Our considerations of the Sacrament of Penance are continuing. Once a person who is sorry for sin (contrition) has admitted those sins to the priest (confession) and accepted responsibility to make up for the sins (satisfaction, also known as making amends), the sinner’s job is pretty much over. Now it’s time for the priest to act: his role is to impart absolution. Absolution is the formal action of forgiveness, given in the name of God and His Church.
Notice I say “God and His Church.” True forgiveness for sin comes from both the Lord and the community of the Church.
John’s Gospel (chapter 20, verses 22-23) recounts how it was Christ Himself who gave the power to forgive sins to the apostles. This is where the connection of the divine and the human comes in. Christ, who is Lord and God as well as human, shared His power over sin with human beings.
Of course you do remember that bishops are successors to the apostles, don’t you? Since bishops enjoy the fullness of Christ’s priesthood, they are the moderators of all the sacraments, including confession. One consequence of this is the fact – except in danger of death of course! – that any priest needs to have permission from his bishop in order to hear confessions and impart absolution. Your confessor is not acting personally, or even just acting on behalf of Christ Jesus. He is also representing the whole community of believers and their earthly shepherd, the bishop.
I’ll bet most of the time you’ve thought that it was just you and the priest who were the only ones “involved” in your confession. Now you’ve been reminded that the priest represents a good many more as well!