How Does Forgiveness Work in the Catholic Church
Three Aspects of Catholicism With a Role in Forgiveness
"I am sorry!"
"Please forgive me."
Forgiveness in the Catholic Church is complicated and yet, simple.
Two Types Of Sin: Venial and Mortal
To understand how the Church handles forgiveness, you must first understand how the Church defines sin.
Catholic Essentials defines sin as:
Venial sin: An offense against the law of God less grievous than mortal sin, not depriving the soul of sanctifying grace. “
Mortal sin: A mortal sin is a transgression of the moral law in a serious matter, committed with clear advertence to the grievous nature of the act and with full deliberation and consent on the part of the will.
Venial sins can be forgiven during prayer, mass and communion.
Mortal sins require confession.
Praying As A Family
I was born, raised and educated in the Catholic Church. Growing up, the television was turned off; we knelt as a family and said our bedtime prayers. We started with the sign of the cross and went straight into the Act of Contrition.
Act of Contrition
O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because of your just punishment, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.
We learned a less formal version in grade school, but I could recite the formal version by heart as early as I can remember. It was in school that I finally understood what I was saying.
After the Act of Contrition, we continued with the Angel of God and then blessed my entire family by name.
I asked for forgiveness every night before I went to bed.
Forgiveness in Prayer
Besides The Act of Contrition, you can ask for forgiveness within your own prayers. There are four components to a good prayer: Adoration or Love, Thanksgiving, Contrition, Petition. In home and at school, I learned how to pray. I praised God first. I thanked him next. I said that I was sorry. Then I asked for something if I needed it.
Contrition or saying you are sorry has always been a key component of my daily prayers.
Communion Provides Forgiveness
Forgiveness During Mass
Before mass begins, Catholics kneels and pray. Prayers of contrition are common during this time.
We begin mass with the Entrance Procession, the Greeting Rite and then the Penitential Rite. During the Penitential Rite, the congregation asks for God's forgiveness.
After the consecration or when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, we receive Communion. Communion can only be received by those without mortal sin. In addition to nourishing your body, communion absolves venial sins.
Following Communion is another silence or prayer time. This is another opportunity to say your own prayers, including any or all of the four components of prayer.
Going to mass is more than gathering as a community to worship. it is another opportunity for forgiveness.
Forgiveness In The Sacaments
There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. Four have relationships with forgiveness. Only the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance can absolve mortal sins.
Sacraments and Forgiveness
Age of Receipt
Role In Forgiveness
How Many Times Sacrament Can Be Received
Infant or older
Catholics believe that Baptism washes away original sin brought to the Earth by Adam and Eve. This is our first forgiveness from God.
Approximately age 8 or older
Forgiveness is granted via absolution by a priest. Sins are confessed and forgiven. Penance and extra prayers are assigned. Both Mortal and Venial sins are forgiven.
More than once
Approximately age 8 or older
You must be free from mortal sins to receive communion. Communion will absolve venial sins.
More than once, often weekly
Annointing of the Sick/Last Rites
At at time deemed necessary in life
If Penance was unable to be received prior to Annointing of the Sick, this sacrament will absolve sins.
More than once
The Holy Spirit
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Critcism Regarding Forgiveness in The Catholic Church
Forgiveness can be granted during a direct relationship and conversation with God. The priest's role in forgiveness has been questioned. Only God can forgive sins. At the end of a confession, the priest states, "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?" How can a priest forgive sins?
Catholics agree that only God can forgive sins. Catholics believe that Jesus is God and has the power to forgive. Jesus was once human and a high priest on Earth. He gave his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit. Catholic.com clarifies the statement, " 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you'... Jesus is giving his apostles the same authority that he received from his Father." He has granted this followers the ability to forgive sins on his behalf.
Catholic.com further explains, "A priest’s authority to convey forgiveness does not come from himself. It comes from Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the priest stands in the place of Christ to declare the sinner forgiven. That is why the formula of absolution uses the pronoun I. The I is Christ speaking through the human priest."
Books About Forgiveness in the Catholic Church
Personal Views On Forgiveness
I ask for forgiveness during my personal prayers. I attend mass weekly and participate in the Penitential Rite. I receive Communion once a week to absolve venial sins. Reconciliation involves telling a priest your sins and asking for forgiveness.
Despite the controversy surrounding this topic, there is a deeper sense of peace and calm after receiving Reconciliation. The ability to admit our faults aloud is more powerful than one might expect. After my first Reconciliation, I recall feeling physically lighter. My slate was clean.
There are many options available for forgiveness in the Catholic Church. This may appear complicated. However, the simplicity lies in admitting fault and saying you are sorry.
"I am sorry and please forgive me" are powerful and simple words.
© 2012 Karen Lackey