Because the early church had to deal with the persecution of the Romans and hostile Jews of that day, they literally did not know when their souls would be required of them. For this reason, confession was implemented very early on.
In John 20:21 – 23, our Lord gave the apostles authority to forgive sins:
“’Peace be with you. 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.'”
In the Catholic Church, Venial (lesser) sins do not have to be confessed to a priest and can be confessed to God in prayer throughout the day. Mortal (greater) sins must be confessed to a priest in order to be forgiven.
Mortal sin has three parts:
- It is of grave matter.
- It is committed with the full knowledge of the sinner.
- It is committed with the deliberate consent of the sinner.
Venial Sin is everything else.
Confession to a priest is also based on accountability. As a human being, I have an amazing ability to deceive myself into believing that my sin wasn’t that terrible. Or, in the alternative, I can convince myself that my sin is unforgivable. Of course, neither is true. This is why the accountability of confessing sins to a priest over-rides the “Jesus-and-me” Lone-Ranger mentality and places our sins in the hands of the priest who is authorized by God to forgive us.
I once heard this expression: “Catholics don’t usually need psychiatrists. They have confession.”
This was quite a foreign idea to me until I converted to Catholicism and had gone to confession several times. Now, I wonder how I ever lived without it.