(From the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week [Sunday]," Jesus showed himself to his apostles. "He breathed on them, and said to them: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:19, 22-23). The forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism is conferred by a particular sacrament called the sacrament of penance, reconcilation, or as it is most widely known, Confession. The sinner wounds God's honour and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a holy member. To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world.
Repentance, also called contrition, does not mean that we must pretend that we did not find some enjoyment or satisfaction in our previous sins, but we must intellectually acknowledge them as wrong and the satisfactions received as illicit. This must be inspired from faith. If repentance comes from love of God simply for who He is, our almighty, merciful and glorious Creator and Redeemer, then it is known as 'perfect' contrition. If it is founded on other motives, such as, for example, fear of punishment (earthly of eternal) or out of the harm caused to oneself, then the contrition is called 'imperfect'. Imperfect contrition is sufficient to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, which bestows forgiveness from God where perfect contrition is absent. Even when we are perfectly contrite, we must nontheless use the sacrament of Confession if we are aware of mortal sin.
One who desires to be reconciled with God and with the Church must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of minor faults, without being strictly necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended. Minor faults do not 'add up' to a mortal sin, but rather they act as trends and tendencies which left unchecked can lead to mortal sin over time. It is thus useful to confess such faults in the confessional, as part of the Christian journey in holiness, love of neighbour and above all love of God the Trinity. Only priests who have received the faculty, that is the official role, of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ.
The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Confession are:
Individual and sincere confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church. Through indulgences the faithful can obtain the remission of temporal punishment resulting from sin for themselves and also for the souls in Purgatory. There is truly nothing to fear from Confession, it is one of Christ's gifts to his Church, truly we should desire to run to Confession every week that we might recive abundantly of its benefits. Many saints throughout Church history, even recent Popes such as Blessed John Paul II, have frequented the sacrament of Confession daily. We are bound only to receive the sacrament of Confession once a year, though this is obviously the bare minimum needed to meet the precepts of the Church. Frequent confession, at least monthly, is a recommended norm for most laymen.
Sacrament of Confession
In the past it was known as the ‘Sacrament of Penance’. It is the sacrament by which, through the ministry of the Church, we are reconciled to God even when we have sinned gravely. Since the Council of Trent the Church has encouraged the faithful to use this sacrament regularly, always confessing serious sin ('mortal' sin) and even less serious sins ('venial' sins) where possible. The normal rite of confession involves a one to one encounter with the priest with individual confession and absolution, either face-to-face or anonymously in a confessional, whichever is preferred by the penitent. Confessions are held every Saturday in St Vincent's and St Mary's after evening Masses. During traditionally penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, please check the bulletin for additional times. Some basic advice for confession. Hold nothing back. Confess it all, the type of sins committed and their number. Don’t be afraid. Confession is about forgiveness, mercy and divine love, we should be eager to go every time!
In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, a father accepted his son back
into the family with joy and thanksgiving despite having seriously sinned and
behaved immorally. Jesus warned us that we should forgive those who
trespass against us, or we would find no forgiveness from the God the Father
on the Day of Judgement. Truly, God's mercy is limitless if only we repent and
remain faithful. When we stumble seriously, confession is a necessary remedy.
"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven". - Matthew 16:19, also Matthew 18:18.
'Binding' and 'loosing' were rabbinical terms that had to do with authority to punish or pardon. After the death of Judas, a new replacement was ordained by the remaining apostles (Acts 1:25-26) showing that this power to punish or forgive in the name of Christ was continued beyond the original apostles.
"Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." - 1 Corinthians 5:1-5
"For such a one this punishment by the majority is enough; so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ..." 2 Corinthians 2:6-11
We see the Apostle Paul literally exercising these prerogatives with the Corinthians. He “binds” in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (what Catholics would call “imposing a penance”) and “looses” in 2 Corinthians 2:6-11. Paul forgives another man for a transgression that wasn’t personally committed against him, and instructs the Corinthians to do the same (the sin wasn’t committed against all of them, either). So both he and the Corinthians as a whole were acting as “God’s representatives” in the matter of forgiving sins.