Posted by: liturgicalyear | February 12, 2011

The Sacrament of Confession: From nakedness to wholeness for holiness

Today’s Scripture readings move us from Adam and Eve’s awareness of their “nakedness” before God in the Garden of Eden after The Fall (Genesis 3:9-24)  to Jesus’ miracle of the seven loaves and fishes.  (Mark 8:1-10). What a perfect point of doctrinal and sacramental connection the Church presents this day through the ordered sequence of Scripture. Jesus heals us in our nakedness. Jesus feeds us with His Body. Jesus restores us to wholeness for Holiness. The Psalm for today reminds: “Teach us to number our days aright.” (Psalm 90:12).

Understanding the Catholic method for ordering and interpreting Scripture

The Bible followed the establishment of Christ’s Church. The Church gathered, discerned and sanctioned the canonical texts that we know as The Bible, over many centuries. The Church went further, by ordering the readings for daily discernment. We read through the entire Bible in three year cycles.

 The Church defines the principle for ordering these readings as teleological, based on the Greek root telos, which means “end.” Meaning derives from understanding the end, purpose or final cause to which the Biblical message leads.

This method of ordering Scripture does not stop with the Good Book. It carries over into the fullness of each day and season in the Liturgical Year. Scott Hahn explains:  “The Divine economy is comprehended and explained in Scripture through a distinct way of reading and writing that originates in the canonical text and is carried over into the living Tradition of the faith community that gives us these texts.”

How the Church orders Scripture for our daily, weekly (and annual, tri-annual) cycles of prayer helps us understand the whole story of Salvation History. Typology helps us “understand the full meaning of that story.” Hahn further explains: “The interpreter of the Bible enters into a dialogue with a book that is itself an exegetical dialogue – a complex and highly cohesive interpretive web in which the meaning of earlier texts can only be understood in relation to the ones that came later.” (See Hahn, Spirit & Life: Essays on Interpreting the Bible in Ordinary Time).

The Catechism establishes three principles to guide us in interpreting Scripture:

  • Be attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.  (CCC, 112)
  • Read the Scripture within “the Living Tradition of the whole Church.” According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (CCC, 113)
  • Be attentive to the analogy of faith to the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation. (CCC, 114) (Read this section of the Catechism.)

The Catechism sums up this method:

The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.

We are encouraged to read Scripture, to immerse ourselves in God’s Word: And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life. (CCCm 131).

Studying the Bible forms a whole subset of Christian living, but for Catholics we are given this with our daily Bread, ordered in a way to help us understand HIS whole story (History), and connecting His messages to our own unfolding story. We are to walk it daily in the Lord, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and toward our heavenly home where Our Father awaits us – in the room He has prepared for us, and to the Garden where we will walk with Him in the cool of the evening.

Moving onto the Message

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, is less than a month away, and our Church reminds us in today’s first reading of the Fall, and the consequences for Original Sin. Adam and Eve recognize their nakedness. The consequence of their sin cast them out from God’s presence, to struggle to eat, through pain in childbirth, at battle with other creatures, and to suffer and die.

In Mass today we move from contemplating the fear and emptiness of Adam and Eve trudging off to the wilderness. Then we sing the Psalm and implore God to help us “to number our days aright.” Within a few minutes we stand and hear of Jesus’ miracle of the seven loaves and a few fish. Jesus, “moved with pity,” would not send the crowd away “hungry…to collapse on the way.” All “ate and were satisfied,” with seven more baskets remaining. Our daily bread awaits us as well, as the Mass transitions from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We go back into the world with God’s Word and His life full in us, ready to be outpoured.

Today’s Scripture points us to the Sacraments we need to frequent if we are to grow in holiness: Confession and Eucharist. These Sacraments bring us naked before God, empty us, so that He can fill us. That are radically intimate and personal.

Confession is required to cleanse us of mortal sin. Mortal sin is grave in matter, committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Choosing not to go to Mass on a Sunday may be the epidemic mortal sin of Catholics, especially in the Archdiocese of Boston where estimates put Sunday Mass attendance rates at a shocking 17%. The 10 Commandments guide us in identifying mortal sin. The effects of mortal sin on our soul are chilling:

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

In a state of mortal sin, we struggle – like Adam and Eve – lost in the wilderness. It’s a dramatic state of abject despair for the soul. Our freedom makes us capable of even losing communion with God – a frightening aloneness.

Yet, even venial sins – those smaller mistakes that form habits in us — weaken our connection to God and others, which dim us of His light, and seriously endanger our souls.

 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. (CCC, 1863) Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it. (CCC, 1855)

Confession is the remedy.  Catholic tradition connects to Jewish traditions. Sin requires a sacrifice, and for Jews this once meant bloody sacrifices. At minimum, once a year, the head of the household would bring a sin offering to the Temple at Jerusalem. Upon publicly confessing the sins of the family, the father would then kill and disembowel the animal at the altar, the blood poured out into the holy vessels to be offered along with the meat. The ritual was exacting, and messy.

Christ is the lamb offered for our sins, once for all and every day in the Mass.

We are called simply and humbly to offer ourselves naked before God, so that He can purify us and restore us through the outpouring of the Savior. By frequenting the Sacrament of Confession – monthly or even weekly – we have the opportunity to peel back the layers of debris which have clogged our Baptismal font within us. It’s hard work, because it requires us to see with God’s eyes. It’s a life work.

Sometimes when I prepare for Confession I feel as if I should just create a laminated card. My sins repeat, because they are grounded in habitual sin. The Orthodox encourage looking to a core sin from which all your sins radiate. For me, it’s impatience. I know where it starts. I know its effects. Like St. Paul, I lament:

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15)

The more frequently I go to Confession the more I can specify the acts which form this pattern, and the less I just recite my list of patterned sins. I dig deeper, and I can see those harmed. I can make reparation, and become more mindful. Our confessions should be concrete and specific, even mentioning the number of times a sin was committed. The more frequently we go to Confession the more specific we can be. When we go to the doctor we document specific problems. So we need to do when we approach The Healer. Most importantly, my soul is strengthened for the battle, so that God can do the work in me He seeks.

So, notice how our Church leads us in Scripture today, from the nakedness of Adam and Eve to the “satisfied” fed by Our Lord. Understand HIStory. Connect the message to our stories, so that we can become transformed through His Body, the Church. Join in the outpouring mystery.

See also:

A guided examination of conscience based on the 10 Commandments

A how-to guide to making a Confession

Follow the daily readings with reflections and patterned prayers for morning & evening with the help of Magnificat Magazine. This is available in booklets mailed monthly, as well as  digital and phone app versions.




  1. The message was further affirmed in the evening prayer Gospel passage tonight:

    Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and clease us from every wrongdoing. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and and his word is not in us. (1John1:5-10)

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