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Question 59.
Dear Fr Christopher,
Greetings in Christ.

The absolution of our sins in mainly granted through the sacrament of penance but other sacraments and sacramentals are also considered as means of forgiveness and absolution since this request appears quite often in their texts. What is the right approach towards the absolution granted through the sacrament of penance compared to other sacraments or services?

Thank you.


Answer to Question 59.

Dear Constantine,

Everything we do in the Church is to help man achieve salvation which should be his only goal in life. We begin with the Sacrament of Baptism which is the Mystery through which man becomes a living member of the Body of Christ. Man is transformed and divinized by the grace of the Holy Trinity, which brings light into the darkness of his soul. Man’s regeneration and rebirth lie within God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. Though Baptism, Jesus Christ himself reshapes and makes man partaker of divine nature. The baptized person is spiritually initiated in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, integrating himself as a living member of the body of Christ – the Church. Baptism is a procession towards eternity and a spiritual power towards resurrection. It signifies the beginning of a potentially dynamic process in one’s path towards the Kingdom of God. The Sacrament of Baptism becomes the “vehicle to Heaven” and the baptized person regains the “archetypal beauty” the original beauty that was lost with the fall. This is the very essence of Baptism which is the regeneration of man, through his initiation in death and resurrection, “so as to be able to walk towards a liberated new life.” Baptism introduces people to the place of their salvation – the Church – and grants them the right to participate in the other Sacraments.
With the Sacrament of Baptism we are cleansed from all sins and are spiritually reborn for righteous living. However, we still have the predisposition towards sin, which is interwoven with our free will. As time passes, we fall into sin due to careless ways of living, inexperience, and different temptations. We become spiritually sick as it were, but also our sins make a barrier between us and God, they restrict us from progressing spiritually and to re-establish our relationship with God and eternal life: we must cleanse ourselves of these barriers.
To help us in the healing process, the Church has given us various other Sacraments to help us like, Holy Unction, Holy Confession and Holy Communion. All the Sacraments are for the forgiveness of sins and to help strengthen man on his journey to heaven, but each work in a different manner.
Holy Communion for example is the Sacrament of all Sacraments. The gifts – the bread and wine offered for the Divine Liturgy are our offering of thanksgiving to God for having saved us. They represent an offering of our lives which God accepts upon his holy altar, sanctifies and transmakes them into the Body and Blood of Christ which are then returned to us as the divine Sacrament of salvation. They are for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of both soul and body. We partake and join ourselves to the very Body of our Lord and participate in the resurrection and salvation, but not everyone is free to unreservedly walk up to the chalice and partake.
Christ said to his disciples: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matt. 5:23-24)
Also in the parable of the Marriage feast which symbolically represents the Banquet of Love after the Second Coming of Christ, the king saw a man without the proper wedding garment and he was bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness. (Matt. 22:1-14). The proper wedding garment means the garment of the soul untainted by the stains of sin.
St. Paul also says: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor 11:27-32)
The Sacrament may be for the forgiveness of sins but we are not at liberty to take this for granted and partake in an unworthy state lest, instead of being for our salvation, it becomes our judgment and damnation. Accordingly we should each examine ourselves before contemplating to partake and if we discern in ourselves that we do not fulfil the requirements specified by Christ and St. Paul then we need another Sacrament to help us prepare ourselves.
This is where the Sacrament of Confession comes in. It prepares us so that we do not partake of the Holy Mysteries unworthily. It works like a second baptism helping us to cleanse ourselves from the sins that have accumulated since our baptism and it allows the healing power of God to restore the broken relationship between us and Him caused by our sin. In Confession, as in Baptism, a rebirth takes place and this is why after Confession we feel cleansed and renewed, as a newly baptized infant. We obtain new strength to battle the evil within us and to restart a righteous life. On our part, it involves an act of humility which shows that we do not consider ourselves righteous and worthy to approach the Mysteries without the fear of condemnation. We confess our most inner sins, thus doing everything we can humanly possibly do to make sure we do not approach the Holy Mysteries negligibly and trivially as just something that Christians do.
Holy Unction (Anointing of the sick) again is another Sacrament that helps us prepare for Holy Communion. Although the Sacrament is for the healing of body and soul, spiritual healing involves, first of all, the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins is so central to the rite that, since approximately the 13th century, a prayer of absolution, adapted from the rite of Confession, was added to the rite of Anointing just before the dismissal. The rites of both Confession and Anointing of the sick are closely related. Both address our fallen condition and provide a remedy. But they are not the same, and to use one as a substitute for the other is to misunderstand them both. The Sacrament of Confession addresses the reality that we all sin after baptism and provides a means for reconciliation. The Anointing of the sick, while it does address the forgiveness of sins, focuses also on the reality of physical and mental suffering, and it should not be used as a substitute for sacramental confession.
All the Sacraments lead to the reception of the Eucharist which is the deepest and fullest expression of our membership in the Church. The Eucharist is also the greatest sign of reconciliation with God and with each other. It is the ultimate goal of the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation, in which the newly baptised are grafted into Christ’s body, the Church. It is the goal of the Sacrament of Confession, which reconciles us when we fall into sin and restores us into the communion of the Church. It only stands to reason therefore that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the sick which also grants healing, forgiveness, and restoration, should also culminate in the reception of the Eucharist. (Paul Meyendorff – The Anointing of the Sick)
As mentioned in the beginning, our main goal in life is to find salvation. The Sacraments are the tools which help us achieve this goal. Each offers the forgiveness of sins because sin is the only thing that keeps us from union with God, but each works slightly differently from the other and one Sacrament should not be substituted for another. We should therefore take advantage of what each offers, keeping in mind that even though they are separate Sacraments, they are all interwoven with the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher