Sacrament of Penance - Part 1
Sacrament of Penance - Part 2
Sacrament of Penance - Part 3
about the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is important
to think about the different names given to it during
the centuries. In the early Church this Sacrament
was known as Second Baptism, for Baptism was the Sacrament
of Forgiveness that brought salvation, and it was almost
unthinkable that anyone who had been converted to Christ,
and abandoned their old life of sin would return to
sin after they had been baptized. “How
can we who have died to sin go on living in it?”
St Paul asks. “This we know: our old self was
crucified with him so that the sinful body might be
destroyed and we might be slaves to sin no longer –you
must consider your self dead to sin but alive for God
in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6: 2, 11. But
the early Church soon found out that despite the idealism
of their first conversion some Christians did fall back
to their old ways of a sinful life after their initial
conversion and baptism.
Christian saw this falling back to their sinful ways
as a sign that some needed a re-conversion from their
sinful ways, and a turning back to live like Jesus.
It was natural therefore to see this new conversion
as a Second Baptism, for Baptism was about Conversion,
and involved a long preparation as we have already seen.
The preparation for Baptism which involved prayer, penance,
serving the community was aimed at bringing about this
conversion in peoples lives. The follower of Jesus must
live a life of continuous conversion drawing closer
and closer to Jesus.
of life was at the heart of Baptism, and therefore must
be at the heart of Second Baptism which became known
as the Sacrament of Penance. The Early Church
wanted to re-conversion for those who had fallen from
their first conversion, and therefore it followed the
same pattern for the Sacrament of Penance as it had
done in preparation for Baptism and Confirmation. Those
preparing for this Second Baptism entered what was called
the order of penitents as those preparing for Baptism
and confirmation entered the order of catechumens. The
confession of sin was done privately, but that was the
only part of the sacrament that was done in private.
After they had made their confession of sin these penitents
were enrolled in the order of Penitents with the imposition
of Ashes. They then carried out whatever penance was
assigned by the confessor, and these were public. Those
penances were often very long and severe, sometimes
lasting several years. During that time the penitents
usually had special places in the Church, and commonly
left the Eucharist after the Homily, just as those preparing
for Baptism and Confirmation did.
When the penance was completed over a long period
and conversion was judged to have occurred, the penitents
were welcomed back into the order of the faithful with
a rite of reconciliation. That rite of reconciliation
was celebrated by the whole community usually on Holy
Thursday, with the imposition of hands by the Bishop
and the readmittance to the Eucharistic table. A person
could only be admitted into the order of Penitents once
in their life time in the early Church. This severe
public penance was not required for all sins, and the
most important list of sin requiring this discipline
included Murder, Adultery, and Apostasy
(renunciation of the faith). Lesser sins were understood
to be forgiven through prayer, personal penance, almsgiving
and the celebration of the Eucharist. Those who sinned
seriously were given one opportunity to re-convert.
If they sinned seriously after that the church left
them to the mercy of God. As we can see the early church
was very strict on those who committed serious sin.
They had only one chance. This began with the
private confession of sin, followed by the long penance,
and then the reconciliation and readmittance to the
Eucharist on Holy Thursday night. The great
emphasis was put on the conversion of the person to
Jesus, and the putting aside an old sinful way of life.
The protracted penance was aimed at bringing about this
conversion in the persons life. It was done inside the
community, and the reconciliation was reconciliation
to the community.
with the Community was a sign of the reconciliation
with Jesus. As we can see this once only Sacrament of
Penance was very difficult and demanding so people tended
to put the penance of as long as possible. Indeed some
left it off until they were very old or until death.
And so a new form of Penance would have to emerge, with
the three same elements—Confession of
Sin, Penance to bring about Conversion, and Reconciliation.
We won’t be surprised that the Irish had the foundation
of an answer. The church in Ireland at that time was
organised around the Monasteries. (To be continued)
Sacrament of Penance - Part 2