For Catholics, confession has been one of the biggest gifts given to us by the Lord. It allows us to ask for forgiveness, make up for our mistakes, and reconcile our relationship with Him. But what about those who do not belong to our church? Can they also receive this sacrament and unburden themselves of their sins?
Non-Catholics can go to confession, but they cannot receive absolution. Meaning, they can’t receive the full graces of the sacrament and they are not absolved from their sins. Because aside from forgiveness, confession is about healing one’s relationship with God and the Body of Christ – the Church.
Now, you’re probably wondering why this is the case and whether or not there’s a way around it. You’re also probably wondering why absolution is so important. To help you understand all these, here’s a comprehensive look into the sacrament of reconciliation and what it entails.
What is Confession in the Catholic Church?
The sacrament of confession, also known as the sacrament of penance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, allows the forgiveness of one’s sins that are committed after baptism. It is a testament to God’s love and mercy, freeing us from our offenses against Him.
When we sin, however, we are not only hurting ourselves and God but we are also hurting our relationship with the Church. One way to reconcile such a relationship is through the sacrament of confession.
As mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1422 (CCC), “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins…” The same can be found in the Code of Canon Law, 959, which states that the sacrament of penance allows the faithful to be “reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by sinning.”
That said, the point of confession is to heal and restore one’s relationship with the Church. But since non-Catholics are not in full communion with the church, there’s nothing to be brought back into. This is why they can’t receive absolution. So while there’s nothing stopping non-Catholics to go to confession and receive counseling, they will not be able to receive the full graces of the sacrament.
Parts of the Sacrament of Confession
The sacrament of confession is a liturgical action, which makes it follow a specific order. It consists of 4 parts, which are:
- Contrition: In this act, the penitent or the one confessing expresses his/her sorrow for having offended God. It is during this phase that one realizes his/her mistakes and decides not to make the same mistakes again. Without sincere repentance and a firm resolve, there won’t be forgiveness.
- Confession: It is during this act that one acknowledges his/her sins and admits them to the priest.
- Penance or Satisfaction: This is the part when the priest provides the person with tasks or acts that he/she needs to do in reparation for his/her sins. These could come in the form of a prayer or devotion, or specific gestures like taking part in charity. Generally, the penance given to a person depends on his/her nature of sin/s and personal situation.
- Absolution: This is the final phase and is also what makes the sacrament so special. In this act, the priest tells the person that he/she is absolved from his/her sins and that he/she has reconciled with God and the church. It is through this act that the gift of forgiveness is given to us in such a physical form.
Who Can Go to Confession?
The rules on the sacraments of the Catholic church are pretty straightforward. From the Code of Canon Law, 842.2: “A person who has not received baptism cannot be admitted validly to the other sacraments.” Then in 844.1: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone…”
So even those who are baptized but a member of other Christian denominations still can’t receive absolution. Only those who are baptized and in full communion with the Catholic church can validly and legally receive the sacrament of confession.
There is, however, the exemption for members of the Eastern Churches and other Christian churches that have sacraments that are considered valid by the Catholic Church. According to the Code of Canon Law, 844.3: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.”
But as mentioned above, anyone can go into confession and admit to their sins, especially if they’re struggling with shame or guilt. In the Code of Canon Law, 843,1, it is said that “sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” The only thing is that they won’t be absolved of their sins.
When Can Non-Catholics Go to Confession and Receive Absolution?
There are some rare instances when non-Catholics can go to confession and receive absolution. As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1401: “When, in the Ordinary’s judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions.”
This means that a Catholic priest may offer absolution to a baptized non-Catholic Christian in case of rare circumstances. For example, if one is in danger of death.
Additionally, baptized non-Catholics can also receive absolution if they are going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, which is the process of entering the Catholic church. This is part of their preparation before receiving the sacrament of confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.