Reconciliation
Part 7 Sample Celebrations of
Rite II:  Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution

Chapter r70 Overview

Introduction

Bibliography

The Four-Movement Shape of the Rite

The Inner Dynamic of the Rite

The Theology Which Informs the Current Ritual

The Reality of Grace and Sin

Introduction

This chapter contains some general principles  and "tips" for parish liturgical ministers to assist in the preparation of scripts for communal celebrations of the sacrament as described in chapter 2 of the current ritual.  I have posted several examples of the sacrament.  Some of these are taken from student class assignments and used with their permission.

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Bibliography

See Chapter r17 General Bibliography on Reconciliation

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The Four-Movement Shape of the Rite

Sacramental Theology   In the sacramental theology presented by the Second Vatican Council, the Eucharist is not merely "one of the seven" sacraments, but rather it is the summit and source of the entire Christian life.  The Eucharist is the model and archetype of every ritual celebration, not only theologically but also liturgically and ritually.

When Luke explains the structure of the Eucharist in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus,  they 1) gathered (the stranger caught up with them), 2) they told their story, 3) they shared their meal, and transformed by that encounter, 4) "they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them. ... Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:33-35). Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning. These  four elements of the Mass (namely: gathering, storytelling, meal sharing and commissioning) are the elements of every sacramental celebration.  (For a fuller explanation of this four-movement shape see Ten Things I Learned About The Mass, Catechist, 27:3  [November/December 1993], pp 42-47.)

These are the same four movements we find in a contemporary formal meal, e.g. Thanksgiving Dinner.  1) The family gathers; 2) we tell our stories; 3) we move to the table, pray, eat and drink; and 4) we take our leave and return to our homes. [This is the image I use in the Catholic Update and the video "Walk Through the Mass."]

The celebration of reconciliation is basically and fundamentally Eucharistic.  In the Sacrament of Reconciliation  the Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, and Commissioning of the Eucharist become Gathering, Storytelling, Reconciling, Commissioning. 

1)  Gathering:  Sacramental celebrations are acts of the Body of Christ, the Church.  We gather to form Church and prepare to collectively perform an act of worship.

2)  Storytelling:  We hear of God's wonderful deeds of salvation.  (See the The Inner Dynamic of the Rite as described in the following section.)

3)  Reconciling:  We respond to God's offer of forgiveness and celebrate reconciliation.

4) Commissioning:  We turn to the world.  As a forgiven people, we are commissioned to be instruments of peace.

Each of the model ritual celebrations printed here exemplifies this four-movement ritual shape.

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The Inner Dynamic of the Rite

During the past 50 years a new science has emerged, the study of forgiveness. These studies examine the process and psychological dynamics involved in interpersonal forgiveness and it's implications for corporate and communal forgiveness. The revision of the sacrament will not be fully effective until sufficient account is taken of these human realities. Currently these studies have had little influence on our celebration of the sacrament.

How might these studies be incorporated into our celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  In discussion with Fr. Andre McGrath, O.F.M., S.T.D., (former Professor of Moral Theology)  I evolved the following table explaining the dynamic of sin and repentance that is operative during a liturgical celebration of reconciliation.

