Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Domine, non sum dignus……

You may remember that I bemoaned the lack of enthusiasm for the Sacrament of Penance in the Valle Adurni. Last weekend, Diaconus in Valle decided to address it head-on. This is what he had to say:

“What have you given up for Lent?” That’s a common question at this time, one that is still quite common even amongst non-Catholics or even amongst people of no faith where it may be more related to a slimming routine!
The other question might be “What are you doing extra for Lent?” And both questions are good and valid; it can do something good for us to go without a luxury or two as a reminder of Lent; it will certainly do us and others good if we can undertake some charitable action in these next few weeks.
However I want to propose something to you that is not really, or at least should not be, something extra – and that is to renew or rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. Now I can sense the silent and inward groans, “Oh no, he’s not going to bang on about that again, is he?” Well yes I am, but I hope in a way that may cause you to think about the Sacrament in a positive way again.
One of the reasons that the practise of going to regular Confession has lapsed over the last 30 or 40 years is that we have lost the sense of connection to the Eucharist, so let’s concentrate on that first.
As Catholics we have as a central tenet of our faith, the belief in the Doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Real Presence. We believe that at the words of the Consecration, the bread and wine are changed into the Real Body and Blood of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The bread and wine keep their material form but are also the Body and Blood; at that moment Jesus is truly present on the altar and we receive Him in Holy Communion. Afterwards the Body of Christ is reserved in the Tabernacle and we genuflect each time we pass in front of it as a sign of our belief and reverence.
Someone once said that if as Catholics we truly, really, passionately believed in the Real Presence then when we came to the doors of the church we would throw ourselves down on our faces and crawl into church on our hands and knees, not daring to look up at Almighty God in front of us! It’s a thought isn’t it – do we truly believe?
And the reason for our reverence, our genuflections and so on, is that we acknowledge our unworthiness, our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness. The church teaches that we should only receive the Lord in Holy Communion if we are in a state of grace having reconciled ourselves to God and one another. So how do we do that? Well, I am sure most people will say we do that when we recite the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass.
But Jesus went so much further than that. He instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation when he conferred on the Apostles through the Holy Spirit, the power of forgiveness of sins. “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven in heaven, those whose sins you retain, they are retained in heaven”. This power given to the priest by his ordination, passed down to him by the Apostolic Succession, is not given to you or me. Jesus was, as always, very clear – forgiveness of sins is achieved through genuine repentance, prayer and the confession of those sins to the Almighty Father through the words spoken to the priest and given to us by the specific words of Absolution spoken by the priest – it is at that point that the power of the Holy Spirit works through the words and gestures of the priest, and then we are forgiven.
Then we enter a state of Grace, a state a little more worthy to contemplate entering into the presence of the Lord here in his church, in front of Him reserved in the Tabernacle; a state a little more worthy to contemplate receiving Him in Holy Communion.
Many Catholics will regard the reception of Holy Communion at Mass as their right, an automatic action that is always part of attending the Mass. However that is to lose sight of the connection between our state of Grace and whether we are worthy to receive; to lose sight of the connection between the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of Holy Communion. Always, Forgiveness first, then Communion second.
So, Confession is not the optional extra it has sadly become for many, it is a vital and life-giving prerequisite to our full and active participation in the Mass and it should be part of our regular devotional routine.
If you regularly attend Confession, than make it part of your Lenten preparation to meditate on the connection between it and your regular reception of Holy Communion.
If you occasionally attend Confession, then make it part of your Lenten preparation to resolve to use the Sacrament more regularly in Lent and beyond.
If you rarely or never attend Confession, then use this Lent to try again. As we use this season to prepare for the great services of the Easter Triduum and celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, use the Sacrament to honestly examine your life and answer to Almighty God the question “what kind of person am I truly?”
Do you believe in the Real Presence, can you honestly say to Almighty God; I am ready and worthy to receive you in Holy Communion?


Stanley Anderson said...

My wife and son and I are fairly recent converts from a Continuing Anglican Church here in the US (a week ago was the fifth anniversary of our reception into the Catholic Church -- is that recent? It seems like it to me, as though it were only yesterday, and yet it also seems like 20 years ago at the same time).

Anyway, I remember early on seeing the congregation going up in long lines and having the image in my mind of blood cells in veins heading back and going through the lungs to receive fresh oxygen that they might be able to take energy-producing ability back out to the body. But it also occurred to me (and this is the part that seems to apply to this blog entry) that, if I can be a bit indelicate, Confession and Reconcilliation are perhaps not unlike those blood cells being cleansed in the kidneys that filter out waste and poisons so that the blood cells will be capable of receiving the life-giving oxygen again.

I might imagine this was a common enough illustration that has been used before, but I haven't seen it myself, so I just wanted to mention it in connection with the comments of this blog entry.

georgem said...

I think that's a very good analogy. As a cradle Catholic I still get nervous when I know that my soul must be cleansed (not often enough, to my shame).
But, coming out of the confessional, it's as if new life is pumping through me.
I do believe that if priests were to stress that as soon as absolution is given they forget everything the penitent has just told them, people would not be so reluctant to confess. It's personal pride which holds us back and makes us spiritually sick.

pelerin said...

I remember several years ago there used to be Lenten talks given in different parishes in the Brighton area. I would welcome one on Confession!

AndrewJ said...

Off topic slightly, but in Australian Catholic schools, pupils are taught that Sundays are a day of respite from whatever it is you have given up for Lent. Which I found very surprising, as it was never an option I was aware of growing up. Does this "day off" concept apply also in the UK today?

In the interests of full disclosure, I myself have given up chocolate. Lame, I know......