Why do we have to go to confession to a priest?



This is a very big question for a lot of people, wondering why we would only have access to God’s forgiveness through a priest.  A lot of people don’t like the idea of going to a priest with all of their sins, because they are afraid the priest will judge them, and so forth.

Why can’t we just get forgiveness directly from God?  Shouldn’t that be good enough?

Well, you might be surprised to find out that, according to the Church, you can, as a matter of fact.  Making a PERFECT ACT OF CONTRITION before God gains us forgiveness.

What’s a perfect act of contrition?  That’s an act of sorrow for our sins, that we make, not because we’re afraid of getting in trouble, but because we have offended God and others. 

But here’s the thing about perfect acts of contrition – they aren’t so easy to make.  Most of the time our guilt is rooted in fear of the consequences, and our desire to avoid them.  A perfect act of contrition involves a willingness to accept those consequences.  You’ve got to be a pretty holy person to be able to make a perfect act of contrition.

But the point is – God will forgive us – God DOES forgive us – when we go to him and ask him for mercy.  So why do we need the mediator?

Well the true answer is another question: how do we KNOW that God forgives us? 

See, the problem is that God, as you’ve probably noticed, is invisible, and tends to communicate with us in somewhat unconventional ways too.

So, the priest’s role is to communicate that God forgives us – in a way that we can HEAR, with our EARS, so that we can believe it. 

And then hearing it, knowing that we are forgiven, we can start over again, completely cleansed and fresh and innocent and perfect.  Sounds good to me.

We believe that Jesus himself gave that power, to forgive sins, to his Apostles, and through them through the centuries, to his priests.

The other thing about going to confession to a priest is that the priest represents the community that we have injured by our sins.  So having the guts to go to a priest shows our willingness to make amends to that community. 

Its easy to just look up at God and say, “yea, sorry about that God.”  Are we REALLY sorry?  Sometimes we need to show our true sorrow by being able to stand up and face the music – and actually face OURSELVES, and the darkness that lives inside of us.  We show our accountability by going to someone for mercy.

We can’t just go to anyone – some people might not be trustworthy, may abuse us, may judge us – so we go to the one who forgave tax collectors and prostitutes - we go to Jesus – represented by the priest.

How often are we supposed to go?  Well the church recommends once a year at least, but we’re only REQUIRED to go if we’re in a state of mortal sin – that’s a grievous sin deliberately committed as an act of rebellion against God.