A Brief History:
In St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians he writes: “For indeed what I have forgiven…has been for you in the person of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:10). The word used for “person/presence” is from the Greek word prosopon meaning: face, appearance, countenance, etc. In Christian theology, this Greek word became the language employed to speak about the personhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This language of forgiving “in the prosopon” of Jesus Christ became how Christians spoke about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The ordained priest – by the Sacrament of Holy Orders – is situated within the Church as one who makes visible the invisible presence of Jesus Christ in each of the Sacraments (except Matrimony, wherein the Bride and Groom represent Christ and His Bride the Church). In Reconciliation, the ordained makes present, in a very tangible, real, and concrete way, the presence of Christ. Christians practiced Confession from the beginning (cf. James 5:14-16). James’ letter speaks of presbyters (an early word for ministers ordained for specific functions in the Church) who administer Anointing of the Sick and hear the Confession of sins. To this day, Christians (though not all Protestant or other denominations) still speak of the presbyterate and presbyters as a technical term meaning: an ordained priest. Through the centuries, the public Sacramental Confession of penitents who fell into serious sin became more sensitive to the penitent’s privacy. The Sacrament of Reconciliation now rests between the penitent and the priest or bishop alone under the seal of secrecy (if the priest or bishop breaks the seal of secrecy, he is automatically excommunicated from the Church). Thus, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the place the Holy Spirit inspired the Church of Jesus Christ to absolve Christians of serious, or mortal, sins. It is a beautiful Sacrament that offers each Christian a chance for renewal, hope, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.