Quick Apology: Why confess to a priest?

Objection

Today’s “Quick Apology” concerns a very common objection heard by Catholics from Protestants…

“Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest? He’s just a man. Why not confess your sins to God directly?”

Response

Obviously, a question like this truly deserves thorough theological treatment. However, since these are quick apologies, these are the points I typically try to make:

1.  Nowhere in the Bible is confession to God through a priest explicitly forbidden. In fact, Scripture explicitly encouraged to confess to other humans (James 5:16).

2. In the Old Covenant, God set up a priesthood for the forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 5).

3. Following this pattern, in the New Covenant Jesus grants His apostles the particular grace and authority to forgive sin:

“He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whoever’s sins you forgive they are forgiven, whoever’s sins you retain, they  are retained'” – John 20:20-23

Why grant this power unless it is to be used? Through exercising this gift, Church leaders are entrusted with a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18) and to act “in persona Christi” (2 Corinthians 2:10).

However, in addition to these points, when answering the above objection, I try to include a little testimony about the healing I’ve received through the Sacrament Confession. I’ve often found this more effective and lead to more productive conversations than simply giving above the arguments.

confession

3 comments

  • There was a time when I would mock the need to confess one’s sin to another human being, especially a priest. Why bother, when you can go to God directly?

    But I don’t do that anymore.

    There is a power in confessing ones sin to another human being. James instructed the church to confess our sins to each other. Proverbs tells us that the one who confesses and renounces his sins finds mercy.

    Of course we do confess our sins to God, but when we know we must involve another person in the process, the shame or guilt that those sins might cause us can have a restraining effect. In other words, maybe we will just say no?

    Confessing them out loud to another person also makes them more real and serious. There is also a sense of accountability: Will I need to confess the same sin to this same person again or will I live what I believe?

    Both the Western and Eastern churches embrace this practice, and I think it is a good thing!

    • Oooh, I had to look up that Proverbs reference. I assume you meant this one?

      Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. – Proverbs 28:13

    • Really great points there, Jim. There’s something that makes confessing your sins to a minister of Christ very…real…real and humbling in a very special way.

      If you haven’t seen it, I’d invite you to read the entry where I posted the prayer which Eastern priests pray as you come up to confess. Absolutely beautiful!

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