Friday 25 November 2011

New Document of Confession from Rome

Cardianl Piacenza visiting the Irish College in Rome earlier this year.

The more I see and hear of Cardinal Piacenza, the Prefect for the Congregation of Clergy, the more impressed I am. The documents he has issued in his brief time at the Congregation have been excellent. I was also very struck on being on the sanctuary at Mass (OF) with him, as he made a clear distinction after the Sanctus by dropping his voice - not quite a silent Canon but a distinctly different tone. Perhaps it is part of his interpretation of the Holy Father's injunction for the two forms of the Roman Rite to influence one another.

The latest document is a call for a re-emphasis on the Sacrament of Confession as a basic building block for the New Evangelisation and encouragement to spiritual directors.

I know that even when I preach about it and put on extra times n my own parish, there are still very few takers. I'm going to try to take up Bishop Mark Davis' (of Shrewsbury) advice who says that he had good results in the parish by bringing the Sacrament to the people instead of waiting for them to come to him. He did this by sitting in the confessional box before and after Sunday Mass during Lent and Advent. I will preach about it his weekend and for Advent process straight from the sanctuary into the confessional after the Sunday Masses. I'm not particularly eager to add to the burden of work on a Sunday morning but I'm willing to give it a try and see what happens!

You can read the full document (which is quite lengthy) here: Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy.
Here are some extracts which took my attention (with my own highlights), starting with some practical aspects.


29. It is possible to experience this dynamic of the merciful forgiveness of God from childhood and even before First Holy Communion. “Innocent” [interesting that this word describing children is in inverted commas] children, moved by trust and filial joy, can find this experience.32 For this reason and towards this end, such souls should be prepared with a truly adequate catechesis prior to receiving their First Holy Communion.

The decorous and suitably positioned confessional “with a fixed grill between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely” is of great use to both penitent and priest.

43. “In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution”. According to the norms of law, however, “for a member of the Christian faithful to receive validly sacramental absolution given to many at one time, it is required not only that the person be properly disposed, but also, at the same time, intend to confess within a suitable period of time each grave sin which at the present time cannot be so confessed”. The judgement as to whether the conditions required by the norm of law actually exist, “belongs to the diocesan bishop [not individual priests deciding on their own] [who] can determine the cases of such necessity, attentive to the criteria agreed upon with the other members of the conference of bishops”. Thus, “individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession… Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church”.
50. Frequent confession of venial sins or imperfections is a consequence of fidelity to Baptism and Confirmation, and expresses a sincere desire for perfection and return to the Father’s plan so that Christ may truly live in us through a life of greater fidelity to the Holy Spirit. Hence, “in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also”.It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present […] and that confessions be especially available even during Mass, in order to meet the needs of the faithful. In the event of a “concelebrated Mass, it is warmly recommended that some priests refrain from concelebrating so as to hear the confessions of the faithful”.

61. We have to recognise the present difficulties facing the ministry of penance due to a certain loss of the sense of sin, a certain (JOHN PAUL II, Letter to priests on Holy Thursday 1986, JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Dives in Misericordia) disaffection towards this sacrament, a certain blindness to the usefulnessof the confession of sins and also the exhaustion suffered by many priests because of their manifold duties. However, confession is a spiritual rebirth transforming the sinner into a new creation and unites him with the friendship for Christ. Thus, it is a well-spring of joy for those who are servants of the Good Shepherd.

Some phrases of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI draw out attention to the same theme: “These days, the correct formation of believers’ consciences is without a doubt one of the pastoral priorities” .

10. The concrete, joyful, trustworthy and committed practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a clear indicator of the level of evangelization reached by the individual believer and by a particular community. [On this measure most parishes I know of - including my own -have not reached a very high level of evangelisation!]

Once again, I would like to set forth what I wrote in the exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia: ‘The priest’s spiritual and pastoral life, like that of his brothers and sisters, lay and religious, depends, for its quality and fervour, on the frequent and conscientious personal practice of the Sacrament of Penance. The priest’s celebration of the Eucharist and administration of the other sacraments, his pastoral zeal, his relationship with the faithful, his communion with his brother priests, his collaboration with his bishop, his life of prayer – in a word, the whole of his priestly existence, suffers an inexorable decline if by negligence or for some other reason he fails to receive the Sacrament of Penance at regular intervals and in a spirit of genuine faith and devotion. If a priest were no longer to go to confession or properly confess his sins, his priestly being and his priestly action would feel its effects very soon, and this would also be noticed by the community of which he was the pastor’ ”. But when I am conscious that God always forgives me, as Benedict XVI wrote, “by letting myself be forgiven, I learn to forgive others”.

