4/1/2018by Jason Godin
The season when we celebrate the Resurrection is a privileged time of sacramental grace
You may be familiar with the term “Easter Duty” and relate it to the obligation to go to confession and receive Holy Communion during the Easter season. If you already have a habit of regular confession and Communion, you can fulfill the obligation without much effort. If not, it is worthwhile to recall what the Church requires and why.
When considering our sacramental duties, we should first realize that the Church proposes certain rules and requirements to help us grow in grace and get to heaven.
For those who grew up in a traditional Catholic household, it may be surprising to learn that the term “Easter Duty” does not appear in the Church’s canon law, nor is it mentioned specifically in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Rather, the idea stems from two related Church laws: to receive the Eucharist at least once a year during the Easter season, unless a serious reason indicates another time as preferable (canon 920); and to receive absolution in sacramental confession for any mortal sin at least once a year (canon 989).
Of course, this is the minimum required by the Church, and today most practicing Catholics receive Communion during not only the Easter season (broadly defined as the period from the First Sunday of Lent to Trinity Sunday) but also many other times of the year.
Less popular, however, is the practice of confession, so let us look more closely at that sacrament.
For me, the motivation for confession is often a nagging uneasiness that I have hurt someone and a desire to set things right. I may have acted out of anger with my wife or frustration with my children, or harbor resentment toward others. I may try to dismiss this uneasy feeling or rationalize my behavior, but ultimately I know that I have fallen short and sinned. I need to make amends with those whom I’ve wronged and realize that God is the first one offended by sin. That is why I show up at the confessional — to present myself before Jesus in the person of the priest and receive the Lord’s pardon and peace in absolution (cf. Jn 20:22-23).
Call it what you will — penance, confession, reconciliation — the Catechism teaches that this sacrament has many effects, the foremost of which is “restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship” (1468). Sin damages our relationship with God. Reconciliation rooted in humble contrition restores it. For good reason, the formula for absolution begins with the words, “God, the Father of mercies.”
Sin also breaks our bonds with others in the Church. We sow discord and distrust, and disrupt our union with the Body of Christ, when we choose to love ourselves over our neighbors. Reconciliation restores those links that we share with the ones we love and the ones we should love more.
The aspect of the sacrament that many shrink from — the difficult practice of telling my sins to another person — has become one of the most reassuring for me. On my own, I can fool myself and excuse my sins, thinking that at least I haven’t killed anybody. But the very act of confessing in the presence of a priest makes my examination of conscience deeper and more honest. In the sacrament, God truly acts through the priest, which makes the parting words, “Go in peace,” all the more powerful and consoling.
We don’t deserve and cannot earn God’s forgiveness, yet he gives it for the asking. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we drink from the depths of Divine Mercy, where God replenishes us with the graces needed to live in and act out of love each day. Considering that we are reborn spiritually in confession and fortified by grace in Holy Communion, we should think of our Easter Duty as an opportunity to become the better man God calls us to be.
JASON GODIN is a member of Chaska (Minn.) Council 9141.