Praised be Jesus Christ and Mary His Most Holy Mother! My letter of two weeks ago was a detailed outline for the proper format of the Sacrament of Confession. Today’s column will focus on the importance of maintaining the formal structure; generally what to bring to the Sacrament, and what to leave out; and understanding the sacred role of the Priest-Confessor and not putting him in a difficult position.
Once you have made the Sign of the Cross and said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been (state the interval of time) since my last confession; and I accuse myself of the following sins,” it is important that what is then said is the necessary matter for your confession, and nothing else, no matter how important it may be. Therefore, do not “slide” or “ease” into your confession, but have a formal beginning and ending to your celebration of the Sacrament. Keep the lines clear.
Try to think of this analogy when it comes to the content of your confession: you have begun a “billable” conversation with your attorney, who charges $500/hr. Whether you are talking the business at hand for which you have come to his/her office or chit-chatting about the weather, your children, or any other subject, the clock is running, and every minute is costing you $8.33. Unless you like to throw money away and don’t care about the best outcome for your real estate, business deal, or legal action, it is imperative to stay focused on why you are there, and you don’t want to confuse your attorney who needs to know the cogent information that is given to him/her in confidence, for the benefit of you, the client. This is not a casual conversation situation. Neither is the Sacrament.
Please make every effort to keep yourself to a succinct list of your sins – kind and number (of times) – and not ramble, become engaged in needless conversation or tangential details; telling the sins you have not committed or good works that you are doing; the airing of complaints about various persons, television programs or governments; or the telling of others’ sins and character defects, etc. Also, do not purposefully omit any sins – especially mortal sins – or confess your sins in such a vague, cryptic or convoluted manner that the Confessor is confused as to what is being confessed. We come to Confession to accuse ourselves of our sins as best we know them and to receive forgiveness through the Priest, who is Christ’s sacramental representative.
The offering of non-essential information during Confession, or the bringing up of parish or personal business issues or other important topics of interest to you (and the Priest) that are not absolutely essential to your confession should be clearly kept outside of the formalities of the Sacrament. I now invite you to “get into the Priest’s shoes,” so that you can understand the privileged position and the grave responsibility that he holds under the Seal of the Sacrament.
Once a penitent has begun his/her confession, technically everything that is said therein is under the sacred seal, and the Priest incurs the penalty of excommunication should he reveal the content of a confession, no matter how insignificant it may be. The seriousness of this cannot be overemphasized. Think about being in that position and try to understand the weightiness of it for the Confessor. When penitents (who are well-known to the Priest) come to the Sacrament and sit opposite him, face-to-face, clearly revealing their identity, it is imperative that, as best as possible, they do not bring up anything that they discuss with the Priest outside of the confessional, whether business or social in nature, so that the Priest does not have to start having scruples about what matter was mentioned to him within the seal and what was spoken about outside of it. While the Priest acts sacramentally in the place of Jesus Christ, he is not somehow protected and/or immune from being human and imperfect. He is more than capable of getting confused about these things, especially when great quantities of non-essential “filler” are interspersed, padding and insulating (and possibly obscuring) the actual sins being confessed.
Moreover, a good number of saints and spiritual writers contend that the more penitents get off the topic of directly and as concisely as possible accusing themselves of their sins, and providing greater quantities of non-essential information – whether on topic or not – the more that they are subconsciously attempting to justify or downplay their commissions and omissions; attempting to not make themselves look so bad. The point is our sins do make us “look bad.” We deserve to be punished for them. All of us. If there is qualified contrition or a lack of contrition for the evil we have done and for the good that we have failed to do, we are abusing the Sacrament. If we do not directly humble ourselves and be straight forward and honest, how can we expect to receive God’s mercy? The attitude that should guide our confession should always be: “I have done X, Y, and Z sins. I am ashamed; I am sorry; please forgive me.” It must always be remembered that it is God who forgives us, not the priest. Thus we do not say, Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, but rather, Bless me Father, for I have sinned. The Priest is there to offer God’s forgiveness and peace to the humble and contrite of heart. The Lord knows the details that the Priest does not need to hear. When he himself goes to Confession, he gets right down to the business of telling his sins as succinctly as he knows them, expresses his sorrow, and asks for forgiveness…
However, if there is information that you would like to discuss with the Priest that is not essential to your confession, save it for some other time outside the confessional, or if there are no other penitents waiting in line behind you and the Priest says that he has the time, speak about it after having received absolution. The celebration of the Sacrament is then officially over. Then illnesses, your son’s problems, the bake sale, church lighting, or last night’s ball game…whatever, may be discussed without compromising the forum Our blessed Lord has given us for the forgiveness of our sins.
Passiontide: In the Liturgy of the Church today begins the most sacred time of the year. It is called Passiontide and it consists of the last two weeks of lent. The week that begins today is called Passion Week, and next week is, of course, Holy Week.
The Liturgy takes a very noticeable turn today. Now all our attention is directed to Our Lord’s approaching Passion and death. The prayers take on a different turn, a different preface is used, and, most dramatically, we see the Crosses and images in both the Church and chapel, veiled in violet, sometimes called the passion cloth. These hangings are the widow’s weeds of the Church who now mourns her Divine Spouse who has been taken away from her.
Please try to live these last two weeks of Lent in intense union with Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Most Holy Mother. Try to be very strict in the Lenten fast for the remaining time of the holy season so that we may greet Our Lord on Easter Day with all confidence and assurance.
Lastly there are several items that may be given to the parish as a memorial for a loved one. One is the monstrance which is used for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in Benediction. The other is the throne for the monstrance, sometimes called the tabor. There is also a new thurible that may be memorialized. Please call the parish office if you would like to donate these items.
Benedicat Virgo Maria!
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda