Initiative seeks renewal of the sacrament of reconciliation
by Joe Bollig
Headline writers had a field day when the new iPhone confession app came out.
“Got Sin?” one headline read.
For most, the answer was self-evident.
The Bible has it down right there in black and white: “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
No, you don’t need to be a social scientist to know that all have sinned.
Every. Single. One. Of. Us. That’s Catholic doctrine.
But whether or not people do anything about that sin is another question. And there’s where social scientists have some interesting things to say about Catholic belief in and use of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Confession by the numbers
In February 2008, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. surveyed a sampling of adult Catholics about belief and participation in the sacramental life of the church.
What CARA discovered about the sacrament of reconciliation (also called penance or confession) was disconcerting:
• In terms of “meaningfulness” of the seven sacraments, Catholics were least likely to say that reconciliation was “somewhat” or “very” meaningful to them. Only 39 percent of those surveyed called it “very” meaningful.
• In terms of frequency, 2 percent received the sacrament once a month or more, 26 percent received the sacrament once or more a year, 30 percent less than once a year, and 45 percent never received the sacrament at all.
• A high number of survey respondents, 62 percent, agreed “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement: “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation at least once a year.”
And there lies the rub. According to the Code of Canon Law, Catholics must seek the sacrament of reconciliation if they are conscious of having committed a grave sin (Canon 988.1), and must confess their grave sins at least once a year (Canon 989).
But that doesn’t mean that Catholics free of grave sins are also free of the obligation to frequent the sacrament. Numerous saints and popes strongly recommended that Catholics go to weekly confession — including Pope John Paul II, who did so himself.
More importantly, as Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann explains in his column in this issue (see page 2), the fact that we may not think we have any mortal sins to confess doesn’t mean that we should not make a regular, frequent confession.
Do you think you have no significant sins, asked the archbishop? Just ask your friends, family and co-workers. “The problem is not that we do not have anything to confess,” wrote the archbishop.
“The problem is that we are unaware of our sin. This is truly a dangerous state. It is comparable physically to suffering from an illness that is undiagnosed.”
Meeting the challenge
The results of this CARA social science research confirms the gut feeling that archdiocesan pastors have had for some time: Many Catholics don’t understand the sacrament of reconciliation and seek it much less frequently than they should.
Pastors on the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council, and its Pastoral Life Committee, have been discussing their concerns about the sacrament for several years. The committee chairman was Father Dan Gardner, pastor of All Saints Parish in Kansas City, Kan.
“In those discussions, an initiative [about the sacrament of reconciliation] in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was mentioned,” said Father Schneider, pastor of St. Peter Cathedral Parish in Kansas City, Kan.
Father Schneider, a member of the six-person committee, was given the responsibility of investigating Washington’s initiative more closely, and he produced a proposal for the archdiocese.
“After a lot of discussion, and using the outline of the Washington, D.C., initiative, we developed a program to deepen the understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation,” said Father Schneider.
With the approval of Archbishop Naumann, a slightly modified version of the initiative was given the green light to launch in the archdiocese during Lent 2011.
Springtime of your soul
The initiative launched by the archdiocese this Lent is called, “Confession: The Springtime of Your Soul.”
“[The archbishop’s hope] is that more people will participate in the sacrament of reconciliation, this great gift that the Lord has given us,” said Father Schneider.
The initiative was announced by Archbishop Naumann in his Feb. 18 column in The Leaven. In it, he explained the major components of the initiative and expressed his goal.
“It is my hope that this initiative will motivate all of us to reflect upon how well and how frequently we take advantage of the gifts of the sacrament of penance,” wrote the archbishop.
The first component of the initiative entails some instruction on the sacrament at each of the weekend Masses immediately prior to the start of Lent, on March 5 and 6. The catechesis will include why we have the sacrament, the meaning of sin, the meaning of the sacrament, and how to celebrate the sacrament. Later, on Ash Wednesday, the pamphlet, “A Primer for Confession,” will be distributed to parishioners.
The second component involves publicity, with information about the initiative scheduled to appear in parish bulletins, articles and columns in The Leaven, and posters for display in all the churches.
A third component is comprised of information and resources made available on the archdiocesan Web site at: www.archkck.org. Click on “Information for Confession and Lent,” and then “This page contains helpful information.” There you’ll find resources about Lent, Ash Wednesday, and various topics concerning the sacrament of reconciliation.
The fourth and final component is designed specifically to address one reason many Catholics give for not frequenting the sacrament regularly: availability. To make the sacrament as available as possible to any Catholic wishing to celebrate it, priests in parishes throughout the archdiocese will be available to hear confessions at the same time every Wednesday of Lent, excluding Ash Wednesday.
