Sunday, 21 December 2008

Pestilential Services

Those of a more traditional turn of mind sometimes instinctively dislike what are called 'penitential services', by which I mean those services which often take place in parishes during Advent and Lent during which many of those who do actually go to confession at all celebrate the sacrament together. Another innovation, some feel.
And yet actually it is more a revival than an innovation. Something very similar took place in pre-Reformation England. At that time, and in this country, annual communion, at Easter, was, pretty well, the universal custom. It was prepared for very carefully, and the parish priest would confidently deny communion to any he felt were unworthy of it. Part of the preparation was something not unlike a penitential service; in country areas, at least, where there might be only one priest, that parish priest would call in his priest friends and neighbours from the surrounding area to hear the confessions of everyone in his parish. And not just confessions; on that occasion, the penitent would also be asked to recite the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles' Creed, to make sure he knew them.
One might also conclude, then, that annual confession was also the custom, though no doubt others might avail themselves of their parish priest's absolution on other occasions.
The picture is taken from a Sarum Primer of 1534.

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