18. Pastoral fruitfulness derives from the Mercy of God. Pastoral planning would hardly be efficacious were it to underestimate the importance of sacramental confession: “the greatest pastoral concern must be shown for this sacrament of the Church, the source of reconciliation, of peace and of joy for all of us who stand in need of the Lord’s mercy and of healing from the wounds of sin… The Bishop will not fail to remind all those who by virtue of office are charged with the care of souls that they have the duty to provide the faithful with the opportunity of making an individual confession. He himself will make certain that the faithful are in fact being assisted in every way possible to make their confession… When one considers in the light of Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium the close connection between the Sacrament of Reconciliation and participation in the Eucharist, one sees how necessary it is today to form the consciences of the faithful so that they may partake worthily and fruitfully of the Eucharistic Banquet, and approach it in a state of grace”. [The connection between Confession and receiving the Holy Eucharist has in practical effect been virtually lost in the Western world.]

Frequent confession, even for those who are not in grave sin, has constantly been recommended by the Church as a means of progress in the Christian life.

The fact that great numbers of people “seem to stay away from confession completely, for various reasons, is a sign of the urgent need to develop a whole pastoral strategy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This will be done by constantly reminding Christians of the need to have a real relationship with God, to have a sense of sin when one is closed to God and to others, the need to be converted and, through the Church, to receive forgiveness as a free gift of God. They also need to be reminded of the conditions that enable the sacrament to be celebrated well, and in this regard to overcome prejudices, baseless fears and routine. Such a situation, at the same time, requires that we ourselves should remain greatly available for this ministry of forgiveness; ready to devote to it the necessary time and care, and I would even say giving it priority over other activities.

Loss of a sense of sin disrupts the inner balance of our hearts and generates contradiction and conflict in human society.


Ego Te Absolve said...

May I make a couple of points about confession and why so few go these days.
First of all the 'new' way of face to face did a great deal of damage because, while the enthusiasts took this up with glee, it turned most people off.
Secondly, many priests wander around the church until people arrive. This, also,is offputting because most people prefer an anonymous confession.
Thirdly, most priests never mention it when preaching. A friend who lapsed many years ago told he was at Mass a few weks ago and went up for holy Communion. I was aghast and said he could not do that. Apparently, his wife, a weekly attender, had told him that confession was no longer required.
I'm afraid that many priests hav been responsible for this parlous state of affairs.

KG said...

Father. In our confessional a Crucifix hangs on the wall. It is beautiful. There is also a picture of The Divine Mercy, with the words Jesus I Trust in You.
If we believe in The Lord, then we should understand and believe in the Divine Mercy of God. it is available to all who approach His Divine Mercy. I would say it is an opportunity that should be taken very seriously. Forgiveness of our sins is like having a shower and being beautifully cleansed to be able to recieve The Lord in Holy Communion.
Bring back the promises of going to confessions on Frist Fridays and Saturdays.
You may like to try this.

Anonymous said...

On a number of occasions I was told by the priest that NOTHING and I repeat NOTHING he repeated, should stop a person going up to receive Holy Communion.
When I questioned this as regards mortal sins.his answer was - "you know, it is almost impossible for a person to commit a mortal sin, and anyway the Eucharist is itself a forgiving Sacrament.

Sixupman said...

A priest in Carlisle was so laid-back, one was tempted to Confess something outrageous in order to see if it would result in some meaningful response. The same cleric banned his curate from celebrating the TLM - an adjacent parish co-operated.

In one Chorley church an enquiry regarding Confession was met with incredulity - apparently it had been excised from that church.

Attempting to go to Confession at the advertised times, in Liverpool Cathedral, I discovered that all the clergy were in a meeting - so I was informed by a nun who appeared bemused that someone would wish top avail themselves of the Sacrament.

Damask Rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damask Rose said...


Re Your previous confession and children comment:

"This new document seems to be re-emphasising that children have the right to have their sins forgiven and thus be able to approach the other sacraments in a state of grace and that pastors have the duty to teach them about this: ie that no-one should approach Holy Communion - or indeed any of the other sacraments - without being in a state of grace."

The Roman Catholic Church taught my son for six months prior to his First Holy Communion and he ended up practically knowing nothing - 10 Commandments, 7 Deadly sins, Virtues and Contrary vices, beatitudes, nothing, nada. The bumph for First Confession contained no written Examination of Conscience and you need only confess what "you're ashamed of".

