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Posted March 13, 2007

Book: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia: To the Bishops and clergy and Faithful on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today
Author: Pope John Paul II
Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City. 1984. Pp. 142

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

The Church’s charism and likewise her unique nature vis-a-vis reconcilation, at whatever level it needs to be achieved, lie in the fact that she always goes back to that reconciliation at the source. For by reason of her essential mission, th Church feels an obligation to go to the roots of that original wound of sin, in order to bring healing and to re-establish, so to speak, an equally original reconciliation which will be the effective principle of all true reconciliation. This is the reconciliation which the Church had in mind and which she put forward through the Synod.

Sacred Scripture speaks to us of this reconciliation, inviting us to make every effort to attain it. But Scripture also tells us that it is above all a merciful gift of God to humanity. The history of salvation — the salvation of the whole of humanity, as well as of every human being of whatever period — is the wonderful history of a reconciliation: the reconciliation whereby God, as Father, in the Blood and the Cross of his Son made man, reconciles the world to himself and thus brings into being a new family of those who have been reconciled.

Reconciliation becomes necessary because there has been the break of sin from which derive all the other forms of break within man and about him. Reconciliation therefore, in order to be complete, necessarily requires liberation from sin, which is to be rejected in its deepest roots. Thus a close internal link unites conversion and reconciliation. It is impossible to split these two realities or to speak of one and say nothing of the other. . . .It is this reconciliation . . .which is dealt with in the present Apostolic Exhortation.

An Excerpt from the Exhortation:

According to the most ancient traditional idea, the Sacrament [of Reconciliation] is a kind of judicial action; but this takes place before a tribunal of mercy rather than of strict and rigorous justice, which is comparable to human tribunals only by analogy, namely insofar as sinners reveal their sins and their condition as creatures subject to sin; they commit themselves to renouncing and combating sin; accept the punishment (sacramental penance) which the confessor imposes on them and receive absolution from him.

But as it reflects on the function of this Sacrament, the Church’s consciousness discerns in it, over and above the character of judgment in the sense just mentioned, a healing of a medicinal character. And this is linked to the fact that the Gospel frequently presents Christ as healer, while his redemptive work is often called from Christian antiquity, “medicina salutis.” “I wish to heal, not accuse”, Saint Augustine said, referring to the exercise of the pastoral activity regarding Penance, and it is thanks to the medicine of Confession that the experience of sin does not degenerate into despair. The Rite of Penance alludes to this healing aspect of the Sacrament, to which modern man is perhaps more sensitive, seeing as he does in sin the element of error but even more the element of weakness and human frailty.

Whether as a tribunal of mercy or a place of spiritual healing, under both aspects the Sacrament requires a knowledge of the sinner’s heart, in order to be able to judge and absolve, to cure and heal. Precisely for this reason the Sacrament involves, on the part of the penitent, a sincere and complete confession of sins. This threfore has a raison d’etre not only inspired by ascetical purposes (as an exercise of humility and mortification) but one that is inherent in the very nature of the Sacrament.

Table of Contents:

Origin and Meaning of the Document

Part 1: Conversion and reconciliation: the Church’s task and commitment

1. A parable of reconciliation

2. At the sources of reconciliation

3. God’s initiative and the Church’s ministry

Part 2: The Love that is greater than sin

1. The mystery of sin

2. “Mysterium Pietatis”

Part 3: The pastoral ministry of penance and reconciliation

1. The promotion of penance and reconciliation: ways and means

2. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation

Concluding expression of hope