RP 5: Reconciliation With God And With The Church

mary-the-penitent.jpg

Today’s post reviews the damage caused outside the person by the sinner. First, a review of the notion that sin disrupts our relationship with God:

5. Since every sin is an offense against God that disrupts our friendship with him, “the ultimate purpose of penance is that we should love God deeply and commit ourselves completely to him.” [Paul VI, Ap. Const. Paenitemini, 17 Feb, 1966: AAS 58 (1966) 179. See also Lumen Gentium 11. ]

A reminder of the trinitarian nature of the process of penance:

Therefore, the sinner who by the grace of a merciful God embraces the way of penance comes back to the Father who “first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19), to Christ who gave himself up for us, [See Gal 2:20; Eph 5:25.] and to the Holy Spirit who has been poured out on us abundantly. [See Ti 3:6.]

And a reminder of the communal aspect of individual sin:

“The hidden and gracious mystery of God unites us all through a supernatural bond: on this basis one person’s sin harms the rest even as one person’s goodness enriches them .” [Paul VI, Ap. Const. Indulgentiarum doctrina, I Jan. 1967, no. 4. See also Pius XII, Encycl. Mystici Corporis, 29 June 1943: AAS 35 (1943) 213.] Penance always therefore entails reconciliation with our brothers and sisters who remain harmed by our sins.

And perhaps the best briefly-worded case for the importance of believers joining together to offer a mutual assistance in penance:

In fact, people frequently join together to commit injustice. But it is also true that they help each other in doing penance; freed from sin by the grace of Christ, they become, with all persons of good will, agents of justice and peace in the world.

I’d say this communal value, never very well defined or elucidated in the post-conciliar experience, is probably fading even more from the Catholic consciousness. Not a good thing, I’d say. In many parishes, the communal liturgies of reconciliation are more a pragmatic consideration: bringing the largest numbers of confessors and penitents together at the most mutually convenient time. But at least we have that. The pre-conciliar landscape was more bleak, and the divorce of sacrament from liturgy more stark.

About the designation of forgiven penitents as “agents of justice and peace,” what do you think of that?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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15 Responses to RP 5: Reconciliation With God And With The Church

  1. John Heavrin says:

    “The pre-conciliar landscape was more bleak, and the divorce of sacrament from liturgy more stark.”

    Total b.s., of course. Not only was the necessity of confession vastly more understood and accepted prior to Vatican II, the sacrament was frequently and widely used as opposed to the virtual desuetude of today. Moreover, the connection between confession and approaching Holy Communion hadn’t been lost either. From the perspective of the bottom line, which is the salvation of souls, the today’s situation is incalculably “bleaker.”

    Also, a word on “communal” penance services, etc.: they’re all well and good, but it must be remembered at all times that unless you individually confess your sins to a priest and are absolved by that priest, you haven’t been to confession and you haven’t received a sacrament. That should be made explicitly clear (as in, announcing it out loud) at each and every such service.

    Tomorrow’s First Saturday, by the way. I encourage all readers to make a good examination of conscience and a good confession tomorrow.

  2. Liam says:

    Of course, as I’ve noted before, I believe that monthly reconciliation liturgies (including the opportunity for individual sacramental confession) would be an ideal venue for so-called “devotional” confessions – that is, of venial sins, which typically do not require as much inquiry or instruction on the part of the confessor. Which is not to abandon weekly confession to those of us burdened with grave sin (or habitual venial sins that run the risk of deepening in gravity), but to allow confessors to focus more on their needs in such periods. (I’ve read any number of confessors who gently try to encourage their avid devotional penitents to not hog the confession lines by always being first, et cet.).

    While I would not share a description of the preconciliar sense of the sacrament as bleak*, I would agree that its relegation to extraliturgical practice was fairly anomolous (however understandable in terms of development) in Catholic sacramental tradition.

    * The phrase I would use instead would be more like “running the risk of being appreciated more juridically than sacramentally”. The collapse of practice has something important (albeit not entirely) to do with the brittleness with which many understood the sacrament before the council, and the growth in the perception of precept as arbitrary and capricious. At the risk of opening too large a tangent, I’ll end my note there.

  3. Anne says:

    Yes, of course John! Let’s bring back that sense of Catholic “guilt” that was so prevalent before the Council. The sense that it was only about me and God and never about the community of Christians. The sense of doing wrong (sinning) always seemed to be more important than doing good as “agents of justice and peace”. I’m curious about the examination of conscience that you suggest. Do you read one? Do you have your own version? Now don’t get me wrong…I believe in examening my conscience. I do it every night actually.

