Pope: Confessional Also a Place to Learn Something Notes Benefits for Both Priests and Penitents
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- There is a pedagogical value to the
sacrament of confession, according to Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this today when he addressed participants in a
five-day course on the internal forum. The seminar, sponsored by the
Apostolic Penitentiary, concluded today.
The Holy Father said that the teaching-learning aspect of confession is
not sufficiently considered, despite its spiritual and pastoral
"In what way does the sacrament of penance educate?" he asked. "In what
sense does its celebration have a pedagogical value, first of all, for
To respond to these questions, he suggested starting with the
recognition "that the priestly ministry constitutes a unique and
privileged observation post, from which, daily, we are enabled to
contemplate the splendor of divine mercy."
"Fundamentally," the Holy Father said, "to confess means to assist
in as many 'professiones fidei' as there are penitents, and to
contemplate the action of the merciful God in history, to touch the
salvific effects of the cross and resurrection of Christ, at all times
and for every man."
The Pontiff reflected how in the confessional, the priest in a sense
visits the "abyss of the human heart, also in the dark aspects." And
this, he said, also tests the "humanity and the faith of the priest
"On the other hand," he continued, "it nourishes in him the certainty
that the last word on the evil of man and of history is God's, it is
his mercy, able to make all things new."
From confession, in fact, the priest can learn much, the Pope said,
above all "from exemplary penitents by their spiritual life, by the
seriousness with which they conduct their examinations of conscience,
by the transparency in recognizing their sin and by their docility to
the teaching of the Church and the indications of the confessor."
"From the administration of the sacrament of penance we can receive
profound lessons of humility and faith," he assured. Confession is "a
very strong call for each priest to the awareness of his own identity."
"Never, in the strength of our humanity alone, would we be able to
hear the confessions of brothers," continued the Pope. "If they
approach us, it is only because we are priests, configured to Christ,
High and Eternal Priest, and made capable of acting in his name and in
his person, of rendering really present God who forgives, renews and
In regard to the pedagogical value for penitents, the Holy Father
said that it depends "first of all, on the action of grace and on the
objective effects of the sacrament in the soul of the faithful."
"Sacramental reconciliation is one of the moments in which personal
liberty and self-awareness are called to express themselves in a
particularly evident way," the Pontiff observed. "It is perhaps also
because of this that, in an age of relativism and of consequent
attenuated awareness of one's being, the sacramental practice is also
In this context, the examination of conscience has "an important
pedagogical value" as it "educates to look with sincerity at one's own
existence, to confront it with the truth of the Gospel, and to evaluate
it not just with human parameters, but changed by divine revelation,"
he said. "The comparison with the Commandments, with the Beatitudes
and, above all, with the precept of love, constitutes the first great
Furthermore, Benedict XVI proposed, an integral confession of sins
"educates the penitent in humility, in recognition of his own fragility
and, at the same time, in awareness of the need for God's forgiveness
and trust that divine grace can transform life."
In an age characterized "by noise, distraction and loneliness," said
the Pope, "the penitent's conversation with the confessor can be one of
the few, if not the only occasion to be truly heard and in profundity."
For this reason, the Bishop of Rome asked priests to "give
appropriate space to the exercise of the ministry of penance in the
"To be received and heard is also a human sign of the acceptance and
goodness of God to his children," he said.
Health of souls
In his greeting to the Pope, Cardinal Fortunato Baldelli, major
penitentiary, reminded that "every confessor, to carry out his ministry
well and faithfully, must have the necessary learning and prudence for
The cardinal introduced to the Pope the priests of 242 dioceses of
68 nations who are participating in the annual course on the internal
forum, and he confirmed that "the doctrinal preparation of the
confessor is absolutely indispensable."
Following in the footsteps of Pope Pius V -- who said, give me good
confessors and I will renew the whole Church from her foundations --
the penitentiary promotes every year these days of study on the
sacrament, the cardinal noted."With intense satisfaction," he said, "we note that the fruits of
these annual meetings have a concrete confirmation in the daily
activity of our dicastery, which is approached with increasing interest
and known for its essential mission in the Church, which is the 'salus