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A model penitent

In connection with what I wrote here a few days ago, I must confess to being fascinated by this brief video clip -- see below -- of Pope Francis receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at a Vatican penance service yesterday. He seems to have taken Msgr. Marini by surprise -- something Marini must be getting used to by now -- as Carol Glatz reports for CNS.

What a great idea -- a way to demystify both the papacy and the sacrament itself. Despite the joke about "Is the pope Catholic?" it does keep coming as a surprise to see the pope acting like just another Catholic.

That video led me to this one, from Rome Reports, of Francis talking about Reconciliation at an outdoor audience. For all that I've read about (and by) Francis, I haven't seen him speaking all that much, which is a shame, since his personal, one-believer-to-another style is especially obvious in his manner of speaking (even when you don't understand Italian). I also like his proposal that we think of the sacrament not as an obligation, but a right.

For the past several years the archdiocese of New York has had a day set aside in Lent and Advent -- "Reconciliation Monday," this year, the Monday of Holy Week -- when parishes are expected to offer confession for a significant portion of the day. It's meant, I think, to remove one obstacle to returning to the sacrament, by making it very convenient. It also restores a communal dimension to this very private sacrament. And I'm always grateful for the extra push to do my Easter duty. What about where you are: does your diocese do anything similar to encourage people to receive the sacrament of Confession? Does it pay off?

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Edward Vacek has an interesting take on good people, sin confession... especially the last two paragraphs

:http://americamagazine.org/issue/362/article/do-good-people-need-confession

 

"Most fundamentally, all of us good people neglect in greater and lesser ways the basic relationship of our lives, namely, our relation to God. We need confession in order to make clear to ourselves that we forget God. If we find ourselves feeling no need to receive this sacrament, we can be fairly sure that this apathy is due to our lack of a vibrant, compelling love for God. If a spirited relationship of love for God were burning in our hearts, we would never be content to just forget the past and do better next time. Indeed, if we were in a love affair with God, we might be inclined to go to confession at least two to three times a week.

Psychologists have rightly taught us how important it is to think positive thoughts about ourselves and our deeds. But if that is all we do, we live in denial. Confession is an opportunity, a gift from God, for us to admit that we are also sinners. The prior knowledge that God will forgive us frees us to be honest. The subsequent experience of God’s forgiveness frees us to live honestly."

It is fascinating that secular sites like TALKING POINTS MEMO and HUFFINGTON POST made such a "big deal" of Pope Francis approaching the confessional...  What is the witness value of this for ordinary Catholics who have "written off" this encounter with Jesus?   And it is an encounter with Jesus is it not - at least that is what this sacrament is purported to be, is it not?

 

 

 

Wow, it's hard to count all the assumptions made in that article.  Tkae just this biy ...

"We need confession in order to make clear to ourselves that we forget God. If we find ourselves feeling no need to receive this sacrament, we can be fairly sure that this apathy is due to our lack of a vibrant, compelling love for God. If a spirited relationship of love for God were burning in our hearts, we would never be content to just forget the past and do better next time. Indeed, if we were in a love affair with God, we might be inclined to go to confession at least two to three times a week."

"We forget God" .... Speak for yourself.

"If we find ourselves feeling no need to receive this sacrament, we can be fairly sure that this apathy is due to our lack of a vibrant, compelling love for God." ... You can rate people's love for God based on the participation in a Catholic ritual?

"If a spirited relationship of love for God were burning in our hearts, we would never be content to just forget the past and do better next time." .... People don't go to confession for many reasons, but a desire to 'forget the past' is probably not among them.

There was a time in my life when I "went to confession" two or three times a week. It was hell.

"And I'm always grateful for the extra push to do my Easter duty."

Mollie, my understanding of the Easter Duty is that we are obliged to receive Holy Communion during the Easte Season.  Obviously, only if we are aware of  serious sin, must we go to confession.

I agree with Crystal here (see comment @ 5:36). I think the issues are much more complex. I also think approaches to reconciliation vary with respect to the role of the priest, the role of the community, and the emphasis on the individual in the mystery of sin and grace.

Here's a stab at arranging different positions on a scale:

1. Church has nothing to do with mediating forgiveness; the relationship between the sinner and God is direct and immediate. The only role for the Church is to preach about sin and grace, but this is done principally as an appeal to the sovereign individual.

2. Church is not necessary for mediating forgiveness, the relationship between sinner and God is direct and immediate, but if the Church can provide a helping ministry such as counseling under the heading of the sacrament, that has some utility in addition to preaching. Again the individual is sovereign, but will accept human help, although it might be better supplied by those with degrees in counseling, etc.

