Sacraments of Initiation
Sacraments of Initiation
r55 The Presider
r55 The Presider
r55 The Presider
To pronounce a word of forgiveness to those for whom the Gospel has never touched vast portions of their lives is not to bring them the healing power of Christ but to legitimate the sinful situations in which they are ensnared. (Ralph A. Keifer, Commonweal, 27 September 1975.)
What have you been taught about the role of the priest in Confession? What qualities does this theology call forth in the minister of the sacrament?
Ministry Regarding the ministry of reconciliation: 1) does the same person have to hear the confession and pronounce absolution, or can it be two different people? 2) What does it mean to pronounce absolution? 3) Do you have to be a priest to pronounce absolution?
[Return to top of this page]
Rite of Penance. Introduction, especially numbers 15-21; and Chapter I, numbers 41-47.
Stasiak, Kurt. A Confessor‘s Handbook. New York: Paulist Press. 1999. $11.95. ISBN 0-8091-3914-6
The bishops of Pennsylvania (February 2002) published "A Guide to the Sacrament of Penance" which is available at http://www.pacatholic.org/bishops'%20statements/penance.htm
Gula, Richard M., S.S. To Walk Together Again.
Kennedy, Robert J. "The Rite for Reconciliation of Individual Penitents: Celebration of the Church" in Kennedy, pp 131-142.
[Return to top of this page]
The following is condensed from an article by Cyprian L. Rowe, F.M.S. which appeared in The Criterion, March 11, 1994, page 11. Marist Brother Cyprian Rowe is a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is the dean of students at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
1. To listen, one must become still. Attention, more than all else, is attitude: One clears the ear, the head and the heart in order to receive words and their meaning from another.
2. To listen, stop every other activity. No response is being formulated; there is no laying on of attitudes for or against.
3. Good listening, if one can imagine it, is like decoding another's world. Is that person calm or upset, urgent or casual? What is the tone of voice? Is the person speaking literally or not? How do they look?
4. Good listening requires true human regard for the speaker, perhaps even love. We listen to one who has value, whose worth commands our attention.
5. Good listening demands that one not interrupt another. Interrupting means that the listener is formulating a response before the communication is complete.
6. The good listener is also one who practices silence. The good listener learns to attend to the present experience.
7. Good listening requires both repose and a quiet spirit. The good listener is comfortable with self – without the need to jump in, out of self-defense, at the hint of danger. The good listener is self-possessed and able to take comfort in a quiet spirit.
[Return to top of this page]
Tip 1 Paradigm: Eucharist The same qualities are needed to make a good presider at Reconciliation as are needed to make a good presider at Eucharist! The presiding skills are the same. The pastoral skills are the same. The liturgical skills are the same.
We are not doing something for someone so much as doing something with someone.
Don't be over, be with.
Be joyful, positive, happy – mirror the joy in heaven when one sinner does penance. even if you don't think that there is enough penance.
Tip 2 Memorize the flow of the structure Know what you are doing and Age Quod Agis – know when you are talking to the person (horizontal) and when you are talking to God (vertical). Overview (five fingers) – Think EUCHARIST. Think RITE II/III.
Gathering (horizontal – greeting, etc.); quickly move to vertical (prayer, etc)
Story Telling (horizontal plus vertical – proclamation of Scripture)
Confessing (horizontal–penitent speaks to priest; priest speaks to penitent, homily penance, etc.)
Praising (vertical, Lord's Prayer, prayers of sorrow, prayers of absolution, etc.)
Commissioning (vertical– prayer moving to horizontal – good-by)
Movement 1 Gathering (horizontal – greeting, etc.); quickly move to vertical (prayer, etc)
Culturally accepted greeting (e.g. stand up, shake hands, etc.) Your role: hospitality; put them at ease; receptivity of Christ... (You must be at ease yourself.)
Move to prayer – a sacrament is a liturgical celebration, not merely a conversation. Invite them to pray. You do the "moving" and inviting – you are the leader, the one who knows about rituals, sacraments, etc. (Don't expect them to do the leading!)
