and cowardice, all worldly carnal sentiments should be
elevated and directed to God, the highest Good, by firm confidence
and ardent desire for heavenly virtues; the mountains and hills
should be brought low, that is, pride, stubbornness, and ambition
should be humbled, and the obstinate will be broken. The crooked
shall be made straight, that is, ill-gotten goods should be
restored, hypocrisy, malice, and double dealing be renounced, and
our intentions turned to God and the performance of His holy will.
And the rough ways shall be made plain, that is, anger, revenge, and
impatience must leave the heart, if the Lamb of God is to dwell
therein. It may also signify that the Savior put to shame the pride
of the world, and its false wisdom by building His Church upon the
Apostles, who, by reason of their poverty and simplicity, may be
considered the low valleys, while the way to heaven, formerly so
rough and hard to tread, because of the want of grace, is now by His
grace made smooth and easy.
ASPIRATION O my Jesus! would that my
heart were well prepared and smooth for Thee! Assist me! O my Savior
to do that which I cannot do by myself. Make me an humble valley,
fill me with Thy grace; turn my crooked and perverted will to Thy
pleasure; change my rough and angry disposition, throw away in me
whatever impedes Thy way, that Thou mayst come to me without
hindrance. Thou alone possess and rule me forever. Amen.
INSTRUCTION ON THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF
“Preaching the baptism
of penance for the remission of sins"(Lk. 3:3).
penance, and how many kinds are there?
Penance, says the Roman
Catechism (Cat. Rom. de Pcenit. 54), consists in the turning
of our whole soul to God, hating and detesting the crimes we have
committed, firmly resolving to amend our lives, its evil habits and
corrupt ways, hoping through the mercy of God to obtain pardon. This
is interior penance, or the virtue of penance. The sincere
acknowledgment of our sins to a priest and the absolution he
accords, is exterior penance, or the holy Sacrament of Penance,
which Christ instituted (Jn. 20:22-23), through which the sins
committed after baptism, are remitted.
these penances is necessary for the forgiveness of
Both are necessary, for
unless the conversion of the heart to God, a true consciousness of,
and sorrow for sin, the firm purpose of amendment and confidence in
God's mercy, precede the confession, declaring all our sins to a
priest cannot obtain forgiveness of mortal sin committed after
baptism. At the same time a really contrite turning to God, will
not, without confession to a priest, obtain forgiveness, except when
by circumstances, a person is prevented from approaching the
tribunal of penance. Such a person must, however, have the ardent
desire to confess as soon as possible.
Can any one
who has committed mortal sin be saved without
No, for penance is as
necessary to such a one as baptism, if he wishes not to perish:
Unless you do penance, says Christ, you shall all likewise perish
(Lk. 13:3, 5).
penance performed at once?
This penance is necessary
every day of our lives: that is, we must from day to day endeavor to
be heartily sorry for our sins, to despise them, to eradicate the
roots of sin, that is, our passions and evil inclinations, and
become more pleasing to God by penance and good works.
Why do so
many die impenitent?
Because they do not accept
and use the many graces God offers them, but put off their
repentance. If such sinners, like the godless King Antiochus (II
Mac. 9) intend to repent on their deathbed for fear of punishment,
they usually find that God in His justice will no longer give them
the grace of repentance, for he who when he can repent, will not,
cannot when he will. "Who will not listen at the time of grace,"
says St. Gregory, "will not be listened to' in the time of anxiety."
And it is to be feared that he who postpones penance until old age,
will not find justice where he looked for mercy.
sinners do penance?
With the grace of God all
can, even the greatest sinners; as a real father God calls them when
He says: As I live ...I desire not the death of the wicked, but that
the wicked turn from his way, and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your
evil ways: and why will ye die, O house of Israel? And the
wickedness of the wicked shall not hurt him, in what day soever he
shall turn from his wickedness (Ezech. 33:11-12).
Do all who
go to confession perform true penance?
