Celebrating Reconciliation: Get the Lowdown on Confession Today
FR. RUSSELL ZINT
ST. MALACHY CATHOLIC CHURCH
The difference between FORGIVENESS and
It is important to remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same experience. Many people confuse these two important words. Forgiveness is a UNILATERAL action. If I forgive someone, it is an act that I choose, made in freedom. It does not depend on the actions of the wrongdoer nor their response. To forgive is to replace bad thoughts with good, bitterness and anger with compassion and affection. Forgiveness is NOT a) forgetting that someone has done something wrong nor b) excusing the wrongdoing of the wrongdoer. Forgiveness, as most counselors will attest, is an action that serves to liberate someone from carrying bitterness and anger in their souls for many years.
Reconciliation is different. It is a MUTUAL act. It implies that forgiveness has been offered, and that the wrongdoer owns their wrongdoing, seeking to make reparations to the one hurt. Reconciliation draws together people who have separated as a result of the wrongdoing.
Why confess your sins to a priest?
This is question "numero uno" among people who have doubts about the sacrament of reconciliation. They ask, "Can't I just ask God for forgiveness, without going through a priest?" The answer is simple: absolutely. God will forgive us of our sins when we ask. But sin has a greater effect than hurting God. It hurts those around us. True reconciliation means righting what has been wronged. Going to a priest helps us to see the connection between our sinfulness and the community. Going to a priest also meets a very human need in us: a need to say "I'm sorry" and to hear the words "I forgive you."
The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation
Sacraments are visible signs of invisible realities. They are ways that we encounter God, and as such, they are events to be celebrated. This makes sense when we speak of Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Marriage and Anointing as celebrations. But how do we celebrate confession? After all, what is there to celebrate about sin and our need to confess our sins?
We do not celebrate sin. What we celebrate is God's love and mercy; we "celebrate the reconciliation Christ has gained for us (Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation 2)." As a celebration, and like the other sacraments, the sacrament of Reconciliation is modeled after the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the Christian life. Like all the sacraments, there are four parts to each celebration of Reconciliation.
2. Story telling
3. Sacramental action
It is important to realize that we celebrate this sacrament in two different, but related ways. The first way is for us to come together in a community celebration (Rite II). These are the "Reconciliation Services" that we have during Advent and Lent. In this environment, it is easy to see how the celebration of the sacrament models the Eucharist:
1. Gathering: we begin with a hymn, ritual greeting and prayer.
2. Story telling: we hear from the scriptures, we reflect on a homily, we examine our consciences, and make an act of contrition.
3. Sacramental action: we form a procession to confess our sins individually to a priest and receive the words of forgiveness (absolution).
4. Commissioning: we are sent forth with some type of ritual action or dismissal.
Many people also celebrate the sacrament individually. This is how Catholics celebrate the sacrament on Saturday afternoons or in private appointments with the priest.
1. Gathering: the priest greets the penitent and begins with the sign of the cross.
2. Story telling: the priest recalls some words from the scriptures and briefly reflects on how the scriptures always point to God's love and mercy.
3. Sacramental action: the penitent confesses his or her sins, makes an act of contrition, receives a penance and the words of forgiveness (absolution).
4. Commissioning: the priest invites the penitent to "Go in peace and sin no more."
Notice that there are no secret formulas or cryptic prayers to know! "Bless me Father for I have sinned" is nowhere to be found in the revised rites of Reconciliation (promulgated in 1974). The Act of Contrition can be confusing for people. Thus, I always invite the penitents to express their sorrow to God in their own words, to recite an Act of Contrition (if they know one by heart), or I ask if they would like to repeat a prayer after me. Catholics should not stay away from this awesome experience of God's love and peace simply because they "don't know what to do." If you are willing to confess your sins, and willing to change your life and your ways, you are ready for this wonderful sacrament of God's mercy and love.
An examination of Conscience helps us to think about what we have done wrong.
The 10 commandments are our guide.
Rite II: Communal Reconciliation
Reconciliation should be celebrated. Why is that? After all, we don't celebrate sin, do we? NO, we don't celebrate sin. We celebrate God's love for us, his willingness to forgive our sins, and the Reconciliation that Jesus won for us by his death and resurrection. The best way to celebrate Reconciliation is at a communal gathering (Rite II). These are the "Reconciliation Services" that we have during Advent and Lent. In this environment, it is easy to see how the celebration of this sacrament models the Eucharist, which is the model for all the sacraments:
1) Gathering: together, we begin with a hymn, ritual greeting and prayer. This part looks just like the beginning of Mass.
2) Storytelling: together, we hear some stories of faith from the bible. Then, we reflect on a homily. Finally, we examine our consciences, and recite an act of contrition.
3) Sacramental action: we form a procession to confess our sins individually to a priest and receive the words of forgiveness (absolution).
a) After the priest greets you, you may begin confessing your sins immediately. There is no need to make the sign of the cross since we have done that together.
b) The priest will offer you some words of encouragement, and assign a penance, which is a good work to help you along your way. An example: say an Our Father.
c) There is no need to make an act of contrition, since we have already done that together.
4) Commissioning: After you confess, typically, there is one more thing to do, called the commissioning. During our parish's Advent Reconciliation service, everyone gathered around the Baptismal font for a closing prayer and a blessing. This part reminds us that we are to "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
Rite I: Individual Reconciliation
Many people also celebrate the sacrament individually. This is how Catholics celebrate the sacrament on Saturday afternoons or in private appointments with the priest. The Examination of Conscience (see the front of the booklet) is done individually, before the celebration.
1) Gathering: After greeting you warmly, the priest invites you make the Sign of the Cross with him.
2) Storytelling: the priest will recall some words from the Bible. For instance, he might say, "In the gospel we will hear this Sunday, Jesus reminds us to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us." Then, we will offer a reflection on this passage, such as, "Sin is what gets in the way of loving our enemies and praying for those who mistreat us. What sins would you like to confess?"
3) Sacramental action: the penitent responds to the question of the priest by confessing his or her sins.
a) When you have finished, the priest will offer you some words of encouragement.
b) He will then assign a penance, which is a good work to help you along your way. An example: say an Our Father.
c) Then, the priest will invite you to tell God that you are sorry with an "Act of Contrition." If you do not know one by heart, you may pray to God in your own words. There are some examples of the Act of contrition on the back of this booklet.
4) Commissioning: The priest will send you on your way by saying, "Go in peace!"
Notice that there are no secret formulas or cryptic prayers to know! "Bless me Father for I have sinned" is nowhere to be found in the revised rites of Reconciliation (promulgated in 1974). If you don't know what you are doing, just tell the priest, so he can guide you along.
Possible Acts of Contrition
The Act of Contrition can be confusing for people. Thus, I always invite the penitents:
Catholics should not stay away from this awesome experience of God's love and peace simply because they "don't know what to do." I have listed some possible Acts of Contrition:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more,
And to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In his name, my God, have mercy.
The Jesus Prayer is another possibility. This one is my favorite, because it is an ancient prayer that is very easy to remember.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,