Part 4 Devotions and Liturgy

Chapter v44 Confessions of Devotion

Preliminary Questions


Devotion or Liturgy?

Confessions of Devotion

Official Church Statements

Sacrament of Reconciliation

2011 Reflections

To think About

Preliminary Questions

The basic question we want to discuss in this chapter is simply:  "Is confession a sacrament or a popular devotion?"

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1947, November 20  Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei,  Encyclical on "The Sacred Liturgy"

James O'Toole (editor).  Habits of Devotion: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America (Cushwa Center) ISBN 0801442567

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Devotion or Liturgy?

Viewpoint #1 -- Confession is a Sacrament, a Liturgical Act

We all know that the Council of Trent stated that penance is one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ.  This is taught in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Baltimore Catechism, and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.  End of story?

Viewpoint #2 -- Confession is a Popular Devotion

I believe it was Aristotle who said:  "If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, acts like a duck, and looks like a duck, it's a duck!  Confession looks like a popular devotion.

Liturgical acts have ceremony, vestments, music, candles, incense....  Confession has none of these things.

Liturgical prayer presupposes a community.  Confession is done privately, individually.

The liturgical texts and words are fixed and approved by Rome and cannot be changed by individuals on their own authority.  What the penitent confesses has no set formula or approved text.

A sacrament is a "worded sign" composed of "matter" and "form".  Confession has only "form" -- there is no material object (such as the bread and wine at Eucharist, water at Baptism, oil at Confirmation, etc.)

In the days only devotional prayer was permitted in the vernacular and all liturgical prayer had to be in Latin, confession (except the absolution formula) was in the vernacular.

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Official Church Statements

1947, November 20  Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei,  Encyclical on "The Sacred Liturgy"

The official statements of the Church presupposed confession to be a "popular devotion"

173. When dealing with genuine and solid piety We stated that there could be no real opposition between the sacred liturgy and other religious practices, provided they be kept within legitimate bounds and performed for a legitimate purpose. In fact, there are certain exercises of piety which the Church recommends very much to clergy and religious.

174. It is Our wish also that the faithful, as well, should take part in these practices. The chief of these are: meditation on spiritual things, diligent examination of conscience, enclosed retreats, visits to the blessed sacrament, and those special prayers in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary among which the rosary, as all know, has pride of place.[163]

175. From these multiple forms of piety, the inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit cannot be absent. Their purpose is, in various ways, to attract and direct our souls to God, purifying them from their sins, encouraging them to practice virtue and, finally, stimulating them to advance along the path of sincere piety by accustoming them to meditate on the eternal truths and disposing them better to contemplate the mysteries of the human and divine natures of Christ. Besides, since they develop a deeper spiritual life of the faithful, they prepare them to take part in sacred public functions with greater fruit, and they lessen the danger of liturgical prayers becoming an empty ritualism.

176. In keeping with your pastoral solicitude, Venerable Brethren, do not cease to recommend and encourage these exercises of piety from which the faithful, entrusted to your care, cannot but derive salutary fruit. Above all, do not allow - as some do, who are deceived under the pretext of restoring the liturgy or who idly claim that only liturgical rites are of any real value and dignity - that churches be closed during the hours not appointed for public functions, as has already happened in some places: where the adoration of the august sacrament and visits to our Lord in the tabernacles are neglected; where confession of devotion is discouraged; and devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, a sign of "predestination" according to the opinion of holy men, is so neglected, especially among the young, as to fade away and gradually vanish. Such conduct most harmful to Christian piety is like poisonous fruit, growing on the infected branches of a healthy tree, which must be cut off so that the life-giving sap of the tree may bring forth only the best fruit.

177. Since the opinions expressed by some about frequent confession are completely foreign to the spirit of Christ and His Immaculate Spouse and are also most dangerous to the spiritual life, let Us call to mind what with sorrow We wrote about this point in the encyclical on the Mystical Body. We urgently insist once more that what We expounded in very serious words be proposed by you for the serious consideration and dutiful obedience of your flock, especially to students for the priesthood and young clergy.

182. There are, besides, other exercises of piety which, although not strictly belonging to the sacred liturgy, are, nevertheless, of special import and dignity, and may be considered in a certain way to be an addition to the liturgical cult; they have been approved and praised over and over again by the Apostolic See and by the bishops. Among these are the prayers usually said during the month of May in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, or during the month of June to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus: also novenas and triduums, stations of the cross and other similar practices.

183. These devotions make us partakers in a salutary manner of the liturgical cult, because they urge the faithful to go frequently to the sacrament of penance, to attend Mass and receive communion with devotion, and, as well, encourage them to meditate on the mysteries of our redemption and imitate the example of the saints.