That means that from 6 to 7 p.m. on all Wednesdays of Lent (excluding Ash Wednesday) Catholics living in metropolitan areas of the archdiocese will know they can find a priest hearing confessions at any Catholic church they drive by. In rural areas, where parishes are clustered, the priest will rotate sites, according to a schedule publicized in advance, but always on Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m.
“We have [something] beautiful in this sacrament — a sacrament so important and essential for our faith lives,” said Father Schneider.
“Many in our culture have a lack of understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation and of a sense of sin,” he continued. “This [initiative] will help to deepen our understanding and renew our appreciation and practice of the sacrament for spiritual growth.”
Primer for confession
1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
• Do I seek to love God with my whole heart and soul? Does he truly hold the first place in my life?
• Have I been involved with the occult or superstitious practices?
• Have I ever received holy Communion in the state of mortal sin?
• Have I ever told a lie in confession or deliberately withheld confessing a mortal sin?
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
• Have I insulted God’s holy name or used it lightly or carelessly?
• Have I wished evil on anyone?
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
• Have I missed Mass deliberately on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, or on holy days of obligation? • Do I try to keep Sunday as a day of rest?
4. Honor your father and your mother.
• Do I honor and obey my parents? Do I care for them in their old age?
• Have I neglected my family responsibilities to spouse and children?
• Is my family life centered around Christ and his teaching?
5. You shall not kill.
• Have I murdered or physically harmed anyone?
• Have I had an abortion? Have I encouraged an abortion?
• Have I abused drugs or alcohol?
• Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization?
• Have I encouraged others to have themselves sterilized?
• Have I harbored hatred, anger or resentment in my heart toward anyone?
• Have I given scandal to anyone by my sins, thereby leading them to sin?
6. You shall not commit adultery.
• Have I been unfaithful to my marriage vows in action or thought?
• Have I practiced any form of contraception in my marriage?
• Have I used fertility treatments condemned by the church?
• Have I been engaged in sexual activity with a member of the opposite sex or the same sex?
• Have I indulged in pornographic material?
• Am I pure in my thoughts, words and actions? Am I modest in dress?
• Am I engaged in any inappropriate relationships?
7. You shall not steal.
• Have I taken what is not mine?
• Am I honest with my employer/employee?
• Do I gamble excessively, thereby robbing my family of their needs?
• Do I seek to share what I have with the poor and needy?
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
• Have I lied, gossiped, or spoken behind anyone’s back?
• Have I ruined anyone’s good name?
• Do I reveal information that should be confidential?
• Am I sincere in my dealings with others or am I “two-faced”?
9. You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.
• Am I envious of another’s spouse or family?
• Have I consented to impure thoughts?
• Do I try to control my imagination?
• Am I reckless and irresponsible in the books I read and the movies I watch?
10. You shall not desire your neighbor’s goods.
• Am I envious of the possessions of others?
• Am I resentful and bitter over my position in life?
(Source: “A primer for confession with an examination of conscience,” pamphlet No. 4005, Faith Guild, St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, New Hope, KY 40052)
Examination of Conscience
Whether you go to confession frequently or are doing so after a long period of absence, it is important to prepare to celebrate the sacrament. We do this by praying to the Holy Spirit to help us recognize our sins and have true contrition and by making an examination of conscience.
Two traditional formats for the examination of conscience are meditations that use the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church, which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2042 and 2043). Two more versions of the examination of conscience, one for adults and another for children, can be found on the archdiocesan Web site at: www.arch kck.org/lent.
Another version using the Ten Commandments is contained in the pamphlet, “A Primer for Confession” (see sidebar at far right), which will be distributed Ash Wednesday as part of the archdiocesan initiative, “Confession: The Springtime for Your Soul.”
Most confessionals or reconciliation rooms allow for you to choose to confess behind a screen or face to face.
First, the penitent enters and kneels at a screen or sits in a chair. The priest greets the penitent, and both the priest and the penitent make the sign of the cross.
Second, the penitent may begin with the traditional formula, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (indicate time) since my last confession.”
Third, the priest invites the penitent to place his trust in God, and then confess his sins in type and number.
Fourth, the penitent receives counsel and a penance from the priest.
Fifth, the priest asks the penitent to express his sorrow by praying the Act of Contrition or some other appropriate prayer. The priest then prays the prayer of absolution, and the penitent responds, “Amen.”
Sixth, the priest dismisses the penitent using one of the formulas found in the ritual. The penitent goes forth to live and continue the celebration of the sacrament by doing penance.
The Act of Contrition
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of thy grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.
(Source: Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)