As we approach the Lenten Season, this is the time for priests and people to take to heart the exhortation of Ash Wednesday: "Repent, and believe the Gospel."
Prior to Christmas, your scribe was at a gathering of priests. During the course of the evening, this question was posed: "Is there a new rite of Penance being issued?" I jumped in with, "Yes, but... ." They waited, and I foolishly waded in.
One of the principal ministries of Jesus was forgiveness of sins. It's likely a major factor in his death. Only God could forgive sin, as Jesus was reminded on more than a few occasions -- with the "and you who are only a man are presuming to forgive sin" added on. Blasphemy they said.
They were correct, of course, only God can forgive sin. What they missed was Jesus is God.
The reconciliation of sinners and forgiveness of sins were entrusted to the Church at Easter, according to the Gospel of John. Since then, both the preaching of reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins has been entrusted to priests -- the word includes both bishops and priests.
The sacrament of penance or reconciliation or confession, the names we have used, indicate the changes that the sacrament has undergone since Jesus left this ministry of reconciliation in the Church's care.
Space limitations mean that you'll have to check out some links to fill in the blanks. Start here pastoralliturgy.org/RevisedOrderofPenance.pdf.
Did you notice the new name? "Order of Penance" in that link? Over the past decade or more, the Roman Catholic Church, actually just the Latin Church, in the English-speaking world has been receiving new, and in most cases better, translations of the liturgical books desired by the Second Vatican Council.
The new book "Order of Penance," titled because it contains several rites of celebrating the sacrament, will be published by four printers: Liturgy Training Publications, Catholic Book Publishing, Magnificat, and Midwest Theological Forum.
Some publishers are offering different editions, participation cards for penitents, and cards with the revised formula for absolution. The Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions will have some catechetical and participation aids available; there is also a webinar available here: fdlc.org/2022/07/may-god-grant-you-pardon-and-peace-webinar-on-the-revised-order-of-penance. Feel free to navigate from that link to others on the excellent FDLC website.
Liturgy Training Publications (LTP) has a fine series: Preparing Parish Worship, and part of it is their "Guide for Celebrating Reconciliation."
The new book may be used beginning on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023 and it must be used on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 16, 2023. This information was shared with the priests at that gathering.
The next thing I said got facial and vocal responses. This would be a good time to order a personal copy for each priest in the parish; copies will also be needed in all the places where confessions might be heard, or better said, where the sacrament might be celebrated: confessionals, reconciliation rooms, and parish offices. The sacristy or sacristies should each have a copy for celebrations of Rite Two. And, when the new books are distributed, the old ones ("Rite of Penance") should be removed and discarded.
As we approach the Lenten Season, this is the time for priests and people to take to heart the exhortation of Ash Wednesday: "Repent, and believe the Gospel." The grace of Lent leads us to acknowledge our own sins, to seek reconciliation and forgiveness, and start anew. God, who is rich in mercy, always welcomes the sinner.
In our Catholic faith, the priest is the particular meeting point of God and the repentant sinner.
So, we priests need first to be penitents ourselves; then, having been recipients of God's mercy, we must be available for God's people to approach seeking that same mercy.
An issue that inevitably rises whenever this sacrament is mentioned is "the seal of confession."
Lots of ink has been spilled on this issue. It is safe to say that anyone, priest, penitent, or anyone who accidentally or even intentionally hears any conversation or matter that even seems like a confession, is bound by the seal. Simply, it's a secret. Because the priest is there dispensing the mercy of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, he is bound by the seal above all. He may never say anything to anyone about anything related to confession.
Lastly, the place of confession. It is the choice of the priest confessor where the sacrament is celebrated. It may be in a reconciliation room, where the penitent has the option of anonymity or face to face, or a confessional where only anonymity is possible. Questions or suggestions may be sent to email@example.com.