1963 Dec 04 Sacrosanctum Concilium, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

The Constitution contains one article on Penance, article 72: "The rite and formularies for the sacrament of penance are to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament."  This did not appear in the first draft. Note chapter title: "The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals." Penance was not mentioned. it was considered by the Council Fathers to be a devotional practice.

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Confessions of Devotion

Characteristics of Confessions of Devotion

13. Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church, above all when they are ordered by the Apostolic See.

Devotions proper to individual Churches also have a special dignity if they are undertaken by mandate of the bishops according to customs or books lawfully approved.

But these devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them.

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Sacrament of Reconciliation

"Instituted by Christ"

This sacrament, of all the seven sacraments, has the most complex history!

Complex History

This sacrament, of all the seven sacraments, has the most complex history!

Public (Liturgical) act

7.  Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which .s the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.

26. Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the "sacrament of unity," namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops.

Therefore liturgical services pertain to the whole body of the Church; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and actual participation.

27. It is to be stressed that whenever rites, according to their specific nature, make provision for communal celebration involving the presence and active participation of the faithful, this way of celebrating them is to be preferred, so far as possible, to a celebration that is individual and quasi-private.

This applies with especial force to the celebration of Mass and the administration of the sacraments, even though every Mass has of itself a public and social nature.

Different purpose

The Sacrament of Reconciliation has a different purpose, a sacramental/liturgical purpose. 

The story of the little girl (Bernard Härring).

Devotional Confession:  2011 Reflections

I have read all the postings and I hope that during the class period this afternoon we can synthesize and summarize some of these important ideas.  In this brief essay I want to record, primarily for myself, some of my thoughts and feelings after reading your postings.

1. Life in the 60s

When I think back on "life in the 60s" I remember the exciting transition from seminary to pastoral ministry. (I was ordained on the feast of Corpus Christi 1966). I remember serving on Archbishop Bernadine's committees explaining the implementation of the Council in the parishes of the archdiocese and the enthusiastic reception of these talks and the changes. I remember practicing and learning the Mass texts in English after having memorized the Roman Canon in Latin during my deacon year. I remember the excitement of the people becoming involved at Sunday Mass, learning the prayers and beginning to sing. I remember the changes brought about by frequent Communion, and Catholics beginning to read the Bible. I look back on these years as exciting, happy, creative, Spirit filled times. It seems as though I must've been living on a different planet than that described in some of the essays I have just read.

2. Bishops / Counsel / Church / Christ

Sometimes when I read the postings I wonder how the author subconsciously sees and understands the relationship between the bishops and the hierarchy and the church and the Body of Christ and an ecumenical council. Sometimes when the author says "the Council decreed ..."

I believe that the author would never say the same thing if one substituted "bishops" for "the Council" -- it seems that for some o the Council was something different from the bishops or the hierarchy. I do not understand this distinction.

3. Throwing Stuff Out

Frequently in the essays I read references to "the many things that the Council threw away." When I think of those days -- mainly the 60s and 70s -- what I remember is not the things that the Council threw away but the things that the Council introduced: the Council gave the laity the Mass in place of the moment of elevation. The Council enabled me as a priest to say Mass with the people, and not merely for the people. The Council gave the laity frequent Communion, and Communion with bread and wine, in place of ocular communion. The Council gave the laity the Bible, the inspired Word of God, in place of the various editions of the bible history book. The Council restored baptism as the sacrament which incorporates us into the Body of Christ. The Council restored the mission of the Church to build God's kingdom, and not merely to help souls get to heaven. As I think back on those days, I really don't remember the Council throwing anything out; what I remember is all the wonderful things the Council gave me -- things which many people today take for granted without realizing that for people my age these are revolutionary, "new" things.

4. Going to Confession / Hearing Confessions

I was surprised -- but now that I think about it, I don't know why -- that you all answered the question from the viewpoint of the one "going to confession" where as I approach the question from the viewpoint of the one "hearing the confession."

Perhaps an analogy could help. For example here, in this class you are the "students" and you would have a particular viewpoint as students in evaluating what goes on during these two hours. I, of course, have a different perspective. I am concerned about how the time can be arranged so that you will get the most benefit in the areas of knowledge, attitudes, and skills. I am concerned about how the time is used and if anything can be done to use the time more profitably. It is my responsibility to "keep up with the times" for example to use technology well -- technology

which didn't exist in former times; it is my responsibility to select the best textbooks, etc. Hopefully there are times when the students can communicate with the teacher so that these objectives can be better fulfilled.

I could develop the analogy further, but I think you get the point. From my perspective as confessor I must ask what is it that these people are receiving? Are they being helped? Are they being challenged? Am I using my time well? Am I utilizing the best resources (rituals, etc.)?

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To Think About

What is the value of devotional confession for the laity today?

What is the relation between devotional confession and spiritual direction? 

Should the later replace the former?

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