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Lesson Eleven: Forgiveness of Sins

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church. He is her source of supernatural life.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit is the source of the Church’s power to reconcile sinners with our offended God.

In covering the tenth article of the Apostle's Creed, the catechist should keep in mind that the sacraments of Baptism, Penance and Anointing of the Sick are the divinely-instituted means of forgiving sins. At this point in the religious instruction, it is better to focus on just one truth of our faith: that the Spirit of Christ, through the Church, now continues the same work of mercy that Jesus performed during His visible ministry in Palestine.


The key to understanding this article of the Creed is to see the Church as the channel of divine grace, here the grace of restoring sinners to friendship with God.

No less than the Pharisees were scandalized when Christ told the paralytic "My child, your sins are forgiven (Mark2: 5), so today's world is scandalized when the Church claims she has power to tell sinners “Your sins are forgiven.”


The forgiveness of sins professed in the Church covers every aspect of divine mercy in favor of those who repent and want to be reconciled with God.

  1. “Forgiveness” means removal of the guilt that a sinner incurs by his sins. Guilt means the loss of divine grace, because of the sin. To remove the guilt then, means to restore the grace that “had” been lost.

  2. “Forgiveness” means removal of the debt of punishment or suffering also incurred by committing sin. The punishment remitted may be either eternal after death, or temporal either in this world or in purgatory.

  3. “Forgiveness” means restoration of the graces that were lost by the commission of sin.

  4. “Forgiveness” means restoration of the merits that may also have been lost by willfully separating oneself from God by deliberate mortal sin.

  5. “Forgiveness” means not only being restored to divine friendship after estrangement from the Creator. It also means that God mysteriously offers the converted sinner extraordinary blessings for the future. St. Paul says that, “however great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater” (Romans 5:21). And Christ declared, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:7).


What the catechist should stress is that there is no limit to God’s mercy. He is always ready to forgive our sins. But we must be ready to repent.

So true is this that, where true sorrow for sin is absent, God will not counsel the sinner to repent and, we may say, cannot forgive.

This is what the Church understands by the “unforgivable sin.” It does not mean that God is unwilling or unable to forgive even the worst criminal. But He gave us a free will. If we have sinned and lost His friendship, we must admit that we have done wrong, must resolve to amend our lives, and must come back to God even as the prodigal son returned to his father.

It is well to recommend to those you teach to tell God they are sorry immediately after they realize they have done something wrong. Aspirations like the following may be used:

“My Jesus, mercy.”
“My God, I am sorry for having offended you.”
“Jesus, my God, forgive me.”
“O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Also commendable is to get into the habit of making at least a short examination of conscience at the end of the day.

Praying for sinners, asking God to forgive them, is a practice that has been in the Church since the Church was born of Calvary. Christ’s words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), is the example that we are to imitate.

Prayer for Mercy

“Good Jesus, I know two things in myself, the nature you have made and the sin that I have added. Lord, I confess that through my own fault I have disfigured my nature, but remember that I am only a spirit that goes forth and does not return. Of myself, I have gone forth into sin, return of myself, I cannot. Good Jesus, remove what I have added and leave what you have made that I whom you have redeemed with your blood on the Cross, may not perish. Amen” (St. Bernard).

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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