Now we come to what the rite actually calls “confession.” I was criticized for advocating accuracy in speaking about the sacrament of penance, and it is true that the catechism writes of no less than five synonyms. In casual discussion with other Catholics, I wouldn’t see it as an issue meriting correction of any kind. By the same token, I’m not in the habit of altering my own vocabulary, even (or especially) with children.
That said, a person who clings to the terminology “confession” might still be rooted in the liturgical poverty of the sacrament. By this I mean the lack of acknowledgement on some of what the penitent receives from God. There’s a lot of focus on unburdening oneself in name from sin. There’s an expectation of receiving absolution. But the penitent and confessor both have an opportunity to receive the proclamation of the Word. Too much emphasis on the sacramental matter might indicate what some have called a horizontal bias in the spiritual life, an expectation that what we place in a confessors ear and hear from his mouth is all that’s essential–instead of part of what’s vital.
Speaking of terminology, notice what the rite calls the act of contrition: “the general confession formulary.” Notice that it is customary, not required.
18. Next comes the penitent’s confession of sins, beginning with the general confession formulary, I confess to almighty God, if this is the custom. If necessary, the confessor assists the penitent to make a complete confession; he also encourages the penitent to repent sincerely for offenses against God; finally he offers practical advice for beginning a new life, and, where necessary, gives instruction on the duties of the Christian life.
A penitent who has been the cause of harm or scandal to others is to be led by the priest to resolve to make due restitution.
Those involved in scandal must change not only their voting records, it seems.
Next, the priest imposes an act of penance or expiation on the penitent; this should serve not only as atonement for past sins but also as an aid to a new life and an antidote for weakness. As far as possible, therefore, the penance should correspond to the seriousness and nature of the sins. This act of penance may suitably take the form of prayer, self-denial, and especially service to neighbor and works of mercy. These will underline the fact that sin and its forgiveness have a social aspect.
The act of penance has some important churchspeak attached to it. It is not only about making amends, but also serve as an assistance for “a new life” and as a strengthening agent in the penitent’s life. Do confessors consider this? How do they address the confession of venial sins in this regard: do they look for ways to strengthen the spiritual life of the penitent in general?
It’s also interesting that the act of penance may cover the matter of the three pillars of Lent. But of special note is the pillar of charity. Speaking from my own experience, this is fairly common among confessors I’ve had while on retreat.