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Ask the Register: confession for venial sins?

Q. I am a recent convert and I was taught that the reception of Holy Communion remits all venial sins. If this is true, what is the value of going to confession if one only has venial sins to confess?

A. Christian discipleship requires ongoing conversion. Our Christian lives begin through the waters of baptism, where Original Sin and any personal sin committed beforehand are washed away by the grace of God given to us through the merits of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.

However, at times, through the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, we fall into sin, and need to turn back to the Lord with a repentant heart. Jesus established the Sacrament of Confession as the normal, sacramental means of receiving his forgiveness and bringing healing from the damaging effects of sin.

Our Lord knew that we would need recourse to this sacrament of healing and forgiveness. In Jesus’ first meeting with his apostles after his resurrection he bestowed upon them the power to forgive sins, telling them, “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (Jn 20:21–23).

Notice that Jesus says, “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” The Apostles, who will be succeeded by bishops, are commissioned to carry out the work of Jesus, who was sent by the Father, and this includes the forgiveness of sins. Since the time of the early Church, there is a clear witness of Christians confessing their sins to bishops and priests.

The Church teaches that mortal sins must be confessed in the Sacrament of Confession. A mortal sin is a sin that is a serious matter and done with full knowledge and deliberate consent of the will. Because mortal sin cuts off the life of grace in the person, it must be restored through the Sacrament of Confession. Those who are not in the state of grace may not receive Holy Communion.

Venial sins are sins that offend our Lord and weaken our relationship with him, but do not cut us off from the life of grace. While a Christian who commits a venial sin remains in the state of grace, venial sins should not be seen as insignificant. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin” (CCC 1863).

Venial sins should be confessed in the Sacrament of Confession. In this Sacrament, the penitent encounters the merciful God through the priest-confessor, who is administering the sacrament in the person of Christ. In contritely confessing one’s sins to the priest, penitents acknowledge in a human way the offenses that weaken their relationship with God. In addition, the penitent receives advice and instruction from the priest, which aides them in overcoming these sins in the future.

As you indicated, the Church teaches that the worthy reception of Holy Communion wipes away venial sins. The Eucharist strengthens the charity of the recipient, as bodily food strengthens the body.

In general, the Eucharist assists us in our battle against sin. It allows us to share in a more intimate friendship with Jesus, and it is therefore more difficult to reject him through mortal sin and to offend him in a lesser manner through venial sin.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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