3. The Church mediates forgiveness through the community and its ritual actions, but the priest's role has varied historically, and can take a variety of forms under the heading of sin and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Individuals are regarded as part of larger communities, and there is a strong place for communal repentence.

4. The Church mediates forgiveness through the community, and the priest has a necessary role. A variety of ministries, such as spiritual direction, counseling, mentors, small communities express the support of the whole community for repentance and healing of the wounds of sin, but at key moments the priest brings that more organic experience into focus and completes it ritually. Developing a communal sense of sin and grace is a necessary component of reconciliation.

5. The priest is the primary agent of forgiveness, and his ministry is not only necessary but pre-eminent. The community may or may not support it by a variety of activities, but their support mostly takes the form of preparing people to go to him. The accent here is on the priest as the possessor of powers. There is little place for a communal dimension.

6. The priest is not only the primary agent, but the only agent of the forgiveness which comes from God. He mediates God's forgiveness to individuals in the only way that matters, through individual confession and absolution. A focus on anything else is a distraction and potentially damaging to souls. Any talk of social sin or communal repentence is considered false and also dangerous.

Does this help to clarify? For what it is worth, I don't think any of these positions entail a lack of love for God.

Helen @ 6:41pm

This has long, unfortunately not in my childhood and adolescense, been my understanding also.

Anyone who has observed my  posts can see that I have advocated giving Francis a chance to do something about the sex abuse crisis in the church. Also I hold that the mercy of God should permeate our thoughts. Jesus said: "Mercy over sacrifice."

 

However, any discussion of auricular confession cannot fail to acknowledge the outsized abuse that has occurred in the position of priest as Confessor. Not to mention the designation of neophytes newly ordained being thrust into this practice. 

 

"According to my interviews and the letters I received from respondents, as well as official reports in many countries, abusive relationships between cleric and child have almost invariably begun as a continuation of the sacrament of confession." 

 

Cornwell, John (2014-03-04). The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession (pp. 175-176). Basic Books. Kindle Edition. 

I like the scale Rita and I think this is a useful springboard for discussion and practice. I grew up with a very strong # 5 paradigm and remember the actual confessionals as a boy. 

But as I have matured and seen shifts, I think that #4 sums it up more aptly.

We used to have general absolution up here during Lent. There was a penitential service with music, readings, reflections, and general absolution was given and I thought this was a good option and moving service that involved a lot of people. It was later discouraged and it has now fallen out of use and I think that is a loss.

The only thing I would add is that individual people have to own their own actions. Psalm 51 (including and especially the back story!), for example, is a good one. And Palestrina's Miserere drives it home. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcWo1hKHu40

Of course the risks of sex abuse must always be present in the back of our minds so that confession is in an environment that does not lend itself to abuse. Not all countries take that into account, but the US seem to be doing fine in that respect, from what little I have seen. 

 

@Ann:  You asked " Does AA view alcoholism as something the alcoholic is responsible for? Or partly responsible for?"

It depends on what you mean by "is responsible for":  that can connote many things, from "causality"/"blame" to "ownership of the situation and dealing with it".   My understanding of 12-step programs takes the latter interpretation;  addicts must accept the reality that they are addicts and are solely responsible for their (ongoing/lifetime) recovery.  Equally important is that we cannot recover in isolation;  recovery is only possible via reliance on a higher power and community with fellow addicts who are working the program of recovery.

I just want to voice my gratitude: that this topic has drawn some infrequent and new commenters; and particularly for Rita's interventions and comments.  Crystal, your report that you had to go to confession prior to your baptism made me SCREAM! :-)

The best (IMHO) would be a combination of #2 and #3, but it would be better to change the wording of #3 to: The Church can mediate forgiveness through the community and its ritual actions when that is desired by the penitent.

That is pretty much the approach taken by the Episcopalians as far as private confession goes. They often conclude their descriptions of private  auricular confession to a priest with this:

  All can, some should, none must.

One prayer in the Catholic ritual that I find to be almost heretical are the words of absolution spoken by the priest - "Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is too much emphasis on the priest in this.  The wording states that the priest saying the words absolves the person, not that God absolves the person.  One could assume that the priest is the one doing the absolving instead of simply pronouncing that God has done so.  In the Episcopal church, the emphasis is on God

In the Anglican tradition, confession and absolution is usually a component part of corporate worship, particularly at services of the Holy Eucharist. The form involves an exhortation to repentance by the priest, a period of silent prayer during which believers may inwardly confess their sins, a form of general confession said together by all present and the pronouncement of general absolution by the priest, often accompanied by the sign of the cross. (Wikipedia)

The Episcopal liturgy at the church where I spend most Sundays these days does follow the form described in Wiki - it includes general community confession in every mass, along with a period of silence for the members of the community to confess inwardly, and a general absolution.  The wording of the prayers emphasize God and not the priest. (from Rite I of the Book of Common Prayer - the more "formal" language)

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.

