The Sacrament of Confession (or Reconciliation) is a widely misunderstood part of the Catholic faith – which is unfortunate, because it’s also one of the most important!
Here are 5 of the most common myths:
Myth 1: Confession shows Catholics don’t really believe Christ’s sacrifice was enough
Truth: This objection usually comes from Protestants who wonder why a person needs any more forgiveness if they’ve already put their faith in Christ. Thus, they see Confession as something separate from and additional to the grace of Jesus.
There are two problems with this objection.
First, the power of Confession depends entirely on the sacrifice of Christ. Christ earned infinite grace on the cross, and the Sacrament of Confession is one important way that grace is applied to an individual. In other words, Confession isn’t a source of grace separate from Christ, it’s an instrument for its application.
Second, this objection usually comes from a misunderstanding of the Christian life. Some Protestants think that after a person’s initial conversion, there is no more additional cooperation and growth in grace needed for salvation. The Catholic Church, on the other hand (following the Bible), teaches that the Christian life is one of continual conversion and growth in holiness by the grace of Christ.
Myth 2: Confession was invented by the Catholic Church and is not in the Bible
Truth: This might surprise some people, but the core of the Sacrament of Confession is explicitly established by Christ himself in Scripture.
In the Gospel of John, after he has risen from the dead, Jesus appears to his disciples and this happens:
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.‘” (John 20.21-23)
Right there, Jesus explicitly gives his Apostles the power to give and withhold forgiveness of sins, which is the basis for the Sacrament of Confession. And the Church practiced this from the beginning. To be sure, the precise way this has looked in practice has varied quite a bit over time, but the core is right there in the Bible (cf. CCC 1447).
Myth 3: Confession is optional
Truth: Confession is definitely not optional for Catholics. It is, in fact, required in two ways.
First, according to the precepts of the Church, all Catholics are required to go to Confession at least once each year.
Second, the Sacrament of Confession (or the desire thereof with perfect contrition), is necessary for salvation for baptized individuals in a state of mortal sin (cf. Council of Trent.)
So the Sacrament of Confession isn’t just a nice, optional form of Catholic counseling if you want it. Rather, it is an essential part of being a practicing Catholic and attaining final salvation.
Myth 4: Confession is only for “really bad people”
Truth: The previous answer to Myth 3 helps to correct this myth. If you are Catholic, you are required to go to Confession once a year anyway.
But most importantly, we are all sinners. As Scripture says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him [Jesus] a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1.10) So if you don’t think you need the grace of Christ’s forgiveness, you may need to take a closer look at your spiritual life.
Myth 5: Confession is scary
Truth: If someone has never gone to Confession, or hasn’t gone in a long time, they might expect that the priest will be shocked by their sins and react in a cruel or harsh way.
The experience of the vast majority of Catholics today attests that the opposite is the case. If anything, most priests are too easy. Priests have heard everything before (sin is common and boring), and they usually respond with some counsel and encouragement and then assign a very light penance (often simply saying a few prayers). Exceptions to this nowadays are rare.
So if you are a baptized Catholic, and haven’t gone to Confession for a while, you should go!