SCRIPTURE: Mark 2:5-11: "Why does this man speak thus? He blasphemes, who can forgive sins, but God."
CATHOLIC TRUTH: Such was the verdict of the Scribes in repudiating Christ's role as the Messiah, his testimony and authority, and ultimately his divinity. Little did they know, that Christ was indeed the unique Son of God come to save his people. Similarly, those who discount the role of priests today stand in the role of the ancient Scribes in discounting the full ramifications of God coming upon us. Christ's ministry of forgiving sins is perpetuated in the Church, particularly in the priests who have been specially configured to Christ for this purpose. If Christ's mercy was a one-time blanket or general affair, then why did he spend so much time going out to individuals, liberating them from demons and forgiving their sins? Why then would he give Peter the power of the keys and explicitly tell him and the other apostles that they might loosen and bind from sin? "'I will give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven'" (Matthew 16:19-20). When speaking about the referral of a sinful brother to the Church, Matthew repeats this teaching: "'Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven'" (Matthew 18:18). Only God can forgive sins, but he has made priests living vehicles, instruments of his mercy. After his death, the resurrected Lord appeared to his disciples, and the context makes clear that we are talking about his apostles in the locked upper room. Christ extends his peace to them: "'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (John 20:21-23).
SCRIPTURE : Acts 10:43: "To Him all the prophets bear witness, that through His name all who believe in Him may receive forgiveness of sins."
CATHOLIC TRUTH: These words belong to Peter and come just before he is challenged for entering the homes of uncircumcised Gentiles and the issue of their baptism. People given the saving faith of Jesus come to baptism which brings forgiveness of sins. The sacramental life, and especially confession, makes possible our steadfastness in God's grace and mercy. The absolution prayer used by the Church today acknowledges that it is "through the death and resurrection of his Son" that reconciliation is made with God. Further, the Holy Spirit continues to work among us "for the forgiveness of sins." Then it takes note that Christ continues his saving work "through the ministry of the Church," and we invoke the Almighty to shower upon the penitent his "pardon and peace." Speaking in the first person, as he does at the altar during the Mass consecration, the priest absolves the person of his sins in the holy and triune "name" of God.
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Revised on April 30, 1998.