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The Celebration of the Christian Mystery


was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles

united to its head.”



The words

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.

47 Tertullian,

De Pænit.

4, 2: PL 1, 1343; cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1542.