Dynamic of Sin and Repentance

In the Scriptures

Implications for the Rite

We remember (anamnesis) what God has done. As we hear the Word of God we remember our story and what wonderful things God has done for us. -- Create a space where the penitent can remember. This atmosphere of reflection calls forth thanks and praise (eucharistic).Those who are planning the rite should ensure that the celebration allows the assembly to hear the word in such a way that the wonders of God's love, especially as manifested in Jesus, are clear and compelling. The rite creates a space, an atmosphere, of reflection in which the faithful can remember God's goodness to them.
As we remember we are led to sentiments of gratitude, a thankful (eucharistic) appreciation for God's love. -- Tell of God's goodness and love in scripture and in personal witness.The rite must speak to us of God's love, both by the scripture and in the homily and by the witness of the forgiven and repentant community, laity and clergy.
This gratitude for God's love makes us aware of how little we have loved back. Love given calls for love to be returned. Our remembering illumines our own ingratitude for so great a love. This awareness of the difference between how much we have been loved and how little we have loved in return is the conviction of sin or sense of sin. -- Allow the conviction to take place within the penitent. Allow -- don't force.There must be time in the rite to allow this conviction of ingratitude and sinfulness to take place within the celebrating community. Conversion is a free gift of God's grace. It cannot be forced by accusations, harangues, or browbeating people with lists of sins or ponderous accusations of guilt and unworthiness. Only love has the power to draw us to conversion; as St. Paul reminds us, there is no power in the law.
This sense of our ingratitude then moves us to acceptance of God's love even in the face of our own sinfulness. While yet we were sinners, God loved us. This acceptance is the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, assuring us of "forgiveness." -- Announce God's Love for the sinner and God's forgiveness. Help the penitent to be open, accepting of God's gift.Those who are planning the rite do not need to concentrate on how to cause God to give forgiveness; God is always ready to forgive. Rather we must concentrate on finding ways -- -- rites and symbols -- to enable the sinner to accept and to experience God's forgiveness. The problem is not with the "giving" but with the "receiving" absolution.
Forgiveness is recognized by the gifts (charisms) of peace and freedom. Our word of sorrow meets God's word of forgiveness and explodes into shalom, wholeness (at-one-ment). -- We then celebrate the gifts of peace and freedom.The rite should then create a space in which the community can joyful and gratefully celebrate these gifts. Made whole in the sacrament, we are strengthened go forth as ambassadors of reconciliation.

The focus of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is on God's love and mercy and -- as the name implies -- reconciliation with God; whereas the focus of the practice of confession was on sin and -- as the name implied -- confession of sins to a priest.

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The Theology Which Informs the Current Ritual

The ritual celebrations given here will not be understood correctly if one considers thinks of a communal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a Bible Service followed by individual confession.  Nor are the celebrations given here a "modern version" of scholastic confession.  The Vatican Council proposed something much more radically new.

Over the course of time penance has been celebrated in various ways.  As we read in the Catechism:  "The Church continues the healing ministry of Jesus. The risen Lord commissioned the disciples to continue his work of healing and forgiveness. 'He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.' (John 20:22-23) Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1447)

History of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Name(Jesus and Sub-apostolic Church)Canonical Penance (Order of Penitents)Celtic Penance (Tariff Penance)ConfessionReconciliation
Dates30-300300-600600-900900-19741974-present
Paradigm (Think...)Jesus in the GospelsBaptismDoctor visitJuridical trialEucharist
Process (Stages)Former life
conversion
catechumen
elect
faithful
Sin
contrition
penance
eucharist
(=absolution)
reconciliation
Sin
telling
penance
Sin
conscience
confession
absolution
penance
Sin
Word
sorrow
reconciliation
shalom
LiturgyBaptism-confirmation-eucharistOrder of Penitents:
weepers
kneelers
hearers
None[None]
words of
absolution
Gathering
Story Telling
Reconciling
Commissioning
MinistriesCommunity and its ministers and its overseerCommunity and its ministers and its overseerHoly person (who can read a tariff from the book)An ordained priest with proper jurisdictionThe community and its ministers and its pastor
Positive AspectsPart of the ongoing journey of the holy ChurchA liturgical process involving the whole communityHealing; quicker; repeatableRepeatable; eradicate sins, sin by sinThe celebration (and the sin) is ecclesial and public
Negative AspectsNo provision for exceptional tragic situationsOnce only; long and very hard; punishmentPrivate; no liturgy; (danger of money abuses)Sin is private; not liturgical but devotional; routineAs far as we know, there are none

The Baltimore Catechism described sacrament as an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.  The Second Vatican Council enlarges on that description and reminds us that sacraments are acts of worship:

The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity. (Constitution on the Liturgy, 59)

The rituals described here are primarily acts of divine worship.  The focus is on God, and the divine mercy.  They presuppose a flourishing practice of spiritual direction and other personal ascetical practices which in the course of time became taken up into the practice of sacramental confession and which no longer find a place in the revised sacrament.

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The Reality of Grace and Sin

The rituals presented here presume an understanding of grace that is more interpersonal and dynamic than that operative in confession; and they presume an understanding of sin that is more related to conversion of life than individual acts of breaking a law.  See my article The Reality of Sin and Grace  in The Catechist, February 2, 2003 (36:5) pp 50-54. 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  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 04/18/11.  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org