Holy Eucharist I     331

 

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy
hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with
hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him, have mercy
upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm
and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you
to
everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

I really miss the Confiteor in the old Mass.  What were they thinking of when they removed it? OK, so the Mass itself isn't Confession, but that's no reason to separate them.  I suspect they thought it just took too much time.  Anybody know why they did it?

I really miss the Confiteor in the old Mass.  What were they thinking of when they removed it? OK, so the Mass itself isn't Confession, but that's no reason to separate the two.  I suspect the liturgists thought it took too much time.  Anybody know why they did it?

Ann - it's still there, and in fact, with the new translation, we're once again beating our breast and saying, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."  (or is it "grievious fault"?  That seems to be how a lot of people say it around here :-)).  It may just be that, for whatever reason, your parish never uses this option - there are three different options for the penitential rite.

 

Rita - I'm choosing #4 as sort of the midpoint between 3 and 5 :-)

Jim P, perhaps Ann should count her blessings. She may not have the confiteor, but maybe she also doesn't have breast-beating!    When I go to a Catholic church these days, I am almost appalled at how some of the old stuff has crept back in - bells that violently shatter the quiet and distract from prayer and reflection on the eucharist, breast-beating  and focus on guilt, guilt, guilt, with the words you cite. Etc.  I have read in The Tablet that the UK bishops are asking that the changes force-fed on the English speaking world a couple of years ago be made optional and a return to the previous translations be again permitted. The 1950s should be left to rest in peace. 

As I have mentioned several times, I have been spending most Sundays in Episcopal pews for quite some time now (still waiting for Francis on a few critical issues before I decide on whether to become a "revert" - I can never be Catholic again unless a few things change that haven't yet changed, but the direction is positive at least) and am increasingly impressed with the beauty of the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.  It is a perfect balance between the traditional and the contemporary.   In the Creed, Jesus still came for "us" and not just for "us men", the priest is one with the congregation - we instead of I, etc.

Breast-beating is a pretty well established ritual gesture, and it seems to me that more stuff like that would make for a richer ritual experience. Jews beat the breast during the Amidah and elsewhere. I have observed that Catholics like to make fun of liturgical dance, perhaps because of the particular forms it takes (and perhaps because white middle class Americans are embarrassed by dancing in general), but it seems to me that the absence of dancing means the absence of what has otherwise been a pretty ubiquitous ritual act. Obsviously, breast-beating isn't dancing, but moving is moving, and moving means a lot.

I have no problem with liturgical dance - but I refuse to "beat my breast"!    Too many negative associations from my childhood in the pre-Vat II church associated with that one.

Thanks to everybody who put in a word about the typology I tried out above.

To put my own cards on the table, I'd place myself at #4, which is also where most of the liturgical reformers at Vatican II (and their progeny in Catholic church circles) would place.

#1 and 2 have both been expressed or alluded to here by Crystal and Anne C. I'd add that churches influenced by Calvin or Zwingli would definitely claim #1. (Lutherans still have auricular confession on the books, as it were, but it is not used at all frequently nor is it a sacrament, so perhaps deserves it's own number... 1.5 perhaps?) #2 is really a composite of modern psychological-utilitarian readings of the sacraments and the theological position of #1.

Bill Mazzella's comment is a fine articulation of #3. This position represents the most liberal reading of modern reform directions, but does not owe anything really to the claims of the classic Protestant theological position at #1.

As George D. observed, most of us who grew up Catholic have a lot of familiarity with model #5. Popes John Paul II and Benedict, and I'm afraid Pope Francis as well, fall at #5, too, as did so many of the bishops at Vatican II that the antepreparatory commission didn't want to go there at all. JPII is an interesting case, because on the heels of Vatican II he approved quite a number of texts that support #4, and even furthered that theology in his own way. When push came to shove, however, clearly he was deeply uncomfortable with the implications of #4, and anxious to reaffirm the more familiar role of the priest and the individual sinner that the #5 description recognizes.

Traditionalists and those who remain suspicious of Vatican II have generally articulated the approach of #6. 

What is very interesting to me is how much the presupposition of individualism is shared between #1 and #6. Despite the fact that forgiveness is "mediated" in #6 and #5, it is as completely about the state of the individual soul before God as is #1 and #2. In other words, despite the most hostile opposition, they are talking about the same thing.

