Although Catholicism is the largest single denomination in the US, we are doubly outnumbered by Protestants in general. This means that, like it or not, we American Catholics are deeply influenced by Protestants. In that light, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, allow me to share five arguments proving that Jesus gave us sacrament of divine mercy: confession.
#1: John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” There are three things that Jesus immediately does upon resurrecting and appearing to his apostles for the first time: first, He says, “Peace be with you”; second, He gives them the Holy Spirit; third, He gives them the authority to forgive sins on His behalf. Why in the world would He give men the authority to do what only God can do (Mark 2:7) if He didn’t want them to use that authority? And if that isn’t enough, Jesus did much the same when He gave Peter the authority to bind or loose things in heaven (Matt 16:18-19). Jesus Himself gave us the sacrament of confession.
#2: Catholicism or bust. If you believe that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and not the Lutheran, Calvinist, Baptist, etc. (see Matt 16:18-19), then you necessarily must believe in sacramental confession. Under the Holy Spirit, the Church has definitively declared this again and again, council after council; so for Catholics at least, if you’re going to be rationally consistent, confession isn’t optional.
#3: James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to one another.” James tells us to confess our sins to other Christians. Regardless of who he means by “one another”, this shows us that the confession of sins has always been more than a private prayer devotion for Christians. The Acts of the Apostles itself says of those who were converting, “Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.” (Acts 19:18) Confessing to another Christian (i.e. a priest) is essential because our sins affect the rest of the church and not just our personal relationship with God alone.
#4: History Proves It. If Scripture wasn’t enough, innumerable early Christian writings show us that those temporally closest to Jesus believed that Jesus intended a public confession of sins. We read from the Didache, written at about the same time as some New Testament books: “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life… On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.” (Didache 4:14, 14:1) Or, to take an example from Origen: “[A final method of forgiveness], albeit hard and laborious [is] the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner . . . does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and from seeking medicine, after the manner of him who say, ‘I said, “To the Lord I will accuse myself of my iniquity.”’” (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248])
#5: James 5:14-15 “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” The same passage that clearly points to the sacrament of anointing of the sick also shows us that sins can be forgiven through the ministry of priests.
Jesus gave us a gift in sacramental confession, so it’s only reasonable to think that He had good reasons for doing so! I’d encourage you to go at least every couple months. I go every few weeks.