The Celebration of the Christian Mystery
was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles
united to its head.”
bind and loose
mean: whomever you exclude
from your communion, will be excluded from communion with
God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will
welcome back into his.
Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable
from reconciliation with God.
The sacrament of forgiveness
Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful
members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism,
have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace
and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament
of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the
grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacra-
ment as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which
is the loss of grace.”
Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has
exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably.
During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had com-
mitted particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry,
murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to
which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years,
before receiving reconciliation. To this “order of penitents” (which con-
cerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain
regions only once in a lifetime. During the seventh century Irish mission-
aries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental
Europe the “private” practice of penance, which does not require public
and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with
the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret
between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility
of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this
sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be
integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the
form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day.
Beneath the changes in discipline and celebration that this
sacrament has undergone over the centuries, the same
is to be discerned. It comprises two equally essential
elements: on the one hand, the acts of the man who undergoes
conversion through the action of the Holy Spirit: namely, contri-
tion, confession, and satisfaction; on the other, God’s action
through the intervention of the Church. The Church, who through
22 § 2.
4, 2: PL 1, 1343; cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1542.