The Rite of Penance gives a lengthy second appendix containing six sample penitential services. These are given primarily for use with forms II (reconciling several penitents with individual confession and absolution) and III (general confession and absolution).
The first two samples are for the season of Lent, and the first explores the sacrament under the heading of “Penance Leads to s Strengthening of Baptismal Grace.”
This is the context with this fine passage from First Corinthians. It includes the oft-cited principle that God does not allow us to be tested beyond our abilities. The meta-theme in this medium-long passage could be “Don’t get cocky!” Perhaps if a parish community was leaning to a bit of self-congratulation, this Scripture (yoked to Psalm 106 and either the Luke 15 parables of the Lost Sheep or the Two Sons) might be spiritually useful.
I do not want you to be unaware,
brothers and sisters,
that our ancestors were all under the cloud
and all passed through the sea,
and all of them were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea.
All ate the same spiritual food,
and all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,
and the rock was the Christ.
Yet God was not pleased with most of them,
for they were struck down in the desert.
These things happened as examples for us,
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.
And do not become idolaters, as some of them did,
as it is written,
“The people sat down to eat and drink,
and rose up to revel.”
Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did,
and twenty-three thousand fell within a single day.
Let us not test Christ as some of them did,
and suffered death by serpents.
Do not grumble as some of them did,
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks (they are) standing secure
should take care not to fall.
No trial has come to you but what is human.
God is faithful and will not let you be tried
beyond your strength;
but with the trial he will also provide a way out,
so that you may be able to bear it.
A few brief observations …
- To get the most out of this passage, penitents would need to be familiar with some details of the Exodus from Egypt: the grumbling, the miraculous feedings and waterings, and still, the obstinacy of the Chosen People despite God’s great workings in their midst.
- Living a balanced Christian life involves a careful balance between the believer taking a proper and humble initiative when called for. And how we are obliged to rely on God for the minimum needed to function in a state of grace. Perhaps penitents need to be reminded of praying as though everything depended on God and acting as though it depended on us. Perhaps we need a reminder that other people have messed up, and we are not invulnerable to that.
A final note: some of this reading appears in the Lectionary for Lent, Third Sunday, cycle C (excluding verses 7-9, 13). The daily readings skip it.
My sense is that this selection is a strong option for any communal service, especially if a faith community has a decent background in the Bible.
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