We have all heard the usual arguments for confession to a priest. And they are great for showing that Scripture contains plenty of support for it. However, these arguments do not typically give us an illustration of the logic behind confession. So, this article will lay out a clear, easy-to-remember image for understanding the importance of this sacrament.
Typical Arguments for Confession to a priest
Before providing the illustration, I will give a short recap of typical arguments.
- The Catholic Church instructs us to do it. Jesus gave His Church the power to loose and bind rules and pre-ratified the Church’s teachings per Matthew 16:19, 18:18; RSVCE. Using this power, the Church binds the faithful to the sacrament of confession.
- Jesus gave His Church the authority to forgive and retain sins (Matthew 18:17, John 20:23) and never restricted it to one form.
- Jesus gave us the sacrament of baptism for the remission of past sins and Original Sin (John 3:3-7). If the Church administers baptism, it must also administer confession for sins committed after baptism.
- Early church members knew they needed to confess their sins to ordained ministers of the Church (James 5:14-16, Acts 19:11-18).
Again, these arguments are great. In fact, Protestant apologists have tried to refute them for 500 years, but they have never had the authority nor the biblical support to pull it off. They are merely members of a collection of ecclesial bodies, known as Protestantism. Protestantism’s nature is protesting the Catholic Church and rendering countless contradictory interpretations of Scripture.
I digress, albeit for a good reason. Protestant bodies erroneously dismiss the Catholic Church’s teaching on confession (and other doctrines) as unnecessary and unscriptural, but they have no proof to support their claims.
Although the above Bible verses clearly refute their claims, I want to further explain why their assertions fail and why the Catholic Church’s teaching is perfect for our fallen nature. I will use St. Paul’s description of the Church as Christ’s body to explain my point.
St. Paul and the Body
In Romans 12:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, and Ephesians 4:1-5, Paul writes that the Church is Christ’s body, which consists of many members with different gifts. These members are also “members of one another.” He goes on to analogously describe these members as hands, feet, ears, eyes, etc. Yet, they make up one body under one head, Jesus.
Jesus founded the Church (His body) in this manner to preserve its unity in truth under Him. In fact, Jesus so completely unifies the body under Himself that if “one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26).
Consequently, if one member sins, the member sins against Christ and His Church, thereby severing him/herself from the Church, while leaving the body intact. The severing of a part hurts the whole body, but it does not divide the living members.
Further, the Book of Acts records Paul’s persecution of the Church, but Jesus does not ask him why he did this. Rather, Jesus asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” This question reveals the intimate communion between Christ and His Church and the familial connection among all those parts that make up her body.
A Different Angle
Using Paul’s analogy of the body, if something severs a hand from an arm and, therefore, the head, it must return to the head via reattachment to the arm. No one reattaches a hand directly to a head but, rather, to its proper place on the body. Only then can the hand function as designed. Only then is it good.
Likewise, when a member severs himself from Christ, he severs himself from the Church. Someone needs to reattach the severed member to the Church (Christ’s body) and, therefore, to Christ (the Head). Jesus clearly gave this responsibility to His Church so that the Church, ever connected to the head, could reunite lost members to itself and the Head.
Since the Church Jesus founded is eternally connected to its Head, continuously receiving grace from the Holy Spirit (the Neck, if you will), Jesus gives it the grace to reconcile lost members. This function belongs to the body because the body is in the world carrying out Jesus’ works per His command (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 10:16).
When we sin, we sever ourselves from the body and no longer function as we should because we choose to reject grace. Having sinned against the body and the Head, we must return to the Head through the body, which always has grace flowing through it.
When the body reconciles us to itself, it calls us to function within the body as we ought because we have the grace to do so. All of this means that our relationship with Christ is dependent on our relationship and reconciliation with the true Church, the Catholic Church.
So, if you want to become a member of the Catholic Church, repent and get baptized. If you have left the Church by committing sin, return to her and her Head via contrition and confession to a priest. Except in emergency situations laid out in the Code of Canon Law 960-964, Jesus will not readmit you to His body and His kingdom unless you do so (see Matthew 18:17).