This makes sense historically, in that the Protestant reformation responded to the existing Catholic assumptions about penance which traditionalists of course are keen to maintain. The counter-reformation took up the same issues with a vengeance, and bore down on them, including the invention of the "box" (how individual can you get) and frequent confession as the way to holiness.

More importantly, however, I think it also shows the power of ressourcement to actually open up the questions from a different direction, productive of fresh theological insights and possible ways out of the impasse created by the conflicts of the sixteenth century. #3 and 4 in different ways represent a development that changes the landscape, istm, in some fascinating ways.

Here's an article about Confession from Christianity Today -- on why it's a good thing.  About the need for a priest and giving absolution --  here are some texts that support the practice:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

" He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

"So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I ALSO SEND YOU." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. IF YOU FORGIVE THE SINS OF ANY, THEIR SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN; IF YOU RETAIN THE SINS OF ANY, THEY HAVE BEEN RETAINED." (John 20:21-23, NASB)"

 

Here's another reason that the author recommends.  I think she's right, about me anyway:

"Also, there is the gain in self-knowledge: most of [us] have never really faced the facts about ourselves until we uttered them aloud in plain words, calling a spade a spade.  I certainly feel I have profited enormously by the practice."

 

And here's yet another reason from Scripture:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

Nothing like a Protestant for finding Scriptural support :-)

Why Pope Francis is Right About Confession

Here's an article about Confession from Christianity Today -- on why it's a good thing.  About the need for a priest and giving absolution --  here are some texts that support the practice:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

" He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

"So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, I ALSO SEND YOU." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. IF YOU FORGIVE THE SINS OF ANY, THEIR SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN; IF YOU RETAIN THE SINS OF ANY, THEY HAVE BEEN RETAINED." (John 20:21-23, NASB)"

 

Here's another reason that the author recommends.  I think she's right, about me anyway:

"Also, there is the gain in self-knowledge: most of [us] have never really faced the facts about ourselves until we uttered them aloud in plain words, calling a spade a spade.  I certainly feel I have profited enormously by the practice."

 

And here's yet another reason from Scripture:

"And it has made me think that speaking our sin out loud is not meant to be punitive or discouraging. But rather, that "where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name," there he is in our midst (Matthew 18:20)."

Nothing like a Protestant for finding Scriptural support :-)

Why Pope Francis is Right About Confession

Thanks, Ann! Interesting comment thread too.

Ann, as I recall, Jesus said similar things to the disciples (not just the twelve) - about binding and loosing etc..  I don't think Jesus meant that his followers should confess the way "confession " is done now, but was advising his followers on how to handle problems and disputes - the "priests" were not called in unless all else failed.  (And they weren't "priests" either, as I recall, simply community leaders).  I would possible "go to confession" if there were women priests - married women priests.  But I have never found a male priest to whom I would feel comfortable discussing my sins, weaknesses, and failures.  I can understand that Francis - a male celibate - probably feels quite comfortable "confessing" to another male celibate.  As a woman, and I speak only for myself, the entire practice of confessing to a male celibate is so highly uncomfortable (and usually useless as far as gaining insight and guidance), that it is simply not something I am willing to do anymore.  I have a close friend who knows me very well, for all of my adult life, to whom I go when I need to "confess" and gain insight and understanding and guidance. She makes me look at myself honestly. She knows me, and so she can quickly see if I am hiding something or not being honest with myself. A strange priest in a confessional would not be able to discern this.   I know there are other women who feel the same way I do and so stopped going to "confession" to a priest once they realized that it was within their power to make this decision - no more push from outside (parents, pastors, nuns, etc).  As adults,  one should seek out the person who is best able to give honest insights and guidance, and call a space a spade when needed.  That requires a lot of trust in the "confessor" and most male priests are relative or perfect strangers to those in the confessional. 

Some see this ritual as a way to obtain some kind of high octane grace - they somehow think that grace comes in grades, like gasoline. Sacramental grace to them is somehow more high powered than God's "ordinary" grace. But God's grace does not come in superior and inferior forms. It's all grace.

p.s. One should note that the author of the article in Christianity Today, while agreeing that the practice of talking about one's sins to another Christian can be helpful,  does not say or imply that this person must be a member of the clergy, which is pretty much what Crystal and I have also said.  She emphasizes the truth that it is God alone who forgives.

