Why confess to a priest? Revisiting the Reconciliation mosaic

by Mike Malcom


Have you ever had a friend ask, “Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest and not to God Himself?”

How do we answer that question? Are we making a mistake by not going directly to God? Wouldn’t Jesus want us to bring our sins to Him without deviation?

Not at all. From the Church’s beginning, Jesus wanted His bishops and priests to forgive sins in His name. Jesus spoke very clearly that He gave authority to the Apostles.

The Reconciliation mosaic in our beautiful church gives us the tools to explain the authority and effect of the sacrament.


What do the symbols in the Reconciliation mosaic tell us about why priests hear confessions?

Briefly, there is a key, a stole, and a hyssop branch.

  • The key is a symbol of the papacy. Saint Peter is often depicted in art as holding a pair of keys. These are the Keys to the Kingdom, given by Jesus to Peter and the Apostles. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:23) Jesus gave this authority to Peter and the Apostles.
  • The stole is a symbol of the priesthood. Hearing confessions is a function of the priesthood. Just as Christ gave the authority to forgive sins to Peter and the Apostles, that authority is passed down through the ministerial priesthood to Father Jack, Father Duy, Monsignor Dorney, and all priests today.
  • Hyssop is a small plant with bitter minty leaves used in Jewish rites of purification. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” (Psalm 51:9) Hyssop reminds us of Christ’s perfection of these ancient rituals. Ever since Jesus gave His spirit to the Apostles, the sacrament of Reconciliation has been an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.


God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin, through the ministry of the Church. May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.     – words of Absolution


Confession. Penance. Reconciliation. It’s part of Lent.

When is the Church of Saint Mary offering Reconciliation?

  • The March 8 Night of Mercy will feature six priests who will hear confessions during Adoration.
  • Two priests will be hearing confessions on Saturdays from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m.
  • Two priests will be hearing confessions on Sundays from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m.

This is the third article in a series: At the Foot of the Cross. Next week’s subject is the Parish Mission.

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