Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History

Chapter i20 Summary History of  Christian Initiation








The Reconciliation of Penitents
Part Two:  Story Telling

Chapter 4 Scripture Readings

Historical Survey


Pastoral Reflection

Suggested Questions for Discussion

Historical Survey

Before the publication of our current Rite of Penance, the sacrament did not include readings from Scripture. During the period of canonical penance the penitent stood in the back of the assembly and listened to the word of God; but confession as we knew it before the Second Vatican Council had little reference to the Bible.

The new Rite of Penance offers thirty-two selections from the Hebrew scriptures, fifteen choices for the responsorial psalm, twenty-eight selections from the apostolic writings, and twenty-six gospel selections. These are prefaced by the notation: "The following readings are proposed as a help for pastors and others involved in the selection of readings. For diversity, and according to the nature of the group, other readings may be selected" (p. 93). Consequently, those who are planning the celebration have a great deal of freedom in the selection of readings.

The arrangement of the readings at Sunday Mass offers a model for the ordering of the liturgy of the word at celebrations of reconciliations.

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Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

7. Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. . . . He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church.

Rite of Penance

24. The sacrament of penance should begin with a hearing of God's word, because through his word God calls his people to repentance and leads them to a true conversion of heart.

One or more readings may be chosen. If more than one are read, a psalm, or another suitable song, or a period of silence should be inserted between them, so that the word of God may be more deeply understood and heartfelt assent may be given to it. If there is only one reading, it is preferable that it be from a gospel.

Readings should be chosen that will:
a. Let God's voice be heard, calling his people back to conversion and ever closer conformity with Christ;
b. call to mind the mystery of our reconciliation through the death and resurrection of Christ and through the gift of the Holy Spirit;
c. bring to bear on people's lives God's judgment of good and evil as a light for the examination of conscience.

51. The celebration of the word follows. If there are several readings a psalm or other appropriate song or even a period of silence should intervene between them, so that everyone may understand the word of God more deeply and give it his heartfelt assent. If there is only one reading, it is preferable that it be from the gospel.

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Pastoral Reflection

While a great deal of freedom is given in the rite regarding the selection of the scripture readings, there are traditions and liturgical principles that should be observed. For example when there are to be three readings they are usually selected from the prophets, the apostles, and the gospels. The arrangement of the readings at Sunday Mass can serve as a model. Because of the Easter connotations of the "Alleluia" this word would not be used during Lent to prepare for the proclamation of the Gospel.

The liturgical season is an important factor in choosing the readings for the celebration of reconciliation. For example, the call of John the Baptist to do penance is characteristic of the first weeks of Advent. Jesus resisting the temptations of the devil is associated with the beginning of Lent. Those choosing the readings for reconciliation should take into account the current cycle of readings for eucharist.

Another factor in the choice of the readings would be the special conditions of those who will be present: is the celebration intended for the general parish assembly or is it directed to a special group: e.g. the children of the parish, or the sick of the parish?

The Rite of Penance gives two examples of how the celebration of the word of God might be ordered. Each is arranged around a theme: "Love is the fullness of the law," or "Your mind must be renewed."

The second appendix to the Rite of Penance gives several sample penitential services which can be adapted for celebrations of the Rite of Penance. The examples give sample greetings, opening prayers, readings, homily suggestions, examination of conscience, and acts of repentance. There are celebrations of the word suitable for Lent (themes: penance leads to a strengthening of baptismal grace; penance prepares for a fuller sharing in the Paschal mystery of Christ for the salvation of the world); for Advent; for ordinary time (themes: sin and conversion; the son returns to the father; the beatitudes); for children; for young Christians; and for the sick.

In the celebration of the "Rite for the Reconciliation of Individual Penitents", it is often helpful to use the Sunday readings as a basis for the celebration and examination of conscience. In this way the penitent's individual efforts to enter more deeply into the paschal mystery can be reinforced by the community eucharistic celebration.

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Suggested Questions for Discussion

This section of the ritual is titled "Celebration of the Word of God". In what way are the readings a "celebration"? Is there a difference between a reading and a proclamation?

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (article 7) states that "Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. . . . He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church." What does it mean when we say that Christ himself speaks when the Scriptures are read?

What are some appropriate themes for celebrations of the sacrament?

At a parish celebration of reconciliation, how many readings should there be?

Is it good to repeat the Sunday readings at a communal celebration of reconciliation? Why or why not?

When there are readings from various books of the bible, what special reference is given to the gospel reading?

After the gospel is proclaimed at Mass, the minister kisses the book and says quietly "May the words of the gospel wipe away our sins." Does this prayer have a special relevance during the sacrament of reconciliation?

Are readings which are not found in the Bible appropriate for the liturgical celebration?

Who should proclaim the readings? Is this one of the functions of the presiding minister? How would you evaluate the readers in your parish? The sound system?

From what place should the readings be proclaimed during a celebration of reconciliation?

When the Scriptures are proclaimed during the sacrament of reconciliation in your parish, from what type of book are they read? from a Bible? From a typed page? Is the physical appearance of the book important?

Is it helpful for the congregation to have the printed text of the reading in their hands so that they can read it at the same time that it is being proclaimed? Why or why not?

Should a period of silence follow the readings? Why or why not?

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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