The other essential stage of the sacrament of penance this time along to the confessor as judge and healer, a figure of God the Father welcoming and forgiving the one who returns: This is the absolution. The words which express it and the gestures that accompany it in the old and in the new Rite of Penance are significantly simple in their grandeur. The sacramental formula “I absolve you” and the imposition of the hand and the Sign of the Cross made over the penitent show that at this moment the contrite and converted sinner comes into contact with the power and mercy of God.
Our continuing discussion of Some Fundamental Convictions has brought us to the words a penitent longs to hear. And to be honest: in human life we experience an awareness of having offended another. To hear a simple apology is significant. It is too bad the First World’s litigious culture sways people from making such an admission, lest they be liable to respond in payment of money or time on the legal/judicial front. Human beings hold a certain power over others too. Perhaps the perception of a loss of a sense of sin is compounded by the authorities of modern culture more than any sense of godless hedonism.
Church teaching emphasizes “the person of Christ,” but Pope John Paul II accurately perceives the Trinity at work:
It is the moment at which, in response to the penitent, the Trinity becomes present in order to blot out sin and restore innocence. And the saving power of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is also imparted to the penitent as the “mercy stronger than sin and offense,” as I defined it in my encyclical Dives in Misericordia. God is always the one who is principally offended by sin-“Tibi soli peccavi!”-and God alone can forgive.
That encyclical is my favorite of this pope’s works.
Hence the absolution that the priest, the minister of forgiveness, though himself a sinner, grants to the penitent is the effective sign of the intervention of the Father in every absolution and the sign of the “resurrection” from “spiritual death” which is renewed each time that the sacrament of penance is administered. Only faith can give us certainty that at that moment every sin is forgiven and blotted out by the mysterious intervention of the Savior.
It is also a moment of grace to be touched by God and know his forgiveness of our sins.
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