Future Forms For Penance

confessionMy disappointment with the Rite of Penance is not entirely based on the early plug pulled on form III back in the early 80’s. But I am convinced it was imprudent of St John Paul. I’m also under no delusion that a public process with bishops like we had in the early centuries is the best we can do.

But it has occurred to me that the liturgical celebration of Penance (and/or reconciliation) is rather incomplete. Possibly backward in the sense of lacking refinement or development. And far too smelly of lawfulness rather than inviting of a humble spirituality.

One additional form might be the reconciliation of a bishop with his diocese in the case of scandal. Or at the very least, the reconciliation with people who believe their diocese has abandoned them morally or spiritually. In the realm of liturgy, I think we already see this in the various prayer services conducted in dioceses particularly damaged by clergy sexual misconduct and administrative mismanagement. Would calling it a form of a sacrament help? I can’t fathom how it would hurt.

As a parish staff member for nearly three decades I have also seen friendships tear to the breaking point. Sometimes it affects the parish at large in a significant way. I was privileged to witness a priest friend of mine devise a simple prayer of reconciliation for two parishioners who were finding it difficult to get along. Form I strikes me as a solitary exercise in an occasional situation in which some sort of mutual support may be helpful. Sins like gossip or public feuding could be handled in this way.

Perhaps the most serious need I see is a form of reconciliation for married couples who have encountered serious obstacles, but who have yet to take the step to separate or divorce–though the thought might be in the air.

What readings might be selected for reconciliation of a married couple? What Psalms? Acclamations from Scripture? And how would such a form of the rite be celebrated? Would it include witnesses of the marriage and family members? Could it be done privately with a priest to facilitate or witness and just the wife and husband?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Future Forms For Penance

  1. Devin says:

    The idea of ritual of reconciliation between individuals or groups is a fascinating one. I am doubtful though it would ever be classified as sacrament in the modern sense (post Florence), but that isn’t a problem. Just because something isn’t a sacrament doesn’t mean it can’t be a path to healing. As a tangent, a priest friend was commenting on the “over reliance” of the Mass i.e. if you are commemorating a special group, a visiting prelate or lay guest, you automatically hold a mass.

    As for a service for married couples, the ritual depends on where they are at in the conflict. Is it a seal on an already reconciled couple or a prayer of help at the start or recommitment to a process of healing? Though in the case of the former, it could serve as a beginning of a guided retreat with a trained counselor/spiritual director and not be termed as a rite of reconciliation ( a bit presumptive?).

  2. Liam says:

    I agree that trying to shoehorn these ideas into a sacrament is perhaps putting the cart before the horse. Experimentation concerning the development of a public ritual should not be burdened with trying to “become” a sacrament. If a ritual takes deep and broad root, it might be recognized as a sacramental.

    Not all sacraments are received deeply: God’s grace is free, but theosis requires at least openness to begin. God’s grace is not limited to sacraments, but the system of sacraments is designed to identify situations where there’s much less room for subjective considerations (which, history shows, can lead to civil wars in the Church).

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