March 29, 2008

Can't We Be on the Same Page?

Penance, Confession, Absolution, Forgiveness, Healing. All words used for the same Sacrament. If someone told me tomorrow that we can no longer receive the Eucharist; that Holy Mass was illegal; I'd be devastated. If someone told me tomorrow, I could not receive forgiveness via the Sacrament of Confession, I'd be lost. I think not being able to receive Communion ever again would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me; not being able to see a priest for Confession would be a close second.

How often do you hear someone say that these days? I LOVE Confession. Really, I do. It used to scare the crap out of me. It should've scared the hell out of me but didn't because I was always told the usual lies: "We don't need to do confession anymore" "Vatican II abolished confession" "It's ridiculous and useless" "Priests are sinners too, why bother?" "Why not just tell your sins in private straight to God?" You've all probably heard the same distortions and out and out lies I have.

I talked to a friend last night about her, er, confession experience at her parish this Easter. This is not a cranky Cathy post. This is a sad Cathy post. Maybe it's the season of Divine Mercy that's making me such a softie these days, I don't know. My heart is crying a lot lately.

This gal has been a close friend for 21 years. She's been married for over 1/2 of her life. She's only 5 years older than I. She is a Catholic and so is her husband. They attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. She's been in the same parish her whole life. God did not bless them with children but He blessed them in many other ways.

Unfortunately, being of an age close to mine, she was exposed to the same poor catachesis I was.

I've spoken before of how fantastic the "New Evangelization" is and how the growth of Catholic media, blogs, website, forums, is a powerful tool. It has brought many back to the Faith.

What about those people, like my friend, who are not computer savvy, don't have a PC, never intend to have one, nor do they have time to read a gift subscription to a solid Catholic journal or newspaper. How can they be reached by the "New Evangelization"?

In all this talk and giddiness about the "New Evangelization", what happened to the "Old Evangelization"? You know, when the only catachesis and apologetics the Faithful heard was when they were in the pews every Sunday? It'd be nice to throw Catholic education into that mix too but, what if you are not of an age to go back to school? Nor, do you have time.

So, you go to Church at least once/week and the Homily is challenging fare like: "Jesus loves you as you are. Don't worry about anything. Try not to do anything too bad. See you next week at the fish fry"

Whatever happened to not only breaking open the Scriptures but also breaking open the Catachism?

The best homilists (and I admit it's an art) can incorporate the day's readings, church history and catachesis in a 10-30 minute homily. 30 MINUTES!!!?? some of you are saying. Yep. One of the best homilies I ever heard was a visiting pastor at St. Olaf in downtown Minneapolis. It was the noon Mass-the Mass of the weekday working crowd-usually no longer than 1/2 hour in total. He gave an impassioned 30-minute homily on the evils of abortion. No one complained, no one walked out, it was completely silent. We watched with amazement as the Holy Spirit took hold of him.

Honestly, a priest can be the most droning and dull homilist there is. If he's just presenting the word of God and His teachings in an honest and forthright manner much grace can ensue. I know of one priest who is known as not a very dynamic preacher, yet, he's fostered a lot of vocations. The truth, even poorly presented (like on this blog) cannot be hidden from the heart's of the faithful. God will do the rest.

Oh, I'm back to my friend.

Her parish has a history of hosting General Absolution penance rather than Communal or Individual Penance.

General Absolution as a form of Penance is only acceptable in such situations as:

*North Korea's nuclear warheads are on the way
*You are part of a team going into a fire fight in Fallujah.
*An F-4 tornado is approaching your town.

In other words, there is a very real possibility of imminent death and Father does not humanly have the ability to hear a large groups individual or communal confessions. Even with General Absolution, you must resolve to go to individual confession as soon as possible. If you survive, you need to go see a priest for an individual Confession. General Absolution is very much only to be used in an emergency situation.

Communal Penance is an acceptable form-always.What's the difference? Communal Penance services often involve many priests going to a parish. The service may begin with Scripture readings, a Homily, a Communal recitation of the Act of Contrition and then everyone goes off to say their sins to available priests at various stations in the church. Here you still tell your sins one on one to God acting thru His minister. You get the direct Absolution. BTW, leaving the Communal Penance service without going to a priest to have your individual Confession heard is not valid. I know a lot of people do that. They figure it's enough to just show up for a while, no, it isn't. You still need the direct one on one Confession and Absolution.

I know a lot of people who are afraid they will forget the Act of Contrition or are afraid to face Confession alone (even though you are never alone in there really) find Communal penance very comforting. I don't fault anyone for that. It's a valid form-always. Personally, I prefer private confession because I need that one on one accountability for the entire session.

On a day to day basis, large groups of us are not faced with imminent death. We are, however, as a community, afflicted with continuous laziness. To some of us, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle in our own mind, to make any kind of effort regarding the Faith we profess to believe.

In this way, we demand that Father accomodate us in our sloth and ignorance by allowing General Absolution in lieu of Communal or Individual Confession.

