Vatican City (CNA)—Pope Francis told priests and seminarians that the sacrament of penance is “the way of sanctification” in which miraculous conversions occur.
“Every single confession is always a new and definitive step towards a more perfect sanctification; a tender embrace, full of mercy, which helps to expand the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of love, truth and peace,” Pope Francis said March 29, 2019 at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. He was addressing participants in a course on the internal forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary.
“Sacramental confession is the way of sanctification for both the penitent and the confessor. And you, dear young confessors, you will soon experience it,” he said.
“As confessors, we have the privilege of constantly contemplating miracle conversions,” Francis said.
“Grace operates within the secrecy of the confessional miracles of which only and the angels will be witnesses,” he added.
Before turning to his prepared text, Pope Francis emphasized the gravity of the internal forum: “This is not a nonsense expression: it is said seriously. The internal forum is an internal forum, and cannot come out into the open.”
“I say this because I have realized that some groups in the Church, appointees, superiors, let us say—mix the two things and take decisions made in the internal forum for those taken in the external one, and vice versa. Please, this is a sin!”
Francis then explained that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded the sacramental seal with all its moral and juridical strength: “Reconciliation itself is a good that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all her moral and legal force with the sacramental seal.
“Although not always understood by the modern mentality, it is indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the freedom of conscience of the penitent; who must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain in the secrecy of the confessional, between one’s conscience that opens to grace, and God, with the necessary mediation of the priest.”
“The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has, nor may it claim, jurisdiction over it,” he emphasized.
Pope Francis said that many perceive the sacrament of penance—and with it a sense of sin—to be in crisis in the contemporary world. To this he said that formation of priests is necessary to overcome the crisis to “offer an ever more qualified service capable of really manifesting the beauty of the Divine Mercy.”
“Sacramental absolution, validly celebrated, gives us baptismal innocence, full communion with God,” he explained.
He said the importance of the “ministry of mercy” necessitates adequate formation of confessors, so that each encounter in the confessional is “always a real meeting of salvation, in which the embrace of the Lord is perceived in all its power.”