Q. Since St. Thomas was not present when Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to forgiven sins, did he have the power to administer the sacrament of confession?
A. Jesus’ first encounter with his Apostles after the resurrection was in a locked room, indicating that they were frightened. Perhaps they were frightened that the authorities would come after them as they came after Jesus. Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to them, and showed them his wounded hands and side.
The first words that Jesus offered to these anxious, and most likely, guilt-ridden, men were words of comfort, “Peace be with you.” Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them. The sins you retain are retained” (John 20: 22-23). Jesus gave these weak human beings the power to act in the person of Christ in forgiving sin.
Thomas, having not seen the Risen Christ with the other Apostles in the locked room, was initially incredulous about Christ’s return. But, when Thomas saw Christ’s hands and his side, he believed.
Even though Thomas was not present when Jesus gave the clear authority to the Apostles to administer to forgive sin, Thomas still had the authority to administer it. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council, states that “the apostles were endowed by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and by the imposition of hands they passed on to their auxiliaries the gift of the Spirit, which is transmitted down to our day through episcopal consecration” (LG 21).
The Apostles received the fullness of Holy Orders, given to them by the outpouring of the Spirit. At the Last Supper, Jesus instructs the Apostles to “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). They were given a sacred power that is the power of Christ, which includes the ability to administer the sacrament of confession.
A bishop is a successor to the Apostles, in which he visibly teaches, sanctifies and governs in the name of Christ. The bishop oversees the pastoral care of those in the particular Church entrusted to him. Bishops ordain priests to serve as their co-workers in the vineyard, assisting in carrying out the mission of Jesus given to the them. Priests act in the person of Christ, the Head of the Body, through the administration of sacraments.