The rest of this question typically is “Why not confess in your heart directly to God?” And of course, one can be forgiven in such a way: The Catholic Church teaches that in cases of emergency such confession, along with an act of contrition, is enough to receive God’s merciful and loving forgiveness in Jesus Christ. But…
The Sacraments are given to the Church by Christ, so that the whole person, not just the soul, can be engaged and healed. So, for example, we don’t simply confess our faith in Jesus, we are baptized in water; we don’t simply call Him into our hearts, we “eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood” (Jn. 6:53). And we do not just ask for forgiveness in our hearts, we actually speak the words of our sins and hear the words of absolution and forgiveness authoritatively spoken to us.
AA knows well that if I cannot “name the Beast” within me, I don’t really and fully surrender; it’s still got its grip on me. I must say, out loud, that “I am an alcoholic.” The same thing is true of our sinfulness. That’s why it’s so hard for people to do; it’s also why it’s such a release when they do. This is how spiritual healing begins. It won’t begin with you, yourself, alone.
The priest is bound by all kinds of Church laws never to reveal what was said in Reconciliation in any way that would allow the person and his/her sins to be known. So the confessing is done in complete confidence and security of its privacy. Not so in the “old days” of the early Church, when confession was made publicly, in front of the whole community!
The additional advantage of confessing to a priest is that his training can help you by being objective: you may be being too hard on yourself, or you may be too easily letting yourself off the hook for moral responsibility. The priest holds up a mirror to you so you can recognize what, by yourself, you could not have seen or known. After all, humans are tremendously good at rationalizing!
So come to Reconciliation, name the Beast, and receive out loud the promise of grace and pardon, and the beginning of healing. It’s a great gift!
(Source: Our Sunday Visitor)
Read more in the “Why Do We Do That?” series from Deacon Mike Fritz.