The Catholic Church is very welcoming of people from all faiths and backgrounds. If you are non-Catholic, you can attend mass. Can non Catholics go to confession though?
Just because you can go to church doesn’t mean that you can partake in all activities. The biggest no-no for non-Catholics is receiving the Eucharist. The Holy Communion is reserved for catholic believers that are baptized. The same principle applies to a catholic wedding, etc.
Something else you likely cannot do as a non-Catholic is go to confession. There are some exceptions, hence the word ‘likely’. I explain more below.
What You'll Learn Today
Sacraments are the channels through which the faithful receive God’s Grace. There are seven of them including baptism, confirmation, Eucharist and others. Confession or Penance is one of these seven sacraments.
Before you can partake in any of the sacraments, you have to go through the first one, which is baptism.
If you are non-Catholic and have not received any form of Christian baptism, you cannot receive penance regardless of the situation.
Baptism is so important because it is the gateway to a relationship with God. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about baptism (CCC 1213):
“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”
And here’s what the Bible says (1 Peter 3:21):
“…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Confession For Baptized Non-Catholics
Confession is a sacrament reserved for Catholics who have gone through baptism and are in communion with the church.
However, If you are non-Catholic, but have been baptized the proper Christian way, you can seek out a priest for penance in cases of grave necessity.
For instance, if you are in danger of death, a priest can administer confession. The diocesan bishop can also judge if some other grave necessity, not just danger of death, qualifies a non-Catholic Christian for confession.
Here’s what the Code of Canon Law states regarding confession for non-Catholic Christians (Can. 844 §4):
“If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”
Note the end of the above section. Non-Catholics hoping to receive penance from a Catholic priest must manifest faith in the Catholic sacrament. After all, you cannot partake in something you do not believe in. That’d be mockery.
Also, note that the non-Christian must seek out confession of their free will. A Catholic minister cannot be the first to make the offer or force confession on someone who is not willing.
Another exception that allows non-Catholics to receive penance is if they are going through the RCIA program.
The priest will judge whether you are ready to go to confession. But in most churches, RCIA candidates typically go to confession before confirmation.
- Note: It doesn’t matter where you were baptized, as long as it was a valid Christian baptism. Even if you were baptized in another church, but are going through the RCIA program to get into the Catholic Church, you are eligible for confession. You do not need to be re-baptized.
In most cases, Catholic ministers can also administer confession to members of Eastern Churches, since the Catholic Church considers their sacraments valid. Here’s the Code of Canon Law on the matter (Can. 844 §3).
“Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.”
Note that for Eastern Churches, there’s no requirement that there be a grave necessity such as danger of death for the person to receive penance.