Eucharisticum Mysterium 35: Penance and Communion

The Consilium takes a brief look at the relationship between two sacraments:

35. The eucharist should also be proposed to the faithful “as a remedy that frees us from our daily faults and preserves us from mortal sins.” [Council of Trent, sess. 13, Decr. de Eucharistia cap. 2: Denz-Schon 1638; see also sess. 22, Decr. de Missa cap. 1 and 2: Denz-Schon 1740 and 1743.] They should also receive an explanation of how to make use of the penitential parts of the Mass.

Apart from the explicitly penitential parts of the Mass, the Tridentine quote suggests that there is a preventative dimension to the Eucharist.

“Those wishing to receive communion should be reminded of the precept ‘let them examine themselves’ (1 Cor 1:28). Ecclesiastical custom shows that this examination is necessary so that none who are conscious of having committed mortal sin, no matter how contrite they believe themselves to be, should approach the holy eucharist without first making a sacramental confession.” [Council of Trent, sess. 13, Decr. de Eucharistia cap. 7: Denz-Schon 1740 and 1743.] “In a case of necessity, however, and when no confessor is available, a person should first make an act of perfect contrition.” [Codex Iuris Canonici (Rome, 1918) can. 859.]

Church teaching on being in a state of sin and what to do about it.

The faithful are to be constantly encouraged in the practice of receiving the sacrament of penance outside Mass, especially at the scheduled hours, so that the administration of the sacrament may be unhurried and genuinely useful and that people will not be impeded from active participation in the Mass. Daily or frequent communicants should be instructed to go to confession regularly, depending on their individual needs.

I don’t know how widespread the practice of hearing confessions during Mass used to be, but this paragraph seems eminently sensible. One might also suggest that the time immediately before Mass isn’t the best time to schedule the sacrament, either. At our parish, I often see penitents still in the confession line at ten minutes before Mass.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Eucharisticum Mysterium 35: Penance and Communion

  1. Liam says:

    The timing of Confession was partly a pastoral finesse around scrupulosity. Of course, many people may think scrupulosity went the way of the dodo bird, but if what I read is any indication, it’s very much with us.

  2. Todd says:

    Or was the addition of the Saturday evening Mass the beginning of one-stop spiritual shopping for the parish?

  3. Liam says:

    No, Todd, because it was common practice (at least in urban parishes with large staffs of priests) to have other priests hearing confessions on Sunday mornings. That became less common after the Council because of this document, but the advent of Masses at 4pm on Saturdays ended up shifting the phenomenon from Sunday morning to Saturday afternoon.

    Recall that, because Pius X encouraged frequent reception of both Communion and Reconciliation, as a pastoral matter, people were encouraged to receive the two in close conjunction to avoid any chance of a culpable error in the internal forum regarding grave matter, et cet. That hasn’t entirely died out.

    Actually, good confessors for the scrupulous would tend to discourage what might be seen as an OCD approach; but for the lax they might encourage it – showing once again that we tend to need the opposite medicine from the one we are inclined to….

    I go to confession every 4-6 weeks or so at my local parish (because parking is non-existent on Saturday afternoons anywhere near my registered parish church). So I am the odd duck who leaves church after going to confession rather than staying for the 4pm Mass, though not entirely alone in that regard. (And the confession rows in this parish are often quite full, as 2 of the 3 resident priests are good confessors.)

    I would say, from discussion among pious neighbors and elders of mine, that one reason I probably see so many people in the confession line is a noble one: once one has had a number of friends and family die, the honored Catholic custom of offering plenary indulgences for them can kick in with wonderful force. And going to confession is part of that (even if one has no grievous sins to confess, the condition of non-attachment to even venial sins is what tends to drive this).

    I find that to be, well, a beautiful thing about being Catholic. When I see people in the confession line, I don’t see a line of neurotic penitents. I see people eager to do everlasting charity for neighbors (even for people they never knew – many Catholics have a deep habit of praying for forgotten souls and offer indulgences to those whom the Lord chooses).

    For charity- and peace-loving people, I can think of few more beautiful things.

    Sorry for the tangential riff.

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