My son doesn't go to the parish's primary school, so in fairness to the parish, maybe the children learn all the things mentioned above in school prior or parallel to the First Holy Communion catechesis which takes place after Sunday Mass (in my diocese anyway).

Annie Elizabeth said...

Our parish seems to have a greater than average take-up of confession and I think that a few points help in this: [1] there are leaflets for children, teenagers and adults about the sacrament just outside the confessional box. These are a good primer for those who may be a little rusty but too shy to ask for guidance. The leaflets also all have a good, age appropriate, examination of conscience and are well used even by those who confess frequently. [2] As well as a beautiful crucifix, the penitent's box has a frame with two versions of the Act of Contrition in it next to the grille: not knowing the Act of Contrition off by heart is no longer a barrier to going to confession [3] There is usually a visiting priest hearing confessions throughout the main Sunday Mass: most weeks the confessional is a revolving door from 10 minutes before, right through the Mass (except for the Canon), and for a good 10 minutes afterwards. People are now in the *habit* of frequent confession (there are obviously other scheduled confession times as well) [4] Unlike in many parishes where the grille has either been removed or is uncovered, there is a small curtain over the grille in the confessional: this makes it properly anonymous.

I think that the old "continental" style confessional boxes are great - you can see that the priest is there, and yet they're discreet (as long as you remember to talk sotto-voce!) - I've been told that they're far more efficient as well for those times when the queue is long!

Ego Te Absolve said...

Further to my previous comment. I went this evening to a church that advertised confessions from 5.45 to 6.15 pm. I arrived at 5.55 to find the church open and lit but empty of people. The lights in the confessional were on and both doors were wide open. The sacristy door was open and the lights on. There was absolute silence. I went into 'my' side and slammed the door to let the priest know I was there. I waited about three minutes and came out again. Still no one appeared. So I left the church and waited outside for a while until I saw one of the parishioners going in. So I went in again and found the PP wandering down the far side aisle. I then knelt down in the back pew to say some prayers and was deep in prayer when the PP appeared behind me and said: " A good result for your team today." I turned around and he said: "Oh, I am sorry, I thought you were someone else." So much for respecting my posture of prayer. As I got up to leave I thought I would say something. I explained that I had come to confession but was leaving because he was not in the confessional. Oh, I'll go in now, he said. I explained, with restraint, that I wanted a private confession and did not want the priest to see me. But I don't know who you are, he said. I explained that he was missing the point, which was that I wanted a 'private' confession, and I was leaving. His response? An apology? A blessing? No. "Oh well, I respect the freedom of all God's children."
If I said what was in my mind I would have had to drive immediately to another church to seek out a confessional poste haste.
Why can some priests not see the obvious damage they are doing to their flocks?

FrJ said...

Father, Re comments of Ego Te Absolve. A little harsh I think. The priest made contact with you. He approached you in a friendly way. He did not know you. I don't think that the priest wanted or even considered anything else but to be kind and friendly. At least I hope this is the case.
Lets be a little more considerate towards priests.
You had a chance to conclude your purpose of visiting the church. The opportunity was there for you. You choice was not to accept it. May I suggest that was your choice not the priest's.

Ego Te Absolve said...

Ref comments by Fr J. I don't think my comments were harsh at all. In my experience most Catholics much prefer an anonymous confession and many, to my knowledge, have stopped going because of this is often no longer available. When Churches advertise a Mass at a certain time we all turn up and expect to see the priest go to the sanctuary at the appointed time. We do not expect him to be wandering around the church until he decides it is time for him to start. Likewise, when confession is announced for a certain time why do priests either not appear until called or wander around until someone turns up. Why have private and confidential confessional boxes and posted times when the priest can just ignore them and turn up when HE wants to [allowing, of course, for urgent calls] and just wander about in full view thus negating the desire of the people for an anonymous confession.
The priest was friendly and I have no complaints about this [apart from the fact that he interrupted me while I was praying to talk about a football match]; it was the fact that he could not see my point that I wanted an anonymous confession. Fr J also seems unable to appreciate this point. Confessing can often be an embarrassing experience and the anonymity of confession greatly helps in this. If priests cannot understand this basic desire of many of their faithful then they should not be surprised that so few now avail themselves of this sacrament.
I quite agree that we should be more considerate towards our priests who have such a difficult time these days, but it works both ways; why are priests not considerate towards those of us who have only the simple desire to attend confession at a time set down by the priests themselves and find them waiting in the box to respect our anonymity? It is the priests who are at the root of this problem; one which is so simple to resolve.