Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History

Chapter i20 Summary History of  Christian Initiation


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r4101 Song
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The Reconciliation of Penitents
Part One:  Gathering

Chapter 1 Song

Historical Survey

Documentation

Pastoral Reflection

Suggested Questions for Discussion

Historical Survey

Canonical penance took place within the gathering of the worshipping community. The eucharistic assembly has traditionally begun with an entrance procession accompanied by song. Consequently, song has a place in the history of penance.

When the sinner sought a remedy for sin in tariff penance, many of the ritual elements of canonical penance were lost. This continued to be the case during the transition to the modern period. The very mention of "singing" during "confession" seems to be out of place.

The Second Vatican Council restored confession to the broader context of conversion, penance, and reconciliation; and restored the celebration of this reconciliation to a liturgical context. Music is integral to the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation for the same reasons that it is integral to all liturgical rites.

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Documentation

General Instruction of the Roman Missal

19. The faithful who gather together to await the Lord's coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing psalms, hymns, and inspired songs (see Col 3:16). Song is the sign of the heart's joy (see Acts 2:46). Thus St. Augustine says rightly: "To sing belongs to lovers." There is also the ancient proverb: "One who sings well prays twice."

Liturgical Music Today

27. Communal celebrations of reconciliation (Forms 2 and 3 of the sacrament, as well as non-sacramental penance services) normally require an entrance song or song of gathering; a responsorial psalm and a gospel acclamation during the liturgy of the word; an optional hymn after the homily; and a hymn of praise for God's mercy following the absolution. The litany within the General Confession of Sins (alternating between the deacon or cantor and the assembly) or another appropriate song may also be sung, as well as the Lord's Prayer. Singing or soft instrumental music may be used during the time of individual confessions, especially when there is a large number of people present for the celebration.

Rite of Penance

23. When the faithful have gathered, a suitable hymn may be sung. Then the priest greets them and, if necessary, he or another minister gives a brief introduction to the celebration and explains the order of service. Next he invites all to pray and after a period of silence completes the opening prayer.

48. When the faithful have assembled, they may sing a psalm, antiphon, or other appropriate song while the priest is entering the church, for example:

Hear us, Lord,
for you are merciful and kind.
In your great compassion,
look on us with love.

Or:

Let us come with confidence before the throne of grace
to receive God's mercy,
and we shall find pardon and strength
in our time of need.

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Pastoral Reflection

The Second Vatican Council did not set out to put singing back into confession but to put confession back into the context of reconciliation with God through the Church. I was a seminarian in the early 60's when the first rumors of the liturgical reform were coming from Rome. I remember hearing that sacraments were no longer to be merely "administered"; they were to be "celebrated". This was an exciting idea for an imaginative young student. I could see how we could "celebrate" Mass or "celebrate" baptism; but how were we going to be able to "celebrate" confession?

The question is unanswerable without a change in perspective. We do not celebrate confession; we celebrate reconciliation. We do not come together to sing joyfully about our sins, but to rejoice in the mercy of God.

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Suggested Questions for Discussion

In what way does singing enable the faithful coming together to "take on the form of a community." Do you think the opening song accomplishes this purpose?

Besides song, are there other ways to draw the people together into a worshiping community? In what other ways might the celebration begin?

Are there other times during the celebration when music is appropriate? When?

What type of music is appropriate for the sacrament of reconciliation?

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.