April 5, 2020 - Pastor Message05/19/2021
THE YEAR OF DISCIPLESHIP RECONCILIATION (CONCLUSION)
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Prayer of absolution during the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation).
Last week we looked at the history of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, beginning with Jesus and his entrusting to the Apostles, and through them the Church, the power to forgive sins in his name. The Church has faithfully carried that commission out down through the ages, in different ways, right down to our own time. This week, as we conclude our Lenten reflection on reconciliation, we will look at the form of the sacrament of Reconciliation today.
There are actually three forms of the sacrament as it exists today. The first and most common form is the Rite of Reconciliation of Individual Penitents, when an individual approaches a priest to hear his or her confession. The second form is the Rite of Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution. This is more commonly referred to as a communal penance service, like the celebrations at which we normally join together with St. Luke and Our Lady of Mount Carmel during Advent and Lent. The final and least common form is the Rite of Reconciliation of Several Penitents with General Confession and Absolution. This form is reserved for emergencies, such as soldiers preparing for battle, or in situations when the number of penitents, people seeking the sacrament, exceeds the priest’s ability to hear their confessions in a reasonable amount of time, and requires the permission of the bishop.
All three forms of the sacrament are comprised of the same basic elements: contrition, confession, absolution, and satisfaction. Contrition means having sorrow for our sins and a firm purpose of amendment to do all in our power, with the help of God’s grace, to avoid those sins in the future. Confession means confessing our sins to the priest. If in individual confession, that means telling the priest what sins I’ve committed and roughly how many times I’ve committed them. If in general confession, that means offering together some acknowledgment of our sin, such as the confiteor (“I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters…”). Absolution means the forgiveness of sins through the prayer of absolution offered by the priest. And satisfaction means making amends for the sins we’ve committed by carrying out our penance.
I know that one of the most common reasons people have for not going to confession is that it has been so long since their last confession they’ve forgotten how to do it and feel embarrassed about that, so let’s correct that by briefly examining the steps of how to make an individual confession. Before even going to confession, take some time to examine your conscience, asking God to help you remember your sins and make a good confession. Upon entering the confessional, where you can freely choose to either kneel behind the screen or sit face-to-face, greet the priest by making the sign of the cross and telling him roughly how long it has been since your last confession. Then proceed to confess your sins, concluding by letting the priest know you are done with some expression like “For these and all the sins I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry.” The priest will offer you some pastoral advice and assign your penance. You then make an act of contrition, a prayer expressing your sorrow for sins and intention to amend your life, which can be a form you have remembered or that you read from a booklet or card or your own form, straight from the heart. The priest will then pray the prayer of absolution over you, forgiving your sins, and send you forth to carry out your penance and live the renewed life of grace that you have celebrated and received through sacramental confession.
During our Lenten journey, we have reflected together on the vital role that reconciliation plays in the life of disciples of Christ. Christ came to reconcile all people, broken by sin and division, to God, and he sent his disciples out to continue his reconciling mission, as he prayed at the Last Supper: “That they may all be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:21). We are called to be reconcilers and, by reconciling with those who have sinned against us, witness to the reconciliation that Christ brings the world. We can only do that if we ourselves remain reconciled with God, and the ordinary means he has given us to do that is the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. May we take advantage of this great gift often and live the grace it gives by being agents of reconciliation in the world.
Fr. Marc Stockton