By Tony Molloy
Thank you for discussing in your pages the sacrament of Reconciliation and its present disuse by the great majority of communicants.
For everyone in the confessional queue, there must be 20 or 30 in the queue for Holy Communion. Are Catholics
much holier than in earlier times, or is awareness of the deadliness of sin not part of the ongoing formation of Catholics in our parishes?
It seems to me that what keeps some people away from Rite I of Reconciliation is the difficulty of examining one’s conscience. We develop mental and spiritual attitudes from which sin springs unnoticed, because we don’t know we have an “attitude” that is not in conformity with the perfect law of freedom offered us by Our Lord.
Mortal sin requires full knowledge and consent, but if a specific objectively sinful act is hidden under attitudes so entrenched and so approved of by today’s culture, perhaps that knowledge and consent reverts to the decisions of our past that formed the wrong attitude. We surely need some help in examining any culpability in the formation of our attitudes, just as we need the Church’s help in not abusing Our Lord’s perfect law of freedom.
Could it be that frustrations and awkwardness of this nature might be keeping people from confession? In today’s culture, perhaps we simply don’t know just where the lines are, and if guidance is not available, we simply fall away from regular and frequent confession. The sense of personal sin is suppressed and blurred, not only in society but also sometimes in the Church, and social sin is promoted as more important. But if I play only a minute role in, say, global warming or pollution I will feel only a minute guilt, and join the hordes who forego the graces
of individual confession.
I know we cannot expect most priests to be a Cure of Ars or a Padre Pio, but I feel a gentle and regular training in discernment of personal sin is a great need in our parishes, and might help people to reach back and maybe recognise fateful decisions in their past that may have led to attitudes that blind us to our sins.
When the prophet Jeremiah (17:9) tells us: “The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too: who can pierce its secrets? I the Lord search to the heart,” then it is obvious that we need the Lord, the concentrated
resources of the Body of Christ, to help us examine our hearts.
As indicated by the small numbers going to individual Reconciliation, our Catholic population is carrying around
a great burden of unacknowledged and therefore unexpressed guilt, which must be a great weight on the flourishing of our parishes, and all of this, perhaps, because we cringed at charges that Catholics were obsessed with guilt.
Could our bishops and pastors work up a weekly or monthly Rite of Repentance, perhaps rather similar to the Third
Rite of Reconciliation but without the sometimes misleading general absolution?
It could be conducted by a deacon or priest. Along with a varying selection of prayers, devotions, penitential
readings from Holy Scripture and other works, a generic examination of conscience, talks on the spirit of repentance and silent reflections, such a service would need to make a point of mention-ing all the subjective conditions necessary for an act of contrition to become an act of perfect contrition, an act which I think is a much more difficult task than spoken confession.
If a demand arose for spoken confessions at the end of such a service, it is nevertheless the spirit of repentance
that should remain the focus, giving evidence of a serious desire in the parish to give (for example, to God a pure
heart) rather than to receive (for example, absolution without a deep examination of ourselves).
Those Catholics with a true heart for Rite III should find this kind of service helpful, as should all Catholics. Without an abiding and deepening spirit of repentance, we have missed a large part of Our Lord’s proclamation of the Kingdom.
It is not easy for busy people to set and keep our own times to meditate seriously and at length on our own
inclination to sin, and all too easy to drift from one year to the next unaware of a hardening heart. Awareness that a service of repentance was held, for example, every Tuesday evening in the local church would provide a focus, not only for communicating Catholics but also for non-communicating and nonpractising Catholics, and even interested non-Catholics.
I am sure a regular hour-long Service of Repentance (or Penitential Rite), if properly forged by the conference of
bishops and well prepared by conscientious pastors, would not only be a great help to people like myself but could
gradually draw significant numbers back to the beauty and sanctifying grace of individual Confession.
Tony Molloy has theology and arts degrees, and is an aspirant in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. He lives in the Waikato with his wife, Catherine. As a young man he spent three years in PNG as a lay missionary.
By Tony Molloy