Pope Benedict XVI- Addresses
On the Sacrament of Confession
"It Is Not Sin That Is at the Heart of the Celebration, but Rather
H.H. Pope Benedict XVI
March 7, 2008
Here is a
L'Osservatore Romano translation of Benedict XVI's March 7
address to participants in an annual course on matters of
conscience, organized by the Tribunal of the Apostolic
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Confessors in the Roman Basilicas,
I am pleased to meet you at the end of the Course on the
Internal Forum, which for some years now the Apostolic
Penitentiary has organized during Lent. With its carefully
planned programme, this annual meeting renders a precious
service to the Church and helps to keep alive the sense of
holiness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I therefore address my cordial thanks to the organizers,
especially the Major Penitentiary, Cardinal James Francis
Stafford, whom I greet and thank for his courteous words.
Together with him, I greet and thank the Regent and staff of the
Penitentiary as well as the praiseworthy Religious of various
Orders who administer the Sacrament of Penance in the Papal
Basilicas of the City. I also greet all those who are taking
part in the Course.
Lent is an especially favourable season to meditate on the
reality of sin in the light of God's infinite mercy, which the
Sacrament of Penance expresses in its loftiest form. I therefore
willingly take this opportunity to bring to your attention
certain thoughts on the administration of this Sacrament in our
time, in which the loss of the sense of sin is unfortunately
becoming increasingly more widespread.
Loving against the tide of opinion
It is necessary today to assist those who confess to experience
that divine tenderness to repentant sinners which many Gospel
episodes portray with tones of deep feeling.
Let us take, for example, the passage in Luke's Gospel that
presents the woman who was a sinner and was forgiven (cf. Lk
7:36-50). Simon, a Pharisee and a rich dignitary of the town,
was holding a banquet at his home in honour of Jesus. In
accordance with a custom of that time, the meal was eaten with
the doors left open, for in this way the fame and prestige of
the homeowner was increased. All at once, an uninvited and
unexpected guest entered from the back of the room: a well-known
One can understand the embarrassment of those present, which did
not seem, however, to bother the woman. She came forward and
somewhat furtively stopped at Jesus' feet. She had heard his
words of pardon and hope for all, even prostitutes; she was
moved and stayed where she was in silence. She bathed Jesus'
feet with tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed them and
anointed them with fragrant ointment.
By so doing, the sinner woman wanted to express her love for and
gratitude to the Lord with gestures that were familiar to her,
although they were censured by society.
Amid the general embarrassment, it was Jesus himself who saved
the situation: "Simon, I have something to say to you". "What is
it, Teacher?", the master of the house asked him. We all know
Jesus' answer with a parable which we can sum up in the
following words which the Lord addressed basically to Simon:
"You see? This woman knows she is a sinner; yet prompted by
love, she is asking for understanding and forgiveness. You, on
the other hand, presume yourself to be righteous and are perhaps
convinced that you have nothing serious for which to be
The message that shines out from this Gospel passage is
eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who
trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were,
blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin.
Those, on the other hand, who recognize that they are weak and
sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from him grace and
It is precisely this message that must be transmitted: what
counts most is to make people understand that in the Sacrament
of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly
recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the
priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the
soothing joy of God's forgiveness.
In this perspective your Course acquires considerable
importance. It aims to prepare well-trained confessors from the
doctrinal viewpoint who are able to make their penitents
experience the Heavenly Father's merciful love.
Might it not be true that today we are witnessing a certain
alienation from this Sacrament? When one insists solely on the
accusation of sins - which must nevertheless exist and it is
necessary to help the faithful understand its importance - one
risks relegating to the background what is central, that is, the
personal encounter with God, the Father of goodness and mercy.
It is not sin which is at the heart of the sacramental
celebration but rather God's mercy, which is infinitely greater
than any guilt of ours.
It must be a commitment of pastors and especially of confessors
to highlight the close connection that exists between the
Sacrament of Reconciliation and a life oriented decisively to
It is necessary that between the practice of the Sacrament of
Confession and a life in which a person strives to follow Christ
sincerely, a sort of continuous "virtuous circle" be established
in which the grace of the Sacrament may sustain and nourish the
commitment to be a faithful disciple of the Lord.
Frequent recourse to Confession
The Lenten Season, in which we now find ourselves, reminds us
that in our Christian life we must always aspire to conversion
and that when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation
frequently the desire for Gospel perfection is kept alive in
If this constant desire is absent, the celebration of the
Sacrament unfortunately risks becoming something formal that has
no effect on the fabric of daily life.
If, moreover, even when one is motivated by the desire to follow
Jesus one does not go regularly to confession, one risks
gradually slowing his or her spiritual pace to the point of
increasingly weakening and ultimately perhaps even exhausting
Dear brothers, it is not difficult to understand the value in
the Church of your ministry as stewards of divine mercy for the
salvation of souls. Persevere in imitating the example of so
many holy confessors who, with their spiritual insight, helped
penitents to understand that the regular celebration of the
Sacrament of Penance and a Christian life that aspires to
holiness are inseparable elements of the same spiritual process
for every baptized person. And do not forget that you yourselves
are examples of authentic Christian life.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and of Hope, help you who
are present here and all confessors to carry out zealously and
joyfully this great service on which the Church's life so
I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and bless you with
© L'Osservatore Romano -- March 12, 2008
This page is the work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and