“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

From today’s Gospel reading (John 20:20-23).

Our Lord gave His own power to the Apostles to forgive or to retain sins.  Validly ordained bishops and priests have Christ’s own power to forgive sins and they do so validly with the Church’s permission, indicated by a “faculty”.

There is no sin so great that any of us can commit that a confessor cannot absolve, for it is Christ absolving as the confessor absolves.

The penitential season of preparation for Easter may be behind us, but we must still examine our consciences and go to confession when our examen has brought mortal sin into focus.  There are sins of commission and sins of omission, which as sometimes harder to discern.

Commenting on these verses of John 20, St. Jerome (+420) wrote:

You say that the Church was founded on Peter (Matthew 16:18), although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends on them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism. (Adversus Iovinianum 1.26).

Our Lord gives us what we need so that we know we belong to Him in His Body the Church and so that we know that our sins have been forgiven.

Say a prayer of thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the gift of certainty about both membership in the Church Christ founded and also confidence in forgiveness for our sins through the Sacrament of Penance.  And while you are at it, ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen the unity of the Church by bringing the SSPX into clearer unity with Peter and also to inspire a revitalization of the Sacrament of Penance.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, GO TO CONFESSION, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, Patristiblogging and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Mike says:

    Will do on the prayers. Though things are better than in the bad ole 70s, I saw signs of “crisis” in my parish this morning. They are fine people–they’ve just been robbed is all! Of their full rights to ALL our Catholic heritage.

  2. Nora says:

    I always offer a prayer the moment I see your request, Father.

    Now I have a request, LOL. Can you recommend a examen for sins of omission? The beatitudes are as close as I have ever come, but your comment about them being hard to recognize leads me to think you might have a specifically tailored one in your bag o’ tricks.

  3. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Based on the rorate caeli website on Saturday, the SSPX and Holy See negotiations were evolving positively…let’s pray that the hearts of all SSPX priests may moved to be in favour of an agreement, so that their faculties to forgive sins are not ambiguous any longer…I don’t want to get into a debate about the faculties, I just want a reconciliation.

    Let’s use our rosary prayers for this noble purpose…

  4. dbqcatholic says:

    Fr Z:

    Is this passage (““Peace be with you. … Receive the Holy Spirit…”) the basis for the “Peace be with you … And with Your Spirit” in the liturgy?

  5. Emilio III says:

    At Saturday morning Mass, we had a substitute priest; a young Jesuit science teacher from the high school next door. Recently ordained, his homily was longer than is usual for a weekday. Started with a digression on Pope Benedict’s thoughts on Faith and Reason, then went on about what a wonderful gift was the sacrament of Penance. “The Lord Himself was so excited about it that He could not wait to establish it, and did so right after the greeting ‘peace be with you’.”

    It seems odd to think of the Risen Lord as being excited about confession, but His representative at that altar certainly was. And that seems to bode well for the future.

  6. Giuseppe says:

    Re. John 20:23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

    How does a confessor decide which sins can be retained? Would that only occur if a penitent confesses a sin, but does not exhibit true repentance? Or is there some leeway given the confessor to withhold forgiveness for certain sins, even if truly repented?

Comments are closed.