Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why Must We Confess to a Priest?

Often we (Catholics) get asked about why we believe we must confess our sins to a priest instead of a general confession, as many/most Protestants use.  The fact of the matter is the general or public confession is something Protestantism has gotten from us!  The Confiteor is part of the Latin Rite of the Mass as well as the Eastern Rite liturgies and dates back to at least the tenth or eleventh century - hundreds of years prior to Protestantism even being heard of.  So, for one who is following along you can see - this Confiteor was added to the Mass likely about 1000 years after Jesus Christ and the Apostles celebrated the First Mass on Holy Thursday of the first Holy Week.

So, we know that the common or general confession is an addition to the Christian liturgy - but an addition which much of Protestantism has retained, but how about personal or private confession, where did that begin and upon what authority?  Let us begin with the authority issue.  

Jesus Christ Himself passes on the authority to the Apostles, our first bishops, in John 20:23!  Let us look at both a Catholic and Protestant translation of this verse:
First the Catholic, Douay-Rheims:  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. 
Second the Protestant, NIV:  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Jesus was speaking specifically to His Apostles, again, our first bishops here.  What is notable is the context as well for Jesus doesn't merely give THEM this authority - but in verse 21 Jesus PASSES ON this authority which is His, God's authority to forgive sins!  In verse 21 He says, "As the Father has sent Me, so also I send you."  Part of Jesus' being sent was to send others with His authority - thus if the Apostles were to follow His lead - then they too must PASS ON that authority which was given to them.

So, these men - and their successors have the authority to forgive sins - and nowhere else in Scripture are we shown anyone else being granted this authority - thus if we, today, do not see one of these who are in direct and valid succession to the Apostles, or one whom one of these successors have authorized to hear the confession of others and grant absolution - then are we really getting our sins forgiven?  Keep in mind, Scripture itself states that sins THESE MEN do not forgive are NOT FORGIVEN.  I reiterate the point - those men were also sent, just as the Father sent Jesus - thus they too had to send others with this authority too.  Any church outside the valid apostolic succession from the Apostles does not have this authority, period. 

As we have established, the authority to forgive sins is from Christ, to the Apostles and their successors - thus it is up to valid bishops to forgive or retain sins - or to empower others, priests within their jurisdiction, to fulfill this office.

So, back to the original question - why do we go to a priest for confession?  Because that is the means Jesus Christ Himself provided for His Church.


PS- If you have any questions regarding this article, please leave a comment.


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