Movement 2 Story Telling (horizontal plus vertical – proclamation of Scripture)
Every sacramental action is a response to the word of God (Baptism, etc...
Selection of Scripture
Beginner – Good Shepherd
Intermediate – Lost sheep, prodigal son, lost coin, etc.
Advanced – next Sunday's Gospel
Gives you an "out" if it gets too specific
Gives weekly variety for yourself and them
Fits liturgical year
Lets them hear Gospel twice
Helps them put the Gospel into their personal context
Helps you with your homily
Don't make them wait too long to speak: They had an agenda when they come in.
Movement 3a Confessing (horizontal–penitent speaks to priest; priest speaks to penitent, homily penance)
Listen (see above suggestions regarding listening skills)
Listen as a priest
Gift the person with God's Good News.
Smile when appropriate: It isn't all that serious! Loosen up!Your response: Respond as a priest. Think Eucharist: homily. – The do not expect you to be able to solve their problem. They do not expect you to be an expert in labor relations, in child development, etc; they do expect you to be an expert in the things of God.
Avoid judgment words. [Good! Fine! You need to... You should... For your penance I want you to... That was a really good confession...]Of all the advice I received as penitent during the practicum last year, I found none of it useful.
Give commandments six and nine a rest for a decade just for the sake of balance.
Movement 3b Penance
The penance must be specific, proportionate, possible, acceptable and accepted.Be aware of the social and economic situation in your parish, e.g. "Take the family out to eat" would be for some people an unreasonable, major expense.
Do no force the person into scandal, revealing the sin, etc.Acceptable and accepted: (I think I would lie in some cases: e.g. if I had to admit I didn't know where Ezekiel is found in the Bible.)
Movement 4 Praising (vertical, Lord's Prayer, prayers of sorrow, prayers of absolution, etc.)
INVITE them to pray, and continue their praying in your prayer. (Invite: If you have to choose between "Make an act of contrition" and "Now, if you would like to, please make an act of contrition or say a prayer of sorrow using your own words or the words you have memorized and if you can't do that simply say the Our Father or I will help you get through it, or your may prefer to say the Our Father" – less is better.
Do not interrupt the praying (vertical) with something "horizontal" (e.g. "That was a really good prayer. Now I will stand up and give you absolution."). Minimize the number of shifts from horizontal to vertical.
Imposition of hands
Touch, don't just "hover"
Both hands – on together, off together
Prayer of Absolution: absolution may not be the "magic moment" but it is the climax of the celebration. Let the whole celebration build to this moment. Announce the peace of Christ. Mean it. Pray it enthusiastically, lovingly, with gratitude to Jesus.
Movement 5 Commissioning (vertical– prayer moving to horizontal – good-by)
Send them forth on a joyful, upbeat note: "May the peace of Christ be with you always. Go in peace."
Let them say "thank you" if they wish. (Priest: "You're welcome". Not: "Thank you for coming.")
Tip 3 Self-Knowledge Know your personal strengths and weaknesses. Maximize the strengths and neutralize or minimize the weaknesses.
I enjoying praying.
I am willing to take time with others. I am comfortable with silence.
I know the bible, its stories, its vocabulary, its message.
I am confident because I know I have been prepared for this.
I like giving advice.
I'd rather talk than listen.
I feel the need to fix things.
I am not comfortable praying out loud.
I am not comfortable in situations where I don't know exactly what is going to happen and I am not in control of it.
What did I think I was doing?
How many times did I mention Jesus, Peace?
What did I think of when they said their sins?
What did I do to make them hear the announcement of PEACE. I AM NOT GOD. I DO NOT GIVE HEAVENLY COUNSEL; BUT I DO SPEAK FOR GOD AND ANNOUNCE PEACE.
Tip 4 Age Quod Agis Be clear (in your own mind) on what you are trying to do.
What are you doing? judging, counseling, forgiving?
PROCLAIMING THE MERCY OF GOD.
PROCLAIMING JESUS' LOVE. PEACE. SHALOM.
There is a time for being "All things to all people" but right now the penitent wants a PRIEST.
Tip 5 Self-Concept How do you think of yourself?
