I understand the Church recognizes Protestant's baptism, and I understand why they cannot participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist, but I am absolutely dumbfounded as to why they can't participate in the sacrament of reconciliation/penance. Why? Doesn't God call us all to repentance? Surely, He does. But why would the Church withhold absolution? While we are on the subject, I'm also very sad that my Protestant friends do not have access to the anointing of the sick. This just breaks my heart because I've seen some radical miracles in people I personally know who have received pretty dramatic physical healing as a result of this sacrament. Please help me understand why Protestants are separated from these vital sacraments.
- Christi in our diocese
Thank you for these questions and your concern for the spiritual well-being of our Protestant brothers and sisters.
I would be remiss if I did not first point out that they can receive the sacraments of penance and of the anointing of the sick if they join the Church established by Christ Jesus and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. We do not make this invitation to them often enough. The sacraments of the Catholic Church are for those who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, not for those who are outside of communion with us.
The sacrament of penance — oftentimes also called confession and reconciliation — not only reconciles the penitent with God, but also with the Church. This Church is not some vague spiritual notion as most Protestants imagine it, but the actual Church that Jesus founded on the rock of St. Peter, which is to say the Catholic Church.
In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council taught that through the sacrament of penance the faithful “obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offense committed against him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion” (no. 11). Under normal circumstances, Protestants are not able to receive sacramental absolution because they cannot be reconciled with the Church if they are not in communion with the Church.
The same situation applies with the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, which also involves the forgiveness of sins (see James 5:14-15). Again, under normal circumstances, Protestants are not able to receive the sacrament of the sick because they cannot be reconciled to the Church if they are not in communion with the Church.
If a Protestant believes in the power of the sacraments of penance and the anointing of the sick, he or she should also recognize that the Catholic Church was established by Christ Jesus as the means of our salvation and should seek to enter into full communion with the Church. If they do this, they can receive these sacraments as often as they need them.
Father Daren Zehnle, J.C.L., K.C.H.S., is pastor at St. Augustine in Ashland; parochial administrator of St. Alexius in Beardstown, St. Fidelis in Arenzville, and St. Luke in Virginia; and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.