Unfortunately they do not;
for all is not accomplished with confession. If there is no sincere
detestation of sin, no true sorrow for having offended God; if the
evil inclinations and bad habits are not overcome, ill-gotten goods
restored, and calumny repaired, the occasions of sin avoided; if a
sincere amendment of life, or, at least, its earnest purpose does
not follow, then indeed, there cannot be the least shadow of true
repentance, not even though such persons confess weekly. But alas!
we see many such. And why? Because many think repentance consists
simply in confession, and not in the amendment of their lives. Only
those obtain pardon who are truly penitent, and perform all that is
enjoined upon them in confession. It is well, therefore, to read and
carefully act according to the following instructions.
I. ON THE
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
The foundation of true
repentance, interior and exterior (see the preceding pages), is the
vivid knowledge of our sins. There are many who are unconscious of
the most grievous sins in which they are buried; blinded by
self-love they do not even regard them as sins, do not confess them,
perform no penance for them and are consequently eternally lost. To
prevent this great evil, the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV c.5)
ordered a careful examination of conscience before confession, and
afterwards to confess the sins which are discovered by that
we examine our conscience?
Because, as St. Ignatius
says, no one can become fully aware of his own faults, unless God
reveals them by a special light; we should, therefore, first of all,
daily ask the Holy Ghost to enlighten us, and should then examine
our thoughts, desires, words, actions, and omissions since our last
valid confession and how often we have sinned in these respects. To
know this, we should let our conscience, that is, the inner voice
which tells us what is good and what is evil, speak freely, without
flattering ourselves, or passing it by negligently. St. Charles
Borromeo says, we should place before our eyes the Ten Commandments
of God and carefully compare our life and our morals with them; it
is well also to examine ourselves on the seven deadly sins, and
remember the places and persons with whom we have been in contact,
the duties of our state of life, the vices to which we are most
inclined, the consequences that were, or might have been produced
upon ourselves or others. At the same time, we should imagine
ourselves standing before the judgment seat of God, and whatever
would cause us fear there, whatever we could not answer for there,
we should look upon as sins, be sorry for, and confess.
Is it a sin
not to examine ourselves long and carefully?
Certainly it is a sin for
those to examine their consciences carelessly, who live unfaithfully
and in mortal sin, and who seldom confess, because they expose
themselves frivolously to the danger of leaving out great sins, and
consequently they make a sacrilegious confession, committing thereby
a new and grievous sin.
Those who daily ask God for
enlightenment and examine their conscience at least every evening
before going to bed, will prepare themselves properly before
approaching the tribunal of penance. "Behold, you have a book in
which you write your daily expenses," says St. Chrysostom, "make a
book of your conscience, also, and write there your daily sins.
Before you go to bed, before sleep comes, take your book, that is,
your conscience, and recall your sins, whether of thought, word, or
deed. Say then to your soul: Again, O my soul, a day is spent, what
have we done of evil or of good? If you have accomplished some good,
be grateful to God; if evil, resolve to avoid it for the future.
Shed tears in remembrance of your sins; ask forgiveness of God, and
then let your body sleep."
"O man," cries St. Augustine,
"why dost thou weep over the body whence the soul has departed, and
not over the soul from which God has withdrawn?" The idolatrous
Michas (Judg. 18:23-24) complained bitterly, because his idols were
taken from him; Esau grieved greatly over the loss of his birthright
and his father's blessing (Gen. 27:34). Should we not therefore, be
filled with sorrow, when by our sins we have lost God and
contrition, and how many kinds are there?
"Contrition is a hearty
sorrow and detestation of our sins, with a firm purpose of sinning
no more" (Conc. Trid., Sess. XIV, can. 4). If this grief and
detestation comes from a temporal injury, shame or punishment, it is
a natural sorrow; but if we are sorry for our sins, because by them
we have offended God, and transgressed His holy law, it is a
supernatural sorrow; this, again, is imperfect when fear of God's
punishment is the motive; it is perfect, if we are sorry for our
sins, because we have offended God, the supreme Lord and best of
sorrow sufficient for a good confession?
It is not, because it
proceeds not from a supernatural motive, but from the love or fear
of the world. A mere natural sorrow for our sins worketh death (II
Cor. 7:10). If one confess his sins having only a natural sorrow for
them, he commits a sacrilege, because the most necessary part of the
Sacrament of Penance in wanting.
qualities are necessary for a true contrition?
