Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Death & Resurrection of Confession

Bishop Cunningham has asked every parish in the Diocese to make Confession available on the Wednesday evenings of Lent during a one hour Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. It was a most worthwhile event last week, with some of those who never attend our Sunday Rosary & Benediction spending some time in the Presence of the Lord. In one easy move, the importance of Confession and Eucharistic Adoration was proclaimed. But it has left me with a question: if all the parishes are having Exposition and Confessions during the six weeks of Lent, will we need any Reconciliation Services before Easter?  In fact, I wonder if we should provide them at all since they tend to diminish the sense of personal sin and the need for regular, individual Confession; people simply wait for Lent and Advent to confess. This, with the omission the topics of sin, Confession and the Four Last Things from our preaching, gives the impression that sin is rare and that ‘the pit’ does not exist, leaving the folk and the failing preacher all the more likely to fall into the pit. Have we forgotten that while Holy Mother Church is holy as a community because she indwelt by the Holy Ghost, that she is sinful in her individual members?

Further, too many folk have gained the impression that Confession once or twice a year is enough to keep them holy. I wonder about this, since progression in personal holiness cannot be obtained by fulfilment of the minimum and doing everything as a community. Without denying the reality of the Church as one body, the over-emphasis on community has, I think, damaged us spiritually. It can be remedied by restoring individual Confession to its rightful place.

Celebration of Mass has also fallen prey to an over-emphasis on community, being celebrated with gimmicks such as comedic homilies, drama, dance and the signing of ‘Happy Birthday’. I truly believe we need a return to Mass celebrated versus Deum from the Offertory onwards, and to solid catechesis on the Mass as our thanksgiving, propitiation and supplication of Almighty God, rather than celebration of the giftedness of the community. Additionally, there needs to be a reawakening of the intimate connection between the Eucharist and Confession, for while the Eucharist makes present the Sacrifice by which grace comes into the world, Confession applies that grace to our soul, making us worthy to receive the Eucharist.

All in all, I cannot help but hope there are no Reconciliation Services in Lent this year and that they tail off in the future, because the only way to restore the sense of sin and take seriously the call to holiness is for the individual to practice regular, well-prepared, personal Confession, thereby ensuring frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion.


  1. As you say Fr Gary, a good sign that our bishop is recognising the worth of personal confession. But isn't he just putting right the wrongs of our hierarchy who allowed (instigated?) the use of penetential services? I recall hearing of one such service where the congregation were invited to simply place a pebble in a bucket to obtain absolution. As a penitent the most difficult part of going to confession for me is the actual vocalising of my sins. It is easy (relatively) to imagine making your confession in your head but to have your confessor actually HEAR you say how you have sinned is something else

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      Penitential Services are a legitimate part of the Church's exercise of Reconciliation and part of the official Rite, so it was not our hierarchy who brought them onto the scene, but Rome. I too have seen some disastrously wishy-washy services, and I too think the vocalisation is the most penitential part -it also has the advantage of allowing for increase in the humility of the Penitent.

  2. Perhaps if Confession were more widely available people would use it. In most places I know, a priest is there for about half an hour a week. Don't close your eyes too long or you'll miss him.

    If you want readily available Confession, you really need to get to a cathedral or an Oratory. And if you want really good advice in the box, I'm told you need to go to Opus Dei.

    1. Andrew, thanks for your comment.
      I think Confession is quite widely available in our Diocese; most priests I know offer them at set times of the week. I think we need to hear more preaching on the necessity and benefits of Confession for it to be valued now as it was before.
      While I greatly admire Opus Dei and suspect that the majority of their Confessors are spiritually and academically sound, I think these qualities can also be found among some Diocesan priests, Dominicans, Franciscans etc.

  3. I'm with you there, Father. Priests should be talking about Confession. A lot.

  4. Here is a thought for increasing turnout for Confession; perhaps someone will find this idea useful.

    Suppose that the usual Confession times are generally near to full of penitents.
    Add more times.
    Once there are few enough pentitents compared to Confessional time that Father has much extra time, he uses it to write homilies on Confession.
    When more people come, so that the usual Confession times are generally near to full of penitents, add more times.


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