Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Pastor's Catechesis on Confession

While some of the material in the following article is specific to a local parish, it offers a rare opportunity to "listen in" on the counsel of a good Catholic pastor concerning the Sacrament of Confession -- which readers may find edifying whether they are Catholic or Protestant. My Protestant readers may wish to remember that one of their favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, went to confession weekly and defended the practice, although he never left the Anglican Church where confession is not a Sacrament. It may be worth asking what Professor Lewis may have missed by never becoming a Catholic, especially since so many converts, I included, find the Sacrament of Confession one of the most beautiful things this side of heaven, save, perhaps, for the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, September 24, 2017):
A pastor's page on the topic of Confession has been long overdue. In the main, this ought to be a corrective for some but also a refresher for everyone in some of the basics which may, over time, have gotten a little fuzzy in the mind. To conserve space, I will utilize an outline format ('bullet points').
  1. At this parish Sunday Confessions are a concession for those who live at a good distance from the parish. You should show your appreciation for this by coming to the church early, that is, well ahead of Mass time. You should not be standing in line while trying to hear Mass; you should be in place before Mass begins. When I am in the confessional and the moment the flow of incoming penitents ceases, I leave the confessional and do not wait around for latecomers.

  2. The confession of sin should be to the point, that is, the sin should be immediately identified with specifics only in what concerns essential information on the sin or its circumstances that may affect the gravity of the sin; mentioning the number of times a sin has been committed applies, strictly speaking, only to mortal sins. Unnecessary narration of this kind ought to be avoided: "When I got together with my friends at a birthday party recently we began to talk after dinner about our work environments and the people who work with us. I had the feeling that, sooner of later, we'd get into some negative talk about these people (they're goo people, really) and, sure enough, we did." (Note that the plural "we" is evasive.) What should have been said: "I committed a sin of distraction."

  3. In the above, notice that the corrected statement is self-accusing. Confession must be that precisely and not something of this kind: "I know I need to work on closing my mouth when the subject of other people comes around." That is not material for absolution and therefore a priest cannot absolve it. Similarly 'conditional accusation' is not valid matter for absolution, e.g. "If I have committed any sins of impure thought, I am sorry."

  4. Confessing sins should be straightforward, not hiding or misleading the priest in anything that is mortal sin. Otherwise the confession is invalid.

  5. Sorrow for sins must be sincere and be directed towards God who is the One offended. What we call "guilty feelings" or self-regret are not sufficient for contrition. One must also be sorry for the sins that have been committed and not be selectively sorry for this or that one. Contrition must be heartfelt, but need not be emotional. This sorrow necessarily must include the intention never to do that sinful thing again. If the sin has involved other people, one must sincerely quit or avoid as much as possible that person's company or friendship, or "relationship." If that (the firm purpose of amendment) is lacking, the confession is invalid, no sins are forgiven by it, and another sin is incurred for the insincerity.

  6. The Act of Contrition prayer has various forms that suffice, but not all of them are equally good. The "traditional" acts of contrition include these points: that the sorrow for the sins is directed towards God who was offended by them; that the penitent has hatred for the sins committed; that the motivation for being sorry is best when the contrition is perfect, that is, when its only intention is to make up to God our of love for Him rather than to be sorry merely to avoid God's punishments for the sins.

  7. The "penance" the priest assigns the penitent to perform is a measure of compensation to God for the evils done to Him. Penances may not necessarily be enough reparation for sins but the priest's assigned prayers (or other deeds) are obligatory. One may not do some other penance, even a harder, more strict one, than what the priest has assigned. In addition to the penance the priest assigns, however, more good works can (and usually should) be done. The penance should also be done soon after one has been absolved so that one will not forget to do it or forget what it was. Even if one lapses into mortal sin before the penance has been fulfilled, performance of the penance is still obligatory (though in that case the compensation-value of the penance is lost).

  8. Those without mortal sins should not come to a Grotto Sunday confession every Sunday as this is a burden to other needy parishioners. One should recall that an act of contrition cancels venial sins (though the sorrow there must be directed towards all the sins that were committed, even though one need not advert to them all specifically).

  9. Those who do not confess for a year's time but who have held onto mortal sins in that time commit another mortal sin for neglecting the good of their souls.

  10. Someone who has a mortal sin on his conscience may not receive Holy Communion after making a private act of contrition, eve an act of perfect contrition. Confession of mortal sin is necessary before receiving Holy Communion.

  11. If one has committed no sins since the last confession, in order to be absolved the penitent must confess some specific sin already forgiven in a past confession for which is now sorry again.
Lastly, confession for some can be an ordeal of fear or embarrassment. This is not necessarily all bad since that very discomfort can be an added weight to diminish some of the punishment due to the sins confessed. In confession one should be humble, sorry to God, concise in confessing sin, and firmly resolved not to relapse into sin. -- End of catechesis for today.

Fr. Perrone

P.S. Classes for adults intending to convert to the Catholic faith witll be held Tuesday evenings beginning October 3 at the rectory from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Please call the rectory to reserve a place.

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