Contrition should be
interior, proceeding from the heart and not merely from the lips; it
must be universal, that is, it must extend to all the mortal sins
which the sinner has committed; it must be sovereign, that is, he
must be more sorry for having offended God, than for any temporal
evil; it must be supernatural, that is, produced in the heart by
supernatural motives; namely, because we have offended God, lost His
grace, deserved hell, etc.
What kind of
sorrow must we have in order to obtain forgiveness of our
That sorrow which proceeds
from a perfect love of God, and not from fear of temporal or eternal
punishment. This perfect contrition would suffice for the
forgiveness of sins, if in case of danger of death, there should be
a great desire, but no opportunity to confess to a priest. But the
Holy Catholic Church has declared (Conc. Trid., Sess. XIV, can. 4)
the imperfect contrition which proceeds from the fear of eternal
punishment to be sufficient for the valid reception of the holy
Sacrament of Penance.
those who have reason to fear they have aroused only a natural
sorrow for their sins?
Those who care little about
knowing what true sorrow is; those who often commit grievous sins,
and do not amend their lives; for if true sorrow for sin had been
excited in their hearts, with the firm purpose of amendment, the
grace of God in this Sacrament would have strengthened the
resolution, and enabled them to avoid sin, at least for a time. On
account of their immediate relapse we justly doubt whether they have
validly received the sacrament of penance and its sanctifying
How can the
sinner attain true sorrow?
The sinner can attain true
sorrow by the grace of God and his own co-operation. That both are
necessary is shown by the prophet Jeremias (jet. 31:18-19), who
prays: Convert me, O Lord, and I shall be converted: for Thou art
the Lord, my God. For after Thou didst convert me, I did penance:
and after Thou didst skew unto me, I struck my thigh (with sorrow).
To which God replies: If thou wilt be converted, I will convert thee
Qer. 15:19). We see, therefore, that the first and most essential
means for producing this sorrow is the grace of God. It must begin
and complete the work of conversion, but it will do this only when
the sinner earnestly and faithfully co-operates. When God in
whatever way has admonished the sinner that he should be converted,
let him ardently implore God for the grace of a true conversion,
invoke the intercession of the Mother of the Savior, his guardian
angel, and like the holy penitents, David, Peter, and Magdalen, let
him meditate upon the truth that God is a just judge, who hates sin,
and will punish it in the eternal torments of hell. Having placed
these truths vividly before his eyes, the sinner will reflect
further whether by his sins he has not himself deserved this
punishment, and if by the enlightenment of God he finds he has, he
will also see the danger in which he stands, that if God should
permit him to die impenitent, he would have to suffer forever in
hell. This fear of eternal punishment urges the sinner to hope in
God's mercy; for He wishes not the death of the wicked, but that the
wicked turn from his way and live; again, our Redeemer says: I came
to call the sinner to repentance, and, there is more joy in heaven
over one sinner who does penance, than over ninety-nine just. He
considers the patience of God towards him, the graces bestowed upon
him during his sinful life; namely his creation, redemption,
sanctification in baptism, and many others. He will now contemplate
the beauty and perfection of God: "Who art Thou, 0 my God," he
cries, "who art Thou who bast loved me with such an unspeakable
love, and lowest me still, ungrateful, abominable sinner, that I am!
What is all the beauty of this world of the angels and of the
blessed spirits compared to Thine! Thou fountain of all beauty, of
all goodness, of all that is amiable, Thou supreme majesty, Thou
infinite abyss of love and merry! I for one vain thought, a short,
momentary pleasure, a small, mean gain, could forget, offend and
despise Thee! Could I sell, could I forfeit heaven, and eternal joy
with Thee! O, could I repair those crimes! Could I but wash them out
with my tears, even with my blood?" Through such meditations the
sinner, by the grace of God, will be easily moved to sorrow. Without
such or similar reflections the formulas of sorrow as read from
prayer books or recited by heart, are by no means acts of
make an act of contrition before confession only?
