Q. Must confession (the sacrament of reconciliation) be done in collaboration with a priest? I see very small lines these days for the confessional, but it seems that 90 percent of those attending Mass receive Communion. So my question is this: Are we allowed to “self-confess” without the assistance of a priest and thus be eligible to receive Communion? (Toms River, N.J.)
A. The sacrament of reconciliation requires the presence of a priest. Only God, of course, can forgive sins, but Jesus has shared the power of absolution with His apostles and their successors (thankfully, because it is always more comforting to hear another human being proclaim that we are forgiven.)
Some sins — doubtless the great majority — can be forgiven without the sacrament, by appealing directly to the mercy of the Lord. Technically, the only sins that require confession to a priest are mortal sins — i.e., grave violations of God’s law done with full knowledge and complete consent.
Lesser sins — traditionally called “venial” and described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 1458 as “everyday faults” — can be forgiven by such practices as prayers of repentance or works of charity.
Participation in the Eucharist, since it strengthens us in living Christ’s way of love, has the effect of wiping away venial sins, says No. 1394 in the catechism, and the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass reminds us of our need for forgiveness and invites us to ask for God’s mercy.
It should quickly be noted that, though not strictly necessary, regular confession to a priest, even of venial sins, is “strongly recommended” since this practice helps one to monitor behavior more closely and to make steady progress on the long road to holiness.
Q. I am 78 years old and my husband, whom I loved with all my heart, recently passed away. I thank God for the 57 years we had together and for the wonderful life that my husband gave me.
Now, amid all the tears and the memories, I can’t forget our physical oneness. I still feel sometimes that I’m making love with him and that God is there with us as he always was. But I’m of the “old school,” when our training made us fearful of any impure thoughts that might keep us from salvation.
In recent years, though, the church seems to have highlighted the vision of a compassionate God who understands our failings. So I’m confused: I’m afraid of giving in to temptation when it comes to thinking about my past sexual relationship with my husband. Should I be? (No location stated)
A. Your memories of physical lovemaking with your husband are normal and wholesome. Those thoughts naturally bring you comfort and pleasure. Far from being sinful, they are part of the unifying love of spouses — the lingering delight from a love that was faithful and chaste.
As God was present in your lovemaking, so he continues to be present now in your memories. Relax and don’t worry. Instead, thank God for your wonderful marriage as you look forward to meeting your husband once more in the joy of God’s eternal home.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.