  4. Todd says:

    Reading comprehension, my friends. Neither the sacrament nor its practice was bleak; I was clear the landscape of separation of sacrament from liturgy was.

    Describing the sacrament as “confession” is evidence of the bleak nature of pre-conciliar liturgy. It would be like describing the Mass as “the gospel reading” or the “consecration.” Essential and important elements, sure, but not the whole picture.

    I think “bleak” fits in terms of liturgy. There was also grave ignorance on the part of clergy, laity, and the magisterium, too.

  5. Darwin says:

    Two things that occur to me:

    1) Although as a community we have a need for penance, I’m not sure how well group penitential activities contribute to genuine contrition and reform. There’s always the revival tent factor, but honestly, it seems to me that true repentence and ammendation is best achieved 1×1, not in group settings, which either cushion one’s sense of contrition or build to a false emotionally-controlled high.

    2) Does liturgy necessarily have to involve more than just a priest and penitant? It seems like a 1×1 sacramental experience can still be very liturgical/ritual. From what little I’ve been able to find about the differences in how individual confession is celebrated now vs. before the council, it seems to me that the two “feel” roughly equally liturgical. Indeed, the tendency towards a casual/conseling atmosphere which some have read into the modern practice probably reduces any liturgical feel.

  6. Todd says:

    Three thoughts in return:

    There are goals beyond repentance and amendation, as RP 6 suggests.

    I think two people can celebrate a sacrament very well. I think liturgy requires grounding in the Word of God. That would be the primary poverty I would see in form I as practiced today or fifty years ago.

    Penance as spiritual therapy: that medicinal aspect is strong in Catholic thinking. But I would agree that a confessor should take care to provide the sacrament as primarily a liturgical experience. A counsellor is human and mortal. Christ requires something with more gravitas.

  7. FrMichael says:

    Todd–

    “Describing the sacrament as “confession” is evidence of the bleak nature of pre-conciliar liturgy. It would be like describing the Mass as “the gospel reading” or the “consecration.” Essential and important elements, sure, but not the whole picture.”

    Too bad Pope John Paul II and the Church as a whole doesn’t agree with you, to wit CCC n. 1424. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist is also called by other names to illustrate other theological truths about It without any threat to Its sacramental and liturgical natures.

    IMHO calling this sacrament “Confession” is akin to calling the Blessed Sacrament “Eucharist” given that by the title Confession, in this sacrament is given “acknowledgement and praise– of the holiness of God and of His mercy toward sinful men.” (CCC n. 1424)

  8. Todd says:

    Thanks for the reference, Fr Michael. The CCC refers to it, among four other titles, as the “sacrament of confession” which makes the reference clear enough for me. Just calling it “confession” without the genitive reference is just sloppy, I think. As a liturgist, I have to converse with the distinction of the sacramental celebration as a whole or the various portions of it.

  9. John Heavrin says:

    By any name (I prefer the shorthand “confession” because that’s the primary thing I’m doing when I receive the Sacrament, accusing myself and confessing my sin; others prefer the equally non-comprensive terms “penance” or “reconciliation”), the practice and the understanding of this Sacrament has cratered since, and as a consequence of, Vatican II and its destructive and proud spirit; thus, I repeat, the current situation with regard to this Sacrament is incalculably bleaker. All your pedantic dithering over semantics won’t change that fact, Todd.

    I would also submit that the pre-conciliar conscious, intimate connection in the minds of the faithful between confession and Holy Communion, as contrasted with the total practical disconnect between the two that we now suffer, argues for a much greater liturgical connection between the two Sacraments before the Council.

    Confession has become almost an eccentricity in Catholic life, unused, unthought of. Millions of Catholics haven’t been in years, and probably see no reason why they should. How sad, and how condemnatory toward those in positions of responsible authority, lay and clerical. The loss of personal devotion and practice to this Sacrament over the last few decades has been, in a sad period, perhaps the saddest reality of all.

  10. Todd says:

    Thanks for replying John. As usual you miss the boat and read your own preferences into others’ statements. It’s convenient for you to call “dithering” something you just don’t seem to understand. Or really want to understand. You misread my statement. I called you on it. That’s the end of it, in my opinion, as we move on from there.

    I would agree that Penance as a sacrament has been, along with Holy Orders and the Liturgy of the Hours, among the failures of Vatican II.