Anne C. -

Umm, no, God isn't the only one who forgives.  He's the only one who always forgives.  And  confessing to others, especially a representative of the whole assembly, has an advantage that simple confessions within ourselves to God doesn't have -- it reinforces or knowledge that others are affected by our sins, and so it's reasonable that they should be aware of our repentance.  Consider the photo of Francis kneeling before a priest in Confession.  That was so noteworthy the picture went round the world.  What I'm saying is that Confesion also has ritualistic aspects that are valuable, and to be seen going to Confession publicly and kneeling before the priest is itself part of our confession to the assembly.   

 

Ann, very few people go to confession with the cameras watching. Most prefer not to be seen, actually, and many choose to go to a parish not their own precisely because they want to be anonymous.  Confessing to a priest does nothing to have "the assembly" become aware of one's repentance, unless the entire "assembly" is monitoring who is in the confession line every week.

Some people believe that unless they confess to a priest , God does not forgive them.  God forgives, not the priest.

If someone wants to confess publicly, they should go to whomever may have been harmed by their sins, not to a "representative" of thousands or a billion people whom they don't even know. They should ask forgiveness from God AND from those whom they have harmed..  It's a whole lot easier to get rid of a bad conscience by confessing to a priest in secrecy  than to actually go to someone harmed by your sins and ask forgiveness.  In some ways, confession to a priest can be used as a cop-out.   

 

 

 

Jeanne L. =

Many of us would prefer not to go to Confession at all, but that is no reason not to go.  I don't agree that standing in a confessional line says nothing about a person's willing to admit his/her sins.  Why else are people standing there?  There's no question of the whole Church keeping track of who goes to Confession.  It is simply a matter of admitting publicly "I am a sinner and know it so well that I'm willing to show it by standing in line to confess my sins to a representative of Christ".  I don't know anybody who believes that only priests can forgive -- that's nonsense, but, yes, some people have been taught nonsense.

About apologizing to those we've harmed.  Good idea.  Maybe that should be made part of all or at least most penances.  Yes, penance is still appropriate for sinners.

I think, as I've said before, that the whole concept of sin needs to be re-thought, and that, I'm sure, would imply re-thinking Confession as well.  There are so many different theological and psychological issues involved in both topics.

Ann O, it has been a busy weekend, and I don't know if you're still following this conversation..  I have slowly realized that I am really very Protestant in my beliefs - at least Anglican Protestant.  Anglicanism is called the via media and I think it is an accurate description.  As far as standing in line to confess to a priest goes, since everyone knows that everyone is a sinner, it seems a bit redundant to have to stand in a confession line simply to admit publicly that one is a sinner!  I suspect everyone knows I am a sinner, starting with myself!   I very much agree with the Anglican approach taken to confession to a priest, which I think I mentioned earlier - All may, some should, none must. 

I was curious about the Orthodox after finding an article by a Russian Orthodox priest lauding Francis' public confession, even while he assured his readers that he knows that Francis is still, regrettably, in error as far as theology goes.  Only the Orthodox have the "true church".  Sound familiar?  One of my closest friends is Greek Orthodox and I knew from years of close friendship and many discussions of religion that going to confession is not an ordinary practice in her church.  She is extremely devout, but has never gone to confession to a priest in her life and does not know any Orthodox (Greek) who have.   There is also a Russian Orthodox church near my home, so out of curiosity, I googled their website - the pastor there recommends  private confession with a priest monthly.  So maybe the Russian Orthodox are more oriented to private confession than are the Greeks?  I had thought that if anyone would push confession to a priest as hard as the Catholic church it would be the Orthodox, but apparently it depends on the particular ethnic affiliation of any given Orthodox parish.

I have slowly come to realize during my sabbatical in Episcopal pews on Sunday that my "head" is Anglican.  The more I have studied Anglicanism (and the Episcopal church), the more convinced I am intellectually that their understanding of, and approach to, dogma, doctrine and sacraments makes more sense to me than does that of the Roman Catholic church, and avoids most of the traps that lie in the Roman Catholic approach (if Rome would be willing to admit that there is no such thing as "infallible" teaching, the Catholic church would be in much better shape!).   However, my heart is still stubbornly Catholic, which is why I have not formally converted to the Episcopal church and still read Catholic publications and websites.  There is incredible brilliance, depth and breadth in so much Catholic teaching and so much to admire in the lives of so many Catholics throughout history.  But I also have reached the conclusion that Anglicanism seems to have held on to what is best and truest while letting go of  the questionable - they are humble enough to not need to be "infallible" and to trust in giving  freedom for their members.   I hope someday to free myself of the final ties to the Catholic church because I simply cannot accept all that the Catholic church teaches, including the notion that it is necessary to confess to a priest instead of directly to God.  Those who find it helpful should go, and those who do not, should not worry about it.

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