The Sacrament of Penance, commonly called Confession, was instituted by Jesus Christ himself. This institution
occurred on Easter Sunday, when Christ first appeared to the apostles after his Resurrection. Breathing on
them, he said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose
sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).

Catholics also believe that the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace. In this case, the outward
sign is the absolution, or forgiveness of sins, that the priest grants to the penitent (the person confessing sins);
the inward grace is the reconciliation of the penitent to God (which is why the sacrament is also sometimes
called the Sacrament of Reconciliation). The reconciling of man to God is the purpose of Confession. When we
sin, we deprive ourselves of God’s grace. And by doing so, we make it even easier to sin some more. The only
way out of this downward cycle is to acknowledge our sins, to repent of them, and to ask God’s forgiveness.
Then, in the Sacrament of Confession, grace can be restored to our souls, and we can once again resist sin.

All sin is an offense against God and a rejection of his perfect love and justice. Yet, Jesus makes a distinction
between two types of sins. We call the most serious and grave sins, mortal sins. Mortal sins destroy the grace of
God in the heart of the sinner. The second type of sin, venial sin, that of less grave matter, does not cut us off
from Christ. However, venial sin does weaken grace in the soul and damages our relationship with God.

In order for a sin to be mortal, it must meet three conditions: (1)Mortal sin is a sin of grave matter; (2) It is
committed with full knowledge of the sinner; and (3) It is committed with deliberate consent of the sinner. This
means that mortal sins cannot be committed “accidentally.” A person who commits a mortal sin knows their sin is
wrong but still deliberately commits the sin anyway. These sins are “premeditated” and are thus truly a rejection
of God’s law and love.

The essential elements of the sacrament of reconciliation are the act of the penitent who comes to repentance
and the absolution of the priest, who in the name of Christ, grants forgiveness and determines the ways of
making satisfaction.

Communal Penance Services – There are usually two Communal Penance Services at St. Stephen: one during
Advent and one during Lent. Other neighboring parishes also provide communal penance services.

Additional Penance Information