It’s no secret that many Catholics have been avoiding the confessional in recent years. The reason is very simple: they don’t like to admit their guilt. Who does? Vanity and pride are native to our fallen state, and so we have a hard time saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and an even harder time saying what we are sorry about. Our Lord made confessing a condition for being forgiven, however, and so, coughing up our sins is not optional. Unlike non-Catholic Christians who can have only a vague hope (never a certainty) for mercy without Confession, we Catholics realize that Christ would not have instituted the sacrament of Confession if there were another, easier way to be rid of the guilt of sins. When He said to the apostles on Easter night, “Whose sins you [apostles] forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you retain [i.e., do not forgive] they are retained,” the presumption must be that the apostles would need to know exactly what the sins are that they would forgive or decline to forgive. In other words, the power to forgive sins (or not) must include the knowledge of them gained from the sinner through confessing. There’s no way around it. Confession is a necessity. Those who tell themselves that they can be forgiven by their private, secret prayers are deceiving themselves. One may succeed in such deception of oneself, but God cannot be fooled.
Confession is required for all mortal sins. Venial (meaning ‘pardonable’) sins can be remitted through an act of contrition because a soul in venial sin still retains its capability of effective pleading. Once a mortal (deadly) sin has been committed, however, the person is so spiritually debilitated that he cannot raise himself from deadly sin to a state of grace through prayer and contrition alone. Here recourse to the Sacrament of Penance is necessary.
What brings this doctrinal lesson to mind is a problem developing at the Grotto on Sundays before and during the Masses. Many are taking advantage of the priests’ availability there to make frequent, even weekly “confessions of devotion,” which is to say, of confessing venial sins only where no mortal sins have been committed. Of course, from one perspective, a priest who has the good of his parishioners’ souls can only rejoice that his parishioners did not sin mortally and are eager to confess their venial sins in order to grow in virtue and grace. On the other hand–and this today is a rather rare problem–with so many making such Confessions of devotion, our lines outside the confessionals on Sundays has become lengthy to the point that some less frequent penitents must wait a long time in line for their confessions to be heard. This is also causing some strain on your beloved priests and reducing their words of necessary counsel to what is less than the ideal. (This reminds me that the Sunday confessing slot is not the time to be asking for spiritual advice unless it pertains directly to the sins being confessed. Spiritual direction may be had in some other setting, some other time.)
In the past, and especially when we had more priests at the parish, I often encouraged (and still do) people to confess frequently. In our new circumstance, I find, however, that Fr. John and I need to ask that those who make confessions of devotion confess somewhat less often so as to allow others the opportunity to receive the Sacrament. If one has mortal sins, Confession is imperative. Understood. If one has only venial sins, Confession should be–say–once or twice per month, a sufficient stretch of time for allowance gaining the plenary indulgences of the Church.
I surely do not like to ask people to confess less. It goes against my pastoral sensibility. I am thinking of the good of all the parish in asking for a little consideration for your fellow sinners who sometimes must wait the entire duration of the Mass, standing in a confessional line. I consider our parish fortunate to have a problem such as this. It means that our people are serious about their spiritual lives. A sincere act of contrition for venial sin is a good daily habit and as long as one is sincerely sorry for all his venial sins and makes an act of sorrow for them with the requisite intention to sin no more, these venial sins are forgiven. I hope you understand the good reasons I have had to write to you in this way. I would never deprive you of a spiritual advantage I could give you. Yet, if forgiveness for venial sins can be had without sacramental Confession (though admittedly without the grace of the Sacrament), I ask for your consideration in making a little less frequent use of this Sacrament.
P.S. This admonition comes, ironically, after having seen the splendid and most inspiring Vianney production on our gym stage. Saint John Vianney was one of the great advocates of the confessional. The play fired my priestly zeal the more. Those of you who missed it on account of doing something less worthy of your time last Sunday, I have this word to say to you: Shame on YOU!
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Fr. Perrone: Confession as a condition of forgiveness; obligatory confessions vs. "confessions of devotion"
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, October 11, 2015):