March 29, 2020 - Pastor Message05/18/2021
THE YEAR OF DISCIPLESHIP RECONCILIATION (CONT.) “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16).
The COVID 19 crisis may have shut down public Masses, but our church remains open for private prayer everyday from 7:30 AM 6:00 PM, at least as of the time I am writing this column. We also continue to offer the opportunity for personal confession on Saturdays at 4:15 PM and by private appointment. As we continue our reflection on reconciliation as a hallmark of Christian discipleship, we consider this month the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
The sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation has its roots in Christ’s entrusting the power to forgive sins, and thus also the power to determine how best to do so, to the Church through the ministry of the apostles. The earliest form this took was Baptism, when people would repent of their sins and be washed clean, receiving a new, risen life free of sin. As time went on, it became apparent to the early Church that, though freed from sin in Baptism, Christians were still capable of sinning and in need of the forgiveness of God and reconciliation with the community after Baptism. So the Church developed the rite of canonical penance, a lengthy process involving public confession and penance that could take months or even years until the sinner was forgiven and welcomed back into the community by the bishop, a process that, like Baptism, could only be done once. Canonical penance was the norm in much of the early Church until a new approach to forgiveness and reconciliation began in Ireland around the 5th and 6th centuries.
Early Irish Christianity was unique for a number of reasons, primarily because of its origins in the work of missionary monks. The monks of Ireland practiced a form of fraternal correction within their monasteries in which members of the community would meet privately with wiser, more spiritually gifted members to seek spiritual guidance. These meetings often included a private confession of sins and the assignment of private penance. Unlike other monks of that time, the monks of Ireland did not seek to escape the evil in the world but to confront it head on through missionary work. Their monasteries served as bases of operation from which they preached and taught and converted the pagans around them. Through this interaction between the monks and those they converted to Christianity, lay people also began coming to the monks for spiritual guidance, which again included private confession of sins and the assignment of private penance.
With Ireland converted, the missionary monks sought new souls to save, and so they traveled to continental Europe, much of which, especially in the north, remained pagan. The monks brought their practice of private confession and penance with them, and it soon caught on and spread throughout Europe until, by the 16th century at the Council of Trent, it was officially recognized by the Church as the ordinary way of celebrating the sacrament. With some minor changes throughout the years since, this is the form of the sacrament that we celebrate still today, and what a gift it is.
Fr. Marc Stockton