    Like many conservatives, you discredit the cultural influences sinking religious practices and traditions as you fall over yourself to blame your favorite boogeyman.

    The new rite of penance, as a vast improvement over the old, at least has the theology and liturgy aligned, even if clergy have largely failed to adapt.

    And yes, Catholics have found the sky’s not falling as they skipped over going to confession. Leaders failed to lead. And many who retain a sense of sin have found the Twelve Steps as more practical in nearly all the theoretical aspects of this sacrament.

  11. Darwin says:

    The new rite of penance, as a vast improvement over the old, at least has the theology and liturgy aligned, even if clergy have largely failed to adapt.

    It seems odd to me to suggest that the rite itself was in the past defective — though since so far I haven’t been able to locate a text of the old rite I haven’t been able to compare. (A link would be appreciated if anyone knows of one.)

    The Church’s sacraments have always done what they do now. People’s understanding and practice of them, however, does change. Right now, there is little understanding and practice of confession. Fifty years ago there was rather more understanding and practice, though because of or despite what differences in ritual I’m not sure. At many other points in Church history, however, the sacrament was seldom received and quite possibly not well understood. (With humanity, ignorance is always a good guess with most people most of the time.)

    In a sense, and maybe this is part of what we’ll get to as the exposition continues on this document, I’m not clear what else people are imagining there could be. What goes on in confession is, at root, pretty simple, and I’m not really clear how much ritual there needs to be, beyond what there is or was.

  12. John Heavrin says:

    Hey Todd, I didn’t “misread” your statement at 3:22. “Confession” is inadequate but “Sacrament of Confession” is okay? Pedantic dithering.

    I stand by my observations.

    Darwin — of course the rite wasn’t “defective” in the past. This is nonsense. Todd engages in this sort of blind assertion with tiresome consistency, but that’s to be expected from someone for whom “pre-conciliar” is synonymous with “defective.”

    Then as now, a penitent examined his conscience, confessed his sins with genuine contrition, received absolution, did penance, and went forth forgiven and fortified with grace to grow in sanctity, serve God and love his neighbor. Not complicated. The difference is, Catholics used to frequent the Sacrament, now they’ve abandoned it. I would ask, which circumstance is “defective”?

  13. Todd says:

    For one example, the defect is in the order. Traditionally, the absolution followed the act of penance. That’s how the sacrament was practiced for centuries prior to the emergence of what is today called form I.

    Placing the absolution before the act of penance isn’t how the introduction to the rite describes it.

    The defect is also in the lack of the proclamation of the Word–whenever it was omitted prior to the Council, and whenever it is ignored today.

    I think we can say there was more “practice” with the sacrament fifty years ago. But understanding? That’s something that needs to be proven.

    I’d be cautious about assigning too much blame to the Council. Maybe you should try the 60’s instead. The CDWDS waited until the mid-70’s to reform the sacramental ritual. Otherwise it was intact until the Rite of Penance was promulgated in ’74.

    Maybe you can fairly blame the clergy. Maybe you can point to the emergence of distrust in authority. But I challenge you to find in the document we’re picking apart anything that would suggest a council-mandated decline.

    “What goes on in confession is, at root, pretty simple, and I’m not really clear how much ritual there needs to be, beyond what there is or was.”

    As a liturgist, I trust ritual and its ability to support conversion. I tend to be skeptical of those who might suggest that a little Scripture is a bad thing. Or that community is a waste of time.

    Good conversation, my friends; let’s keep it going.

  14. Darwin says:

    As a liturgist, I trust ritual and its ability to support conversion. I tend to be skeptical of those who might suggest that a little Scripture is a bad thing. Or that community is a waste of time.

    Certainly, scripture is always a help. Though the snippets apparently suggested for inclusion in the rite of confession as so short (and both which one to use and whether to do it at all is optional) I’m not sure even very regular penitant would notice. (I’m a 2-3 month sort of fellow myself, and I’d never noticed that what the priest said at the opening was usually a scripture verse until I read the rite on the USCCB site.) If one really thought a scripture reading was necessary, I would think 4-8 lines (and always the same ones) from one of the penitential psalms would work better. (But luckily, I’m not in charge of these things.)

    On community… Well, I think community is probably more important with some sacraments than others. I can’t see any important place for community in confession and in annointing of the sick. Eucharist and (I would argue) baptism are those where it seems communal setting is most important. I’m not sure that it needs to be an across the board element.

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