The meditation was delivered by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Papal Household preacher. It was his third and last Lenten talk in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, attended by John Paul II and officials of the Roman Curia.
Father Cantalamessa was reflecting on the third level of the reading of Scripture: the moral, "which tries to draw from Easter practical teachings for life and customs."
The preacher quoted St. Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: "Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
This quotation is not only "the oldest testimony of the existence of a Christian Pasch," but is the "first 'Lenten' homily of Christianity," the Capuchin priest said.
"The apostle bases himself on the Jewish custom of examining the house on the eve of Passover and eliminating every trace of fermented bread to illustrate the moral implications of the Christian Pasch," he said. "The believer must also explore the interior house of his heart to destroy everything that belongs to the old regime of sin and corruption."
The doctrine and practice of the Church "has specified where and how this paschal purification can be" effected, "how to eliminate 'the old leaven': in the sacrament of reconciliation," the "ordinary and necessary means to obtain forgiveness of grave sins committed after baptism," Father Cantalamessa said.
"Confession is the moment when the believer's dignity is affirmed most clearly, because, just as in other moments of the life of the Church the believer is one among many -- when listening to the Word, when receiving the Eucharist -- in confession he or she is unique," the preacher said. "At that moment the Church exists only for him or her."
"This way of freeing oneself from sin by confessing it to God through his minister corresponds to the natural need of the human psyche to be free from what oppresses the conscience, by manifesting it, bringing it out into the light, and expressing it verbally," he continued.
However, "if we want this sacrament to be really effective in the struggle against sin, the way it is administered and received must be renewed in the Spirit," the Capuchin said.
"To renew the sacrament in the Spirit, means not to live confession as a rite, a habit or a canonical obligation, but as a personal encounter with the Risen One who allows us, as he did Thomas, to touch his wounds, to feel in ourselves the healing force of his blood and taste the joy of being saved," Father Cantalamessa said.
Confession, he said, enables us "to experience in ourselves what the Church sings in the Exultet in the Easter Vigil: 'O happy fault that merited such a Redeemer!'"
He added: "Jesus knows how to make all human faults, once acknowledged, 'happy faults,' faults that are no longer remembered save by the experience of divine mercy and tenderness that they have occasioned."