What are you: judge, counselor, priest, sinner. SINNER. When they tell their sins, think of how you do that sin yourself.
As soon as you start hearing sins that you don't do yourself, stop hearing confessions and do something else; go drive a truck.
But as a sinner, we are ministers of a sinful yet repentant church. Use your ministerial role to effect the transition from looking at the sin to looking at Jesus.
My Thoughts After Going to Confession Fourteen Times
For about 25 years (1976-2000) I annually prepared deacons for their ministry celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The other day I found these notes which I typed many years ago after spending the day "going to confession" to 14 deacons-about-to-be-presbyters. I put these old reflections here; perhaps some confessor might find them food for thought.
Several hours and a glass of wine later, the experiences all fade into one. These are my thoughts as a penitent about the experience to having gone to confession fourteen times.
First of all, the Second Vatican Council and its teaching had very little to do with today's experience – for the most part it was simply 15th century confession without a screen – and so I will speak in Scholastic terms: confession, confessor, etc.
The confessors all wanted to be 1) counselors and give advice or 2) engineers and fix things. Seldom did he want to act like a priest – one who is authorized to speak for God. The reason I went to a priest was because I wanted a priest: I wanted to hear what God had to say. I wanted to hear that my sins were forgiven – not that I should get a new job, try harder, given back what I stole, masturbate less, etc...
I thought that the priest was the "icon of Christ" ["icon" in the Eastern theological tradition]. The Second Vatican Council, when speaking of "priest" gives pride of place to the preaching of the Gospel (Lumen gentium 28). God speaks to me through God's Word. When the Word of God was used in the sacrament, it was used simply as "something to do" or "something that is supposed to be done." I wanted the priest to take the Word of God and show how it applied to me, in my sinfulness and repentance, specifically, here and now. I know this is difficult to do, but that is why I came to a priest; a priest is supposed to be good at that. It is his job.
I realized that most of this "how to be a good confessor" business cannot be taught. Those confessors who are humanly pleasant in class and outside of class were humanly pleasant in the confessional. People how know how to listen (in class or at table conversation, etc) knew how to listen in the confessional. Poor listeners were poor listeners. Priest who were unsure of themselves in social situations were unsure of themselves in the confessional.
Observe the common laws of courtesy. Do not make the sacrament that different ("different" here means "less polite") from ordinary life. Say hello. Stand up and shake hands. Smile. Be pleasant. Things that one should do in any circumstance just as a human being but more especially as a minister who is the visible sign of Christ. In a word: greet the person as Christ would.
The reason people called it "confession" was because the penitent confessing was the most important part. It is the penitent who does the talking, not the confessor.
Perhaps it is because the confessors were forced to sit and listen to professors talk at them for 4-8 years that now that they had a chance to talk, they talked forever. Didn't anybody know that all I wanted was someone who would listen to my pain and sorrow? Didn't anyone know how scared I was of saying these things out loud? I didn't want a "fixer" I wanted a "listener." I can go to the bar and have a few drinks and hear lost of guys tell me how to fix things. I wanted someone who would listen as God listens. And understand as God understands. – Perhaps in the seminary, the rectory, the monastery, there are plenty of people who will listen to you. But out here it is really hard to find someone who will listen – even for couples happily married.
The priest seemed to live in a different world from mine. I didn't know where his questions were coming from. "Why doesn't you boy get a job and buy his own shoes" – doesn't he know that my one son already has two jobs and is in advance placement programs and working as hard as he can and that my other son is autistic and is struggling just to stay in school? "Bring your boys to Church 15 minutes early Sunday and pray with them." – he has no idea how hard it is to get teenagers to go to church at all much less 15 minutes early! Questions about my wife were just insulting!
Father Kurt Stasiak O.S.B., in A Confessor's Handbook (Paulist Press) and in class, suggested ways in which the confessor can ask the penitent questions that would be helpful to the penitent and to the confessor. These directions are very useful when followed correctly as explained in the book. However, as I recall today's experience, there was no instance in which the questioning by one of the student priests followed those directions. I did not say anything at the time because the students were nervous and I didn't want to ruin the "encouraging" purpose of the practice but in every case I found the questions intrusive and often insulting. – The experience temps me to return to what I taught in former years, namely: "Never, never, never, under any circumstances, ask a question of the penitent."
