Fourth Sunday of Lent

REVISED ORDER OF PENANCE. Part 4 of my miniseries on the revised ‘Order of Penance’ details how we usually celebrate the RITE FOR THE RECONCILIATION OF INDIVIDUAL PENITENTS.’ With so many variables at play: the number of Priests and Penitents; the setting and situation; local custom; the age of the Penitents; etc., the key word in following the rubrics is: adaptation.

Our Parish customarily offers Saturday and, when possible, Monday afternoon Confession times and a seasonal ‘Penance Service’ in Advent and Lent. Since many Penitents attend these two ‘Services,’ much of the Rite is done privately, through a series of Examinations of Conscience provided in our bulletin, on our website, and on a printed flyer which each Penitent receives upon arrival. What follows is the ‘ideal’ form:

Preparation of Priest and Penitent. Priests should call upon the Holy Spirit so that they may receive enlightenment and charity; Penitents should compare their life with the example and commandments of Christ and then pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins.

Welcoming the Penitent. First, the Priest may warmly welcome the Penitent, who makes the Sign of the Cross, saying: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen” which the Priest may also do. After the Priest briefly urges the Penitent to have confidence in God, he/she should, if unknown to the Priest, indicate his/her state in life, time of his/her last Confession, difficulties in leading the Christian life, and anything else which may help the Confessor in exercising his ministry.

Reading the Word of God. The Priest or Penitent may read a text of sacred Scripture, or this may be done beforehand. For through God’s word, we receive light to recognize our sins, are called to conversion and to confidence in God’s mercy.

Confession of Sins/Act of Penance. The Penitent then confesses all serious, grave, mortal sins by number and kind, and/or making a general admission of lesser sins, beginning, where customary, with “I confess to almighty God…” The Priest may help him/her make a good Confession, encourage sorrow for all sin, trust in God’s mercy, and offer suitable counsel to help him/her live as a more faithful Christian. He may also lead the Penitent to make appropriate restitution. Then he imposes an act of penance or satisfaction: a prayer, act of self-denial or of service to others, etc., which corresponds with the sins confessed, helps the Penitent start anew, and which stresses the social nature of sin.

Prayer of the Penitent/Absolution by the Priest. Then the Penitent expresses contrition and the resolve to begin anew with a prayer, ideally based on Scripture. [Our custom is to ask that the Act of Contrition, of which there are many, be prayed privately before or after Confession.] Then, with hands, or at least his right hand, raised over the Penitent, the Priest pronounces the formula of Absolution, in which the essential words are: “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As he says these words, which are all that is required in imminent danger of death or for a valid absolution, he makes the Sign of the Cross over the Penitent, for as the rubrics note:

“The form of absolution indicates that the reconciliation of the Penitent comes from the mercy of the Father; it shows the connection between the reconciliation of the sinner and the paschal mystery of Christ; it stresses the role of the Holy Spirit in the forgiveness of sins; finally, it underlines the ecclesial aspect of the sacrament because reconciliation with God is asked for and given through the ministry of the Church.”

Proclamation of Praise/Dismissal of the Penitent. Having been pardoned of all sins, the Penitent may praise the mercy of God and give thanks in a short invocation taken from Scripture. Then the Priest dismisses the Penitent, telling him/her to go in peace. Recalling that “love covers a multitude of sins” [1 Peter4:8], the reconciled go forth to live more fully his/her new life in Christ. The Priest may, when necessary, omit or shorten some parts of the Rite, always retaining in their entirety the confession of sins, acceptance of the act of penance, invitation to contrition, the form of absolution, and the dismissal. Confessions are next Sunday, March 26, from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm!

With God’s love and my prayers,

Very Rev. Michael J. Kreder, VF, KCHS