We should make an act of
contrition before confession, and not only then, but every evening
after the examination of conscience; we should make one immediately
after any fault committed, above all when in danger of death; for we
know not when God will call us to judgment, or whether we shall then
have the grace to receive the sacrament of Penance with proper
III. ON THE
PURPOSE OF AMENDMENT
The purpose of amending our
life is as necessary for the remission of sin, as contrition; for
how could he obtain forgiveness from God, who has not the
determination to sin no more? The will to sin cannot exist with the
hatred of sin.
necessary for a firm purpose?
A firm purpose of amendment
requires: the determination to avoid sin; to flee from all occasions
that might bring the danger of sinning, all persons, places,
societies in which we usually sin; bravely to fight against our evil
inclinations and bad habits; to make use of all means prescribed by
our confessor, or made known to us by God Himself; to repair the
injustice we have done; to restore the good name of our neighbor,
and to remove the scandal and enmity we have caused.
have no true purpose of amendment?
Those who do not truly intend
to leave the frivolous persons with whom they have associated, and
committed sin; to remove the occasions of cursing, swearing,
drunkenness, and secret sins, etc.; who have the intention to borrow
or to contract debts which they know they cannot pay, or do not even
care to pay; to squander the property of their wives and children,
letting them suffer want; to frequent barrooms, or saloons, fight,
gamble, indulge in vile, filthy conversations and detraction, murmur
against spiritual and temporal superiors, throw away precious time,
and bring, even compel others to do the same. The saloon-keepers,
who for the sake of money allure such wretched people, keep them
there, and what is still worse, help to intoxicate them, participate
in their sins.
Confession is a contrite
acknowledgment of our sins to a priest who is duly authorized, in
order to obtain forgiveness. This acknowledgment of our sins is an
important and necessary part of the holy Sacrament of
Even in the Old Law, a
certain kind of confession was prescribed and connected with a
sacrifice, called the sacrifice of Atonement; but the forgiveness of
sins was effected only through faith in the coming Redeemer, towards
whom this sacrifice pointed (Lev. 5:5-6; Num. 5:7; compare Mt. 3:6).
In the new Law, Christ gave to the apostles and their successors,
power to forgive, and to retain sins (Jn. 20:21-23), and in doing so
made them judges. Without confession on the part of the sinner, they
cannot act as judges, and do justice in regard to giving punishment
and remedies (Conc. Trid., Sess. XIV can. 6), and as the sinner is
but seldom able to make an act of perfect contrition, which obtains
the forgiveness of sin without confession, it was necessary that the
most merciful Lord, as the Roman Catechism says (de poen. 5.
36), through the means of confession to the priest, should provide
in an easier manner for the common salvation of man. Confession, at
the same time, is the best means of bringing man to a knowledge of
his sins and of their malice. Therefore, even Adam was obliged to
acknowledge his sins, and in the same way Cain was asked by God
concerning his brother's murder, although God, the Omniscient, knew
the sins of both. The desire to ease the troubled conscience, seems
born in man. Thus David says of his crime: Because I was silent, my
bones grew old, whilst I cried out all the day long (Ps. 31:3); and
in the book of Proverbs it is said; He that hideth his sins, shall
not prosper: but he that shall confess and forsake them, shall
obtain mercy (Prov. 28:13). Constant experience in life verifies
these words, and heretics could not entirely abolish private
confession, though they rejected the Sacrament of
confession a human law, or a human invention?
No, confession was instituted
by Christ Himself; for after His resurrection He appeared to His
apostles and disciples, and said to them: Peace be with you! As the
Father hath sent me, I also send you; that is, the same power to
remit sin which the Father has given me, I give to 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 (Jn.20:21-23;
compare Mt. 18:18). In these words Christ evidently gave to the
apostles and their successors the power to forgive and retain sins.
This they can do only when the sins are confessed to them; and,
therefore, Christ, when instituting the forgiveness of sins,
instituted and connected with it the acknowledgment, that is, the
confession of sins. This regulation of Christ was complied with by
the first Christians in humility of heart, as is proved in the Acts
of the Apostles, where we read: And many (referring to the
Christians at Ephesus) of them that believed, came confessing and
declaring their deeds (Acts 19:18). And the apostle James exhorts
his own: Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one
for another, that you may be saved (Jas. 5:16). The work founded by
Christ must stand, as long as the world, and as the apostles and
disciples of our Lord died, their successors necessarily continued
the work, and received the same power from Christ. This is verified
by the whole history of His Church. In the very beginning of
Christianity, the faithful with great sorrow confessed to the priest
all their transgressions, even the smallest and most secret, after
which, they received absolution. "Let us be sincerely sorry as long
as we live," says St. Clement of Rome, a disciple of St. Paul (Ep.
