New Question from our Discord Community Channel: Are sins not forgiven until you go to Confession? which in a lot of ways is also the question “Is Confession necessary for the forgiveness of sin?” Below you can watch a video answering the question, or read my written response.
A: TLDR version: From the YouCat Q: 231 “What is required for the forgiveness of sins is the person who undergoes conversion and the ➡PRIEST who in God’s name gives him absolution from his sins.”
So first, only God forgives sin since the object of sin is always, ultimately, God himself. Forgiveness of sins is brought about by the reconciliation of God with humanity through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even before the Paschal Mystery, Jesus identified himself with God when he forgave the sins of others, an action he placed as more important than the healings he did.
That being said, he has made the Church the primary instrument of God’s forgiveness: “Christ has willed that in her prayer and life and action his whole Church should be the sign and instrument of the forgiveness of sins that he acquired for us at the price of his blood (CCC 1442, emphasis added). In addition, as the Church is the sign and sacrament of God’s love (the Body of Christ), then sin against God is just as much sin against the Church; sin breaks the communion with God, and the Church is the living embodiment of that communion on earth. Thus, forgiveness for sins occurs, ordinarily, within the Church by means of the Sacrament of Penance/Confession.
Analogously, just as your faith is the seed of communion with God, but the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist—are the sacramental means of communion; repentance is the seed of forgiveness, but the Sacrament of Penance aka The Sacrament of Forgiveness [CCC 1449]) is the sacramental means of forgiveness.
While God is the only one who can forgiveness sins, by his divine authority, he has granted that authority of forgiveness to his priests. You might think of this analogously to a governor’s pardon. The Governor only has the authority to pardon because that authority has been granted to him by means of his election, (if he wasn’t elected to be governor, he wouldn’t have the power of pardon) but that power to pardon is legitimately real while said governor is in office.
The sacrament of Penance is the place of the sacramental encounter with God’s Mercy; and place where we experience his pardon and reconciliation first-hand, and can know with assurance our absolution when we hear the words of the priest. I encourage everyone, especially if its been a while, to approach the sacrament of Penance, aka Confession, especially within this upcoming Season of Lent, to feel the peace and joy that comes from that experience of God’s Love expressed within his Church.