The Penitential Season of Lent
From early centuries, though the duration of Lent varied, the season has been a time of penance. Many children make their first reconciliation at this time. According to the Code of Canon Law (989), “After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.” And so, adults and children who have already made their first confession often participate in the sacrament of Penance during the season of Lent.
What is the Sacrament of Penance?
Penance, also called confession or reconciliation, is not merely a ceremony or function, but a sacrament, as it is an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace to the soul. The form of the sacrament has not changed in many centuries; though in the past confessions were often made publicly. As an outward sign, the sacrament involves a person presenting him or herself in a penitent manner to the priest and confessing his or her sins, and the priest pronouncing absolution and imposing satisfaction. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the actions as a judicial process, wherein “the penitent is at once the accuser, the person accused, and the witness, while the priest pronounces judgment and sentence.”
Requirements for Validity:
There are two central requirements for one to be absolved:
1. One must be truly sorry for each of the sins he or she committed.
2. He or she must have a firm intention not to commit them again.
Other Clarifications About the Sacrament of Penance:
Penance is not a mere human invention devised by the Church; it is the ordinary means appointed by Christ for the remission of sin.
No priest simply as an individual man has power to forgive sins. This power belongs to God alone; but He can and does exercise it through the ministration of men.
The mere “telling of one's sins” does not suffice to obtain their forgiveness. Without sincere sorrow and purpose of amendment, confession avails nothing, the pronouncement of absolution is of no effect, and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before.
This sacrament as a dispensation of Divine mercy facilitates the pardoning of sin; it by no means renders sin less hateful or its consequences less dreadful to the Christian mind.
Christ, though merciful, is also just and exacting. Furthermore, however painful or humiliating confession may be, it is but a light penalty for the violation of God's law. Finally, those who are in earnest about their salvation count no hardship too great whereby they can win back God's friendship.