Sacraments of Initiation
Part 2 History

Chapter i20 Summary History of  Christian Initiation


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

The Reconciliation of Penitents
Part Three:  Reconciling

Chapter 12 Celebrating God's Action

Historical Survey

Documentation

Pastoral Reflection

Suggested Questions for Discussion

Historical Survey

We arrive at part four of the rite. The Church has (1) gathered for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. We have (2) heard God's love for us proclaimed in the Scriptures and in the homily; we have (3) reflected on that word. The action of the Holy Spirit has revealed our lack of response, our sinfulness. Moved to renew our baptismal conversion we have given a sign to the community that we are sinners and repentant; we have acknowledged our sin. At this point (4) we celebrate God's response to our response; we celebrate the gift of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the purpose of the rite. The sacrament is a celebration of the fact that God loves us even in our sinfulness. We celebrate our reconciliation with God, with ourselves, with the church and with all creation. It is a time of joy and celebration in which the Church on earth expresses the rejoicing of the Church in heaven: "I tell you, there will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent" (Lk 15:7).

In the canonical expression of the sacrament of penance, this element of the sacrament received its due importance and celebration. The reconciliation of the penitents and their reunion with the faithful was truly a joyful event. The community embraced them back into full communion and celebrated this in the joy of the Easter eucharist.

This joyful community celebration of reconciliation was not present in every instance of canonical penance. Sometimes the penitent died before the period of penance was completed, and the reconciliation was effected by the reception of Holy Communion as viaticum. In these cases, while there would be joy in the community at the Christian's reconciliation, it was a joy conditioned by the face of death.

With the passing of the canonical system of penance, this element of joyful celebration of reconciliation was in large part lost from the sacrament. There is no evidence of this element of the sacrament in the tariff system. After the penance was assigned, the sinner left to do the penance. We have no indication that the sinner returned after the completion of the penance for a celebration of reconciliation.

The modern practice of confession was not structured in a way which expressed clearly this joy of reconciliation. The proclamation of the absolution -- the central act of this celebration of reconciliation -- was pronounced in a language foreign to the penitent. The form of the absolution ("I absolve you from your sins..."), caused the absolution to be considered more often as a juridical statement of forgiveness rather than a liturgical proclamation of joy. In addition, the absolution formula was often recited by the priest at the very same time that the penitent was occupied with the recitation of the act of contrition. Consequently, the absolution was seldom heard or understood by the penitent. Confession was not ordinarily thought of in the category of "celebration."

The "Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution" calls for a communal expression of the joy experienced in forgiveness. Penance, like the other sacraments, is to be a joyful celebration of the faith of the Church, a celebration which will culminate in the celebration of the mystery of faith, the eucharist.

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Documentation

Rite of Penance

4 cont. In the sacrament of penance the faithful "obtain from the God's mercy pardon for having offended him and at the same reconciliation with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion."

5 cont. "The hidden and gracious mystery of God unites us all through a supernatural bond: on this basis one person's sin harms the rest even as one person's goodness enriches them." Penance always therefore entails reconciliation with our brothers and sisters who remain harmed by our sins.

6 cont. In the sacrament of penance the Father receives the repentant children who come back to him, Christ places the lost sheep on his shoulders and brings them back to the sheepfold, and the Holy Spirit resanctifies those who are the temple of God or dwells more fully in them. The expression of all this is the sharing in the Lord's table, begun again or made more ardent; such a return of children from afar brings great rejoicing at the banquet of God's Church.

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Pastoral Reflection

The sacraments are celebrations in which the Church proclaims its faith and gives thanks to God. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we celebrate the God who has reconciled all things in Christ Jesus.

The change in vocabulary from "administrating the sacraments" or "receiving the sacraments" to "celebrating the sacraments" is more than just using different words; it reflects a change in the way we understand the symbolic function of a sacrament. During the more than twenty years since the Second Vatican Council, Catholics have begun to think of the sacraments as "celebrations" -- eucharist, baptism, marriage, even the anointing of the sick. However, many Catholics are hesitant to speak of penance as a "celebration." Until the focus of attention shifts from "confession" or "penance" to "reconciliation", the sacrament will remain difficult to "celebrate". It is hard to celebrate confession.

This celebration is to be a collective, parish celebration. Just as one person's sin harms the rest of the community members, one person's goodness enriches them. Penance always therefore entails reconciliation with our sisters and brothers, and this dimension of reconciliation should be given full expression in the celebration of the sacrament.

Many times this common expression of reconciliation is thwarted by the arrangement of the service, or by the fact that many of the participants leave the service after their individual confession and go home without participating in this part of the rite.

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Suggested Questions for Discussion

In what way is this sacrament a celebration?

In the communal reconciliation services in your parish, is this dimension of celebration expressed sufficiently? What aspects of the rite contribute this aspect of "celebration"?

In your parish, do people remain after their individual confessions for a communal expression of reconciliation or does everyone go home after they have gone to confession?

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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.