Why Confess Sins to a Man? (Blanquette de Veau vs Burrito Supreme)


by Taylor Marsal

Why do we Catholics confess our sins to priests who are mere men?

This is a question that Protestants repeatedly raise. I raised it as a Protestant almost every time I spoke to a Catholic about matters of religion. Even Catholics are puzzled by it.

Even one of my sons asked me, “Dad, it’s difficult. Why must we confess our sins to a priest when it is God that forgives us? Why not go straight to Jesus?”

This is a great question and it deserves more than a well-packaged apologist’s answer. We all know the quick and easy answer:

  1. Jesus Christ gave the Apostles authority to forgive sins in John 20:21-23.
  2. The Apostles are the first priests and they are mere humans.
  3. Priests (with historical succession from the Apostles) can only declare the forgiveness of sins if they are told the sins by those who committed the sins.
  4. Therefore, we must reveal the sins to the priests so that these sins will then be forgiven through a means defined by Christ who is God.

That’s tight. It’s logical. It works.

But there’s a harder question beneath all of this: But why did Jesus set it up like this? Could not have Christ arranged things so that we merely voiced each and ever sin to Him? Why did Christ introduce an intermediary stage?”

Here we move away from easy apologetics. We move to the heart of it. Why must I reveal deep, dark, and embarrassing things to a man wearing a purple stole. Christ already knows. Why bring in a middle man? Laymen, monks, nuns, priests, bishops, cardinals, even Popes – everyone has to do it. Why?

I cannot presume to know the mind of God. However, I have an idea…

Christ knows that we would cheat ourselves.That’s right. We wouldn’t take the sin seriously. Nor would we take the grace received seriously.

I have confessed my sins straight to God. I have confessed my sins to God in the presence of a priest who heard every word. There is a qualitative difference between the two ways. By myself, I am repentant about “my sins.” It’s general and less precise. However, when I confess my sins in the presence of the priest, it is specific. Moreover, there is a sense of dread followed by a wave of mercy crashing upon my soul.

I think the difference is like eating at Taco Bell vs eating at an elegant French restaurant. They both advertise food. But the French restaurant provides an experience. The French restaurant experience includes a gentleman wearing black and white. (Sound familiar?)Regardless of the food, the experience is better and more connected at the French restaurant because it is mediated by a human server who has a real human experience with you.The French waiter cares for you during the experience, carries and presents the entrees to us, elegantly clears the table, scrapes the bread crumbs off the linen with that little device, and then makes sure that we are comfortable and happy. The post-production of the desserts and digestifs are also a big part of the experience.

Nobody does that at Taco Bell and that’s why it’s Taco Bell.

My suggestion is that Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance because He passionately desires for us to experience His Divine Mercy in a tangible way. Forgiveness requires a human experience – not just words.

It would be more difficult for a woman to feel healing in her bedroom as she confesses an abortion from 25 years ago. However, in the presence of a fellow sinner (the priest), she hears words of comfort and then an audible and divinely ratified proclamation that her sins are officially forgiven and cast into the sea.

That’s the difference between a Burrito Supreme at the drive through and enjoying Blanquette de Veau or Beef Bourguignon under the care of a French waiter with the help of his sommelier.

Of course, the Blanquette de Veau or Beef Bourguignon experience costs you a lot more than the quick Burrito Supreme in a wrapper: But which would you prefer?

Yes, confession to a priest has more “emotional cost”? But would you have it any other way?

Time to open the comments: Would you agree that Christ set up the forgiveness of sins in the best possible way?

Is the “emotional cost” worth it?


About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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7 Responses to Why Confess Sins to a Man? (Blanquette de Veau vs Burrito Supreme)

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    For most commenters here, there are only two sacraments of which we can still partake, not including Extreme Unction. The others – baptism, confirmation, marriage, Holy Orders – are in the past. “Been there, done that” – as the saying goes. Avoiding Confession is to cut ourselves off from, not just one, but from both of the best ways remaining of drawing closer to Christ. Of course, before going to Confession, one must prepare his brief:

    The Confessional, St Finnbar’s, Gugán Barra, County Cork, one Saturday night, 1949:
    Fr: Well, what have you done?
    Pat: “Everything.”
    Fr: Have you committed adultery?
    Pat: “Father, what sort of man do you t’ink I am?”
    Fr: Have you committed murder?
    Pat: “Father, have a heart!”
    Fr: Look here, have you examined your conscience?
    Pat: “No, Father.”
    Fr: Well, go and examine it, and don’t come back until you do.
    Séamus: So you’ve been to Confession, Pat?
    Pat: “Aye, Séamus, but don’t you bother going. Father’s only hearing murder cases tonight.”


  2. In my life the biggest difficulty is not in committing the sin(s) but in VOCALISING them not just to God through the priest but so that I can HEAR myself what I have done. It is, relatively, easy to say in one’s mind what one has done but to hear it OUT LOUD is a totally different experience. The fact that someone else (the priest) also hears it makes it much more real & gives some comprehension of how one has hurt God.


  3. Toad says:

    Confession is good for the soul. and – financially at least – cheaper than psychoanalysis.

    But it must be harder for some nationalities than others.
    The British are trained from birth not to burden others with their dreary problems.
    Unknown Americans in bars, however, have, quite uninvited, volunteered startling details of their private lives to me a stranger, that I would not consider telling even my closest friend.
    Especially not my closest friend.

    But I’m interested in David‘s concept of “hurting God.” How can this be possible, whatever awful things we might have done?


  4. Frere Rabit says:

    Dear me, Toad… It is not “David‘s concept” but a basic bog standard, Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism, bedrock, no brainer, non-rocket science, essential building block of the faith, written in every Catechism. Even I knew that, and I am a mere convert. (I am beginning to think those nuns did not beat you enough!) Sin hurts God because He loves us and wants us to grow to reach our full potential and not be degraded by sin.


  5. kathleen says:

    JH & Rabit – many thanks for a good laugh!

    Anyone fearing going to Confession because they see the ‘man’ sitting there in the Confessional, “who will be shocked at all the naughty things I confess to him”…. have got it wrong! That ‘man’, the priest, acting in Persona Christi, will forget everything told to him by the penitent. Or so I have heard priests say.

    A small miracle is wrought by God upon the priest, who in a Christ-like way, burdens himself with the sins of streams of men weighed down by their guilt and seeking God’s forgiveness. When the priest walks out of that confessional (and with the only exception being cases when it is necessary that he should remember) he will have this burden taken away from him; all will be completely forgotten and forgiven, by the absolution he has administered, by the power of Christ, in the Holy Sacrament of Confession.

    A calming thought for those who might be too ashamed of their sins to go to Confession.


  6. Roger says:

    Confession existed before of course as did the ablusion of Sin that became under Our Lord Baptism.
    But through the charism of the priesthood we truly confess in intimate privacy to Our Lord (in the Flesh). There is nothing to stop Acts of contrition in Private or Public but Our Lord wants Us to talk to Him directly.
    More than just sins of course here is the surgery of the Doctor of Our Souls to heal and give direction.
    The Joy of Confession is this real intimacy between Our Lord and Our souls.
    The Great Confessors such as Pio and Cure D’Ars read the penitents conscience which proves that the conscience and consciousness isn’t organic but spiritual.


  7. kathleen says:

    Just felt I had to show this amusing little video I found through a link on the great Biltrix blog:


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