The Holy Sacrament of Confession (or Penance)
The primary preparation for Holy Communion is the Sacrament of Confession. Although prayer, almsgiving and fasting are also necessary in our preparation for Holy Communion, they are not a substitute for Confession. Confession is the most important way in which we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion.
Every time we commit a sinful act or thought, we stain our soul and render it unable to communicate with God. Just as it is impossible for a stained mirror to reflect the light of the Sun so also it is impossible for a soul stained by sin to shine with the light of God. When we sin, we excommunicate ourselves from the body of Christ, the people of God, the Church, and we separate ourselves from God Himself. We, therefore, loose the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
There is only one way to reinstate ourselves back to communion with the rest of the faithful and unite with the Body and Blood of Christ: Through Repentance (metanoia), which is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of life, a return to God. That intention for change is made manifest by our participation in the Sacrament of Confession in front of the Spiritual Father Confessor. God, who sees our humility and tears, washes away our many sins and grants us forgiveness.
Usually people in their every-day life try very hard to hide their imperfections and display their often non-existent merits. Furthermore, if anyone tries to accuse them of their imperfections he or she becomes their most bitter enemy. It is this pride, coupled with the shame for their sinful life, which prevents people from coming to Confession. And it is their conquering of this shame and pride which also conquers the mercy of God and His love for them. The sinner who confesses and repents manages to crucify himself spiritually, and purifies himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. He or she is born again in the baptism of tears.
Can one repent of his/her sins in the privacy of their own house? Yes, indeed! But this is only the first step in the process of repentance. They still have to come back to the Body of Christ, the community of the Christians and restore their broken communion with them. They still have to come to the Church to receive the help they need for the washing of their soul.
In the ancient times the penitents (as they were called), used to kneel at the entrance of the church asking for forgiveness from the other Christians as they entered or went out. Today, the priest becomes the representative of the Christian community and the human witness to the act of penance of the sinner, but also the instrument of God; through his prayer, the forgiveness of God and the Grace of the Holy Spirit is granted to the penitent once more.
The priest (father confessor), also acts as the physician of the soul to give spiritual advise for the healing of the person from his/her spiritual ailments. Sometimes even, like the surgeon, he applies the spiritual scalpel to remove the gangrened parts and with the authority of his faith and prayer cauterizes the afflicted members in order to heal them.
Beloved brothers and sisters,
No one can come forward to be baptized or chrismated unless they first go through the sacrament of Confession. Similarly, no one can come forward for Holy Communion unless they first wash themselves in their tears and purify themselves by the sacrament of Confession, most especially those who have not gone to Confession for a long time.
In this Holy Sacrament lies the opportunity to restore your conscience with God and purify your soul. This is the time to bring peace to your inner world and lay down all your burdens at the feet of Christ allowing Him to crucify all of your sins on His Cross and save you!
† Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou, Ph.D.