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Jesus Instituted the Sacrament of Penance

Church's mediation in forgiving sins is God's will, Holy Father says to Apostolic Penitentiary

Church is the Universal Sacrament of Salvation
In the harmonious variety of its elements and goals, the Jubilee Year is centered above all on conversion of heart, metanoia, with which Jesus begins his public preaching in the Gospel (cf Mk 1:15). Already in the Old Testament, salvation and life are promised to those who repent: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" (Ez 18:23) The Great Jubilee commemorates the end of the second millennium since the birth of Jesus who at the moment of his unjust condemnation said to Pilate: "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37). The truth to which Jesus bore witness is that he came to save the world, otherwise destined to be lost: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (Lk 19:10)

In the economy of the New Testament it is God's will that the forgiveness of sins and the return to divine friendship should be mediated by the Church's action: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19), Jesus solemnly said to Simon Peter, and in him to the Supreme Pontiffs, his successors. Because of this mandate, the Apostles and their successors in priestly charity would henceforth be able to say with humility and truth: "I absolve you from your sins."

I am fully confident that the Holy Year will be, as it should be an extraordinarily effective chapter in the history of salvation. In Jesus Christ it finds its culmination and ultimate meaning, for in him we all receive "grace upon grace" and are reconciled with the Father. I therefore trust and pray through the generous service of priest confessors, the Jubilee Year will be an occasion for the devout and supernaturally serene reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Perfect contrition includes intention to confess sins
In this regard, you certainly know the in-depth analysis of this fundamental theme in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, I would like to remind you at this meeting of several truly essential points, which you will certainly teach the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.

- By institution of our Lord Jesus Christ, as explicitly seen in the passage quoted above from the Gospel according to John, sacramental confession is necessary to obtain the forgiveness of mortal sins committed after Baptism. However, if a sinner, touched by the grace of the Holy Spirit, is sorry for his sins out of supernatural love, that is, because they are an offence against God, the Supreme Good, he immediately receives the forgiveness of his sins, even if they are mortal, as long as he has the intention to confess them sacramentally whenever, within a reasonable period of time, he is able.

- The same resolution should be made by a penitent who, having committed serious sins, receives general absolution without prior individual confession of his own sins to the confessor: this intention is so necessary that, should it be lacking, the absolution would be invalid.

- Venial sins can also be forgiven outside sacramental confession, but certainly it is extremely beneficial to confess them sacramentally. Indeed, presupposing the proper dispositions, not only is the sin forgiven, but the special help of the sacramental grace is received to avoid it in the future. It is helpful here to reaffirm the right of the faithful - and the obligation of the priest confessor corresponding to their right - to confess and to receive sacramental absolution even for venial sins. It should not be forgotten that the so-called confession of devotion was the school which formed the great saints.

- For the Eucharist to be received licitly and fruitfully, it must be preceded by sacramental confession when one is aware of having committed a mortal sin. In fact, the Eucharist is the source of all grace, since it is the re-presentation of the saving sacrifice of Calvary; as a sacramental reality. The word of God itself: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself" (1 Cor 11:27-28).

Everything I have recalled in this conversation with you is expressed, in a short and marvelous synthesis, in the ritual formula of sacramental absolution: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace. May my Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly impart to you, be an assurance of this peace for you and for all whom the Lord has entrusted or will entrust to your ministry."

Pope John Paul II

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