Remember that this is not an "ordinary" encounter. It is not a conversation. It is not even a counseling situation. It is not spiritual direction. You are touching someone at the depth of their being. This always requires great caution and care. For example when a plastic surgeon is operating on a person's face they are extremely careful and call upon all of their expertise and practice so that even the slightest cut is not misdirected. Each stroke of the knife is going to have an immediate effect on the rest of the person's life. This is very different from when the doctor goes home, takes out a kitchen knife and chops carrots for the evening stew. In the sacrament of reconciliation you are like the surgeon doing surgery. The person lies exposed before you; moderate your words even as a surgeon would moderate the strokes of his knife.
The primary ministry is listening. I know that you have been sitting in the class room for the past 4, 5, 7 years listening to people talk to you and now you want to talk but confession is not the time. The primary ministry is to listen to the people. Remember they called it confession, perhaps the only advantage to this word is to remind you that is what it is about in the mind of the person sitting/kneeling next to you. They want to confess. You are to listen. Use the "Manhattan Rule". In mixing a Manhattan you start with a good Bourbon and never add more than one part vermouth to three parts Bourbon. So in the sacrament Rite One, the penitent should have three words to every one of the confessor (including your introductions, scripture, absolution, etc.). For those of you who video taped the experience, when viewing the video tape count or time how many words the penitent said and how many words you said.
In the practice experience I was even trying to talk more than most people normally do in order to see if you would be patient and let me talk. Not everybody did. Several priest cut me off before I had time to say what I wanted to say. It was evident by their body language and their words that they wanted me to get on with it and thought that I was talking to long and told me so. I don't mind this in a practice – however in real life with real people you risk the danger of insulting them so that they will not return. It only has to happen once.
When asking a question try to think what the questing might (might) mean to the one hearing the question out of the context in your mind. For example the situation that I used in most of your confessions when the priest asked "why don't you ask your kid to get a job! He is old enough to help. He could buy his own shoes." While in the abstract this may be a logical question in the concrete situation it may be interpreted as an insult. Do you know if the boy already has a job. Perhaps he is already working two jobs and putting money away for college. Perhaps he is taking college prep courses and needs every moment to do his homework. He might even be handicapped in some way that prevents him from getting a job. Your question while logical in an ordinary situation in these special situations of the confessional can be interpreted as an insult. Before you ask a question ask your self how the question might be interpreted in the worst possible scenario because that might be the one that actually exists. From hearing the questions that were asked during the practicum I would give the following advice. Never under any circumstances, for and reason whatsoever, ask a question of the pennant in the confessional.
Note how difficult it is to speak of Rite One in the Vatican II language of reconciliation. The terminology is almost exclusively taken from the prior paradigm of judging and scholastic confession.
[Return to top of this page]
1. List for yourself the qualities that you admire in the good confessors you have experienced.
2. List your personal strengths and weaknesses you bring to this ministry.
3. Say from memory the formula for Absolution. What are the principle elements of this formula? Why was the previous formula changed?
4. Without the use of your Ritual, be able to play the role of the priest in rite one of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
5. Following the Practicum, the Class of 1987 offered the follow observations:
5.1The "Priest" did not say much other than words of assurance that God loved me and forgave my sinfulness. This was enough to help me deal with my life and situation in a more honest way. Paying attention is crucial in the sacrament. It is more important to listen than to give advice.
5.2. It is Jesus, not the priest, who has the words of everlasting life.
5.3. I am more comfortable being the channel of God's grace rather than the source.
5.4. The focus shifts from "what do I say" to "how can I listen" and "what did I hear." The whole idea of being present seems to be the crucifixion of the sacramental encounter: as a priest I sign God's promise to be there.
5.5. Human experience is something to be trusted.
5.6. I never realized before how much justice there is in the act of listening.
[Return to top of this page]
© 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 07/05/07 . Your comments on this site are welcome at webmaster2@tomrichstatter.