1. ad Cor.), "for all evil which we have committed in the flesh, for
having once left the world, there will no longer be any confession
and penance for us." Tertullian (217 A.D.) writes of those who hid
their sins, being ashamed to confess them: "Can we also hide from
the knowledge of God that which we conceal from a fellow creature"
(Lib. de qcen. 5. 36). Origen ('1254), after speaking
of baptism, says: "There is still a severer and more tedious way of
obtaining remission of sin: when the sinner moistens his pillow with
tears, and is not ashamed to confess his sins to the priest of the
Lord" (Hom. 3 in Lev.). St. Cyprian ('1258) writes of
those Christians who during the persecutions of his time, had not
sinned by openly denying the faith: "Yet because they had but
thought of doing so, they make a sorrowful and simple confession to
God's priests" (Sib. de laps.). Basil (f 379) writes: "Necessarily
the sins must be made plain to those to whom the power of the
mysteries is confided, that is, to the priests" (In reg. brew
288). Many more testimonies could be brought from the earliest
centuries of Christianity, which make it clear, that Christ Himself
instituted confession, and that the faithful always availed
themselves of it as a means of remission of sin. It would not have
been possible for a human being, though he were the mightiest
prince, to have imposed upon Catholic Christianity so hard an
obligation as confession, without the special command of Christ the
Son of God; nor could any one have invented it without the faithful
at once revolting. It is also well known that, in the Oriental
Churches which separated from the true Church in the earliest ages,
private confession to a priest is yet valued as a divine
institution. The Catholic institution of confession, with which, in
the earliest centuries, there was even connected a public
confession, before the whole congregation, for notorious sinners, is
as old as the Church itself, as Pope Leo the Great (f 461) proves
(Ep. 136); "The secret, auricular confession was introduced into the
Church as early as the times of the apostles, or their immediate
successors." It was instituted by Christ, the God-Man, and
instituted for the purpose of enabling the apostles and the priests,
their successors, to remit in the confessional the sins committed
after baptism, if the sinner heartily regrets them, sincerely
confesses, and renders satisfaction for them, or to retain them if
he be unworthy of absolution. From this it is seen that the enemies
of the Catholic Church oppose, in rejecting confession, the plain
expression of the holy Scriptures, and of entire Christian
antiquity, and that it is a detestable calumny to assert that
confession is simply a human invention. The divine institution of
confession always was and is a fountain of sweetest consolation for
sinful man, and thousands have experienced that which is said by the
Council of Trent (Sess. XIV can. 3, depart.): "The effect of
this Sacrament is reconciliation with God, followed by peace,
cheerfulness and consolation of the heart in those who worthily
receive this Sacrament."
aid us to make confession easy?
The consideration of the
manifold benefits arising from it; first, forgiveness of all, even
the most grievous sins, remission of the guilt and eternal
punishment; secondly, the certainty of having again been made a
child of God; thirdly, the sweet consolation and desired peace of
conscience; fourthly, the necessary remedies which a pious and
prudent confessor will prescribe for the cure of the diseases of the
soul; finally, the prayer and exhortation of the priest which will
also add to the complete conversion of the sinner.
be done to participate in these benefits?
Besides that which has
already been said of the examination of conscience, and especially
of sorrow for sin, the confession must be sincere and open-hearted;
that is, a correct and exact confession not only of all mortal sins,
their kind, circumstances and number, without excuses, or veiling or
lessening them, but also a faithful revelation of all other
spiritual affairs, fears, doubts, and other wounds of the soul; for
a wound which is not shown to the physician, cannot be healed. We
should not seek those confessors who are only "mute dogs" (Is.