That's exactly what happened at my friend's parish. The parish has an ignominous history of General Absolution only. The excuse is there are too many elderly and Father is elderly blah, blah. BUT, they are a small parish so I don't get why they think it's just going to take WAY too long for Father to hear all those Confessions so they have to have the General Absolution. Gosh, he could expire from the shock of seeing the mad stampede of Faithful coming to see him in the Confessional!!!!!(That was a Catty Cathy moment, sorry)

I find it curious that her story seems to indicate that Father only ever hears Confessions at Easter and Christmas. Doesn't anyone go to Confession at any other time? If so, why not? Do they even know that they can and should receive the Sacrament regularly? There are a lot of other parishes nearby where Father could recruit priestly help if he wanted too.

But, the real kicker was, Father had communal penance at Christmas (great!). The Faithful groaned and hardened their hearts (too tough! whine whine). Then, rumors flew (or maybe it was fact) that two nearby parishes had General Absolution and the roof did not fall in, the Archbishop did not show up, so it must be ok and they were going to do it too. Not only that, my friend called the Chancery and asked if it really was ok. She was told no (Thank God) but just because someone else is doing it and getting away with it, there you go. This is why some people are concerned that there are parishes not in comformity. The lack of conformity is how error is perpetuated and the story I just told is a fine example of it.

She wailed: "Can't we be on the same page?" Meaning why are we not a united Church? She knows what happened is wrong. She's crying out for Truth and authentic worship but because she's not hearing about it from the people she worships with day after day, year after year, she wallows in darkness. She's confused why some parishes "get away with it" and nothing appears to happen. It's great that I'm here for her and she made a obvious attempt to get my opinion, but I'm not her pastor, I'm not the diocesan leadership, I'm not the Roman curia, I'm not the Pope.

In fairness, it's not just any one persons fault. It's not entirely her fault, it's not entirely her priest's fault, or the diocesan leadership. It's the whole systems fault (by system, I mean all of us individually, including the hiararchy). Dissidents talk about wanting to overturn the system because it's corrupt and, if they were to honestly admit it, because it won't do what they want. I think we need to strengthen the system to what it should be: an system of teachers since really at its core that's what it is and what it should be. Everyone in the church: lay and clergy should be teachers both by example and deed.

I believe history will count as one of the great epochal turnings in our Church, the publication of the Catachism in the early 1990's. Sure, there was the old Baltimore Catachism molding away in Grandma's attic or the Father Hardon Catachism in the 70's (that hardly anyone knew about), but none of the young Catholics I knew, when I was young, were taught from them. You couldn't walk down to the bookstore in Powers Department Store or B. Dalton and pick one up. You couldn't go to the antique bookseller and ask him to find you one from his quarterly print catalog that was already out of date as soon as he got it. You couldn't buy one online (there was no online as we know it now). You sure as heck weren't taught from it in CCD. What am I saying? I was never even told it existed!

It is thru the publication and wide dissemination of the Catachism that many of us learned our Faith, came back to the Faith, and can teach others the Faith. The TRUE Faith, not the wishful-thinking-baloney that I and my friend were fed for 30 some years.

That said, I worry that there are many of my generation who are lost and going to stay lost. I worry that if we tell them the "what" without the "why" they are all going to pack up and leave. We need to develop and encourage the "Old Evangelization" as well as the new. We need to, ALL of us, teach! Always and everywhere.

"Today bring to me the souls that are lukewarm"--Divine Mercy Novena for today. I pray that will be so.

Following are the descriptions of the forms of Confession from the Catachism

1482 (n.b. this is a descrption of Communal Penance-sometimes called Form 2)
The sacrament of Penance can also take place in the framework of a communal celebration in which we prepare ourselves together for confession and give thanks together for the forgiveness received. Here, the personal confession of sins and individual absolution are inserted into a liturgy of the word of God with readings and a homily, an examination of conscience conducted in common, a communal request for forgiveness, the Our Father and a thanksgiving in common. This communal celebration expresses more clearly the ecclesial character of penance. However, regardless of its manner of celebration the sacrament of Penance is always, by its very nature, a liturgical action, and therefore an ecclesial and public action.

1483 (n.b. this is a description of General Absolution-sometimes called Form 3)
In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each penitent's confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their grave sins in the time required. The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not the conditions required for general absolution exist. A large gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not constitute a case of grave necessity.

1484 (n.b. this is a description of Individual/Private Confession-also called Form 1)
"Individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession." There are profound reasons for this. Christ is at work in each of the sacraments. He personally addresses every sinner: "My son, your sins are forgiven." He is the physician tending each one of the sick who need him to cure them. He raises them up and reintegrates them into fraternal communion. Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church.


Blogger X said...

Sterling post, Cathy! Thanks!

March 29, 2008 9:42 PM  
Blogger Fr. Andrew said...

Hmmm...praying the Divine Mercy chaplet has softened your heart? You are sharing the compassion of Christ for His Church and souls? Brilliantly Beautiful!

Here are some beautiful intentions for priests set to the mysteries of the Rosary by Sister Briege McKenna's group. Or she also has some more simple daily intentions that are simple and nice as well.

Ut Unum Sint!

March 30, 2008 8:46 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Angela: Thanks for stoppin'! :-)

Father: I know! It's amazing isn't it? :-) If you knew me, you'd know how amazing it really is. Those intentions for priests you pointed me toward could not be more timely for me-thanks!

March 30, 2008 9:43 AM  

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