Jazz following her First Reconciliation Celebration, Nov 2011
The readings for the service included 1 John 1:5 - 1 John 2:2 and I was happy to proclaim these words to the congregation.
"...If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness...if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins..."
The Gospel reading was Matthew 1:20-24 - The angel's appearance to Joseph assuring him that Mary was bearing the son of God. Our pastor explained the choice of Gospel reading by reminding us that, just as we prepare our homes, our trees, our gifts, our foods for Christmas, so to should we prepare our hearts for His presence. With Reconciliation, we have that opportunity.
The children are so beautiful to watch. They walk slowly and with some trepidation toward the priest. After a few minutes, you see their faces just burst with light. They run back to their loving parents with smiles of joy and excitement. Much like the Prodigal Son, one of the many parables we use when teaching about the Sacrament.
For my friends not familiar with this Sacrament, I offer the following excerpt from the well-written Guide to the Sacrament of Penance:
The Church professes belief in "the forgiveness of sins" and is fully aware that only God forgives sins. It also believes that Jesus, through his death, washed away all sin and, after his resurrection, gave to his Church the power and authority to apply to us the redemption he won on the cross, namely God's forgiveness of our sins.
As the Catechism points out, our faith in the forgiveness of sins is tied to faith in the Holy Spirit and the Church: "It was when he gave the Holy Spirit to his apostles that the risen Christ conferred on them his own divine power to forgive sins: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (976; cf. John 20:22-23).
We bring our failings to the Church, then, because Jesus imparted to his apostles, their successors, and through them to all ordained priests, his own power to forgive sins, to restore and reconcile the sinner with God and also the Church. This power to forgive sins is often referred to as the "power of the keys", the power entrusted to the Church when Jesus told St. Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt 16:19). This power is manifested and operative in the sacrament of Penance.
It's important to note that the Church uses the various terms of Confession, Penance and Reconciliation somewhat interchangeably to refer to the Sacrament. All are correct to different degrees because all aspects are included in the celebration. And while most would not consider sitting with a priest to audibly name your sins a celebration, it is most certainly a joyous occasion. I often laugh, in fact, that celebrating this Sacrament with our wonderful Fr. Peter is like a spa appointment - calming, uplifting, refreshing and healthy. Throw in a good dash of holy, and you're ready to face the world and whatever it sends your way.