56:10), and give absolution without hesitation, but we should trust
the direction of our souls to learned, pious, and zealous priests,
and remain under their guidance, as in physical sickness we remain
under the care of an experienced physician, and accept their words
as if Christ Himself had spoken.
the false shame which prevents confession be
It should be remembered that
the priest in the confessional is the representative of Christ, and
that whoever lies to the confessor, seeks to deceive God Himself,
who abominates a lie, and at the Last Day will publicly put such a
liar to shame. The confessor takes the place of Christ, and after
His example must be merciful to the sinner, if, a sinful man
himself, he hopes to receive merry and grace from God. At the same
time, no confessor is allowed to reveal the slightest thing heard in
confession, even should it cost him his life. It may be considered
further that he who conceals a sin in confession, and thus obtains
absolution by false pretences, receives no remission, but, on the
contrary, commits a new sin, "When man uncovers his sins, God covers
them; when man conceals his sins, God reveals them," says St.
Augustine. Man can be deceived, but not God, the Omniscient; and who
is ashamed to show his wounds to the physician? Why should it be a
cause of shame to throw out the poison of sin by a sincere
confession? To sin only is shameful, to confess sin is not shameful.
But if by all these reflections we are still unable to overcome
ourselves so as to confess our sins to a certain confessor we may
seek another in whom we have confidence.
SATISFACTION AFTER CONFESSION
Satisfaction is the diligent
performance of all the works of penance imposed upon us by the
confessor. With this, however, a true penitent will not be
satisfied; for in our times, on account of the weakness and little
zeal of Christians, a light penance is imposed that they may not be
deterred from the reception of the holy Sacraments. To avoid
relapsing into sin, one must do penance, and bring forth worthy
fruits (Lk. 13:3), for God will only then give the grace to
persevere. We satisfy God by fasting, prayer, almsdeeds, avoidance
of the snares of the world, diffidence in ourselves, and especially
by patient endurance of the afflictions and sufferings which He
imposes upon us. Those who have committed sin must do penance in
this life or submit to everlasting penance in the next.
Is the heretic right in
asserting that man does not need to render satisfaction since Christ
has rendered it complete on the cross?
He is entirely wrong. Christ
on the cross did indeed render satisfaction for all the sins of the
whole world, and man is not capable to atone for one single sin but
it does not follow from this that man is not required to do
something. To render satisfaction means to perform a duty which has
been neglected. Instead of obeying God, the sinner by his sins
disobeys Him. Satisfaction for disobedience requires perfect
obedience from the sinner: but this, because of his weakness and
corruption, no man is able to render therefore Christ rendered it
for us by His perfect obedience even unto the death of the cross.
But because Christ has been thus obedient for us, must we not be
somewhat obedient also? or which is the same, because Christ for
love of us has atoned for our sins by perfect obedience to His
Heavenly Father, are we to do no penance for ourselves? It is
precisely by this atonement made by Christ that we receive the power
of rendering satisfaction. But for this we must, first of all, ask
the grace, i.e., pray, to restrain our earthly desires,
i.e., fast, and by means of active love (charity) make
ourselves susceptible to this grace. St. Paul the Apostle, who calls
himself the greatest of sinners, writes of himself: I now rejoice in
my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of
the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh for his body, which is the
Church (Col. 1:24); and to the Corinthians he writes: But I
chastise my body and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps: when I
have preached to others (meaning penance and conversion), I myself
should become cast away (I Cor. 9:27). Christ Himself did not
censure the Ninivites for their fasting and their penance in
sackcloth and ashes, but gave them as an example (Mt. 12:41).
In the Old Testament we find that even after remitting the sin,
God imposed a punishment for it. Thus He let the child of king David
die, as punishment for his adultery, even though He had forgiven the
sin (II Kings 12:13, 14); thus Moses and Aaron, because they
once distrusted God, were not permitted to enter the Promised Land
(Num. 20:24; Deut. 34:4). According to this doctrine
of the Bible, the Catholic Church teaches that there remains a
temporal punishment which the sinner must expiate either in this
world, or in the next, though on account of the infinite merits of
Christ the guilt and eternal punishment of sin are taken away by
absolution. In the earliest times of the Church certain works of
penance were imposed, which were then very severe, and in the course
of time, owing to the indolence of the faithful, were much