History of sacrament of penance and reconciliation


(Editor’s note: Deacon Frank Agnoli presents the fourth in his series of articles on the healing sacraments. He is director of liturgy and of deacon formation for the Davenport Diocese.)
In this article, we will briefly — and in quite a simplified way — go over how our modern-day sacrament of penance and reconciliation developed. Basically, the Church’s ministry of reconciliation is rooted in the ministry of Jesus. Though the form this reconciliation, especially sacramental reconciliation, takes has changed over time, at its core it is in continuity with what Jesus did and called the Church to do in his name (see CCC 1447-48).
In baptism, we are born again, we become a new creation. Yet, we still sin. The reality of post-baptismal sin was a problem that the very early Church had to address (see, for example, Romans 6:2-11). James encourages the confession of sins (Js 5:16). John makes mention of the Risen Christ giving the power to forgive sins to the disciples (Jn 20:19-23), and while the passage may have originally referred to baptism, it was quickly applied to post-baptismal sin as well.

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