Have you ever heard someone say: “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest? Isn’t he just a man? Why can’t I just go to God directly to ask for forgiveness of my sins?” It might be something you yourself have wondered about. Yes, we are to go to God personally to ask for forgiveness, but Jesus set up a way that sins, especially mortal sins, to be brought to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. How, why, and where did the Catholic Church come up with this sacrament anyway?
First of all, it is interesting to note that the Jews had exactly the same complaint of Jesus. We see in (Matthew, ch 9:2-6) that Jesus had a man that was brought to him who was a paralytic. Jesus then proceeded to forgave his sins. And at that point, the people around him asked how can He, being a man, forgive sins. And Jesus replied; “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home (verses 6-7).” Notice that he is not saying that it is “only because I am God” that his sins are forgiven. No, but it is through the instrumentality of Jesus’ humanity. It is St. Paul who tells us; “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human…(1 Tim. v. 5).”
God has always used the instrumentality of men to communicate the forgiveness of sins. There are many examples of this, but one of them is found in Leviticus (9:20-22). In this example, they bring a guilt offering to the Lord and it is the priest, who is a man, that forgives on behave of God; “And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him (Lev 9:22).” Now wait a second, how can a priest, which is just a man, be an instrument of the forgiveness of sins? Well, it is because God has always chosen to forgive sins through the instrumentality of men. That is why he established a priesthood covenant in the Old Testament. “…A special rite consecrated the beginnings of the priesthood of the Old Covenant. The priests are “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1539).”
It is Jesus who established a new priesthood covenant through the sacrament of “Holy Orders”: “In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis:23
It is the same priest, Christ Jesus, whose sacred person his minister truly represents. Now the minister, by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself (virtute ac persona ipsius Christi).24
Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ (CCC #1548).”
It has to be noted that it is not the priest in his own power that forgives sins, but it is God forgiving through him. So, just as God in the Old Testament established a priesthood, so too that in the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the God Man, establishes His priesthood. In fact, you will find in the Gospel of John; “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (vs. 21-23).” It is here that Jesus gave His power to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of His Church, to forgive or retain sins. And since the priest can not read our minds, we must actually verbalize our sins to him, in order for him to see if we are truly repentant and sorrowful. It is then that he can forgive our sins and give us absolution. It is because Jesus knows that we need to hear those words that he told to the paralytic in the Gospel of Matthew; “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven (ch. 9:2).”
Until next time, God bless.