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repositioning religious practice

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 29, 2004

From a Jerry Filteau story on a symposium on Confession held at Catholic U:

[Boston College Prof. James] O'Toole contrasted a New York City parish in 1896-97, where the seven priests on staff heard 78,000 confessions a year, with the typical parish today, where the bulletin may list a half-hour or 15-minute weekly time for confessions, or perhaps offer them 'anytime by appointment.' "Between 1965 and 1975, the numbers of American Catholics going to confession fell through the floor," he said.

OK, OK. It's a Legion of Mary caliber mistake to see this as BAD news. We're in CTSA Country here, and that means before the end of the article our Brylcreemed heads are going to be patted by the union theologians while they explain how spending Saturday afternoons watching That Girl re-runs is really a sign of vibrant spiritual health. Scapulars tucked away? Drool wiped off your chins? Right then. Here's Joseph Chinnici, OFM, dean of the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, CA:

"Are we seeing a decline in confession or an expansion of forgiveness?" he asked. "What was happening was that the religious practice of auricular confession was being repositioned in relationship to multiple expressions of penance now occurring in church life."

That's why folks don't budge from the couch on Saturdays: they sense an "expansion of forgiveness" -- it's so expansive, in fact, that they stay home Sunday mornings too. (I speak only of the spiritually mature, of course.)

To the extent that the gap has been filled at all, it is General Absolution that has taken its place. And when you think about the folks for whom the sacramental "resolution of amendment" is a particularly sticky issue, you can understand why they want auricular confession to die and the bullhorn model ("I absolve you all ...") to proliferate.

In its bell-bottom days, the CTSA crowd inveighed against the ex opere operato nature of "laundry list" confessions -- the mechanical, putatively unspiritual recital of sins and the rote (bad word) act of contrition. All the more ironic that today's "thinking Catholic" has embraced ex opere operato theology in its most extreme sacramental form: simply by being in this particular lighted room at this particular time the penitent is absolved of his sins. Progress.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2004 1:00 PM ET USA

    I think that there are two words responsible for the decline, two words that seemed to saturate many conversations when I was a kid: GUILT TRIP. We've been taught to believe that anything that makes one feel guilty is a guilt trip on the part of those presenting the offending matter. We're a feel good generation - if it feels good do it! Contrition doesn't feel good, so it has to be eliminated. And the notion of sin, well that's a matter of opinion, isn't it?

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Mar. 31, 2004 10:38 AM ET USA

    Resp. to JJP: Please read Diogenes' column again. Individual, integral Confession&Absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile w/ God & His Church (re: Catechism 1422-1484, esp. 1480-84). Penitents who've gone to a GenAb must go to individ.Conf. before another GenAb (re: Intro to Rite, #34). Risk at GenAb, restricted to extraordinary times, is that penitnent might jeapordize validity by not: confessing mortal sin, saying act of Contrition, resolving to amend life...

  • Posted by: - Mar. 31, 2004 9:39 AM ET USA

    Hearing confessions on Saturday afternoons and evenings gave us priests, whether we knew it or not, a salutary sense of identity. And, it was a humbling experience to hear so many lay people sincerely struggling in their lives to love the Lord. Saturday Masses pushed aside the importance of this sacrament. We have been brainwashed by terms such as "laundry list of sins". We treat people today like the Scribes and Pharisees who looked down on the "rabble who know not (how to break the) law."

  • Posted by: Gertrude - Mar. 31, 2004 12:16 AM ET USA

    Parents!!!! You must teach your children to go to Confession. I have personally witnessed the beautiful conversion of those young souls who are pushed, prodded, or simply dragged into the "Box" Teach the children that Jesus, in persona Christi, is there, waiting for them.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 29, 2004 10:22 PM ET USA

    And for your penance do something nice for someone today, not necessarily monetary. Maybe just a "hello" to someone waiting at the bus stop, or hold the door for an elderly person, or give up your bus seat to an expectant mother.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 29, 2004 10:17 PM ET USA

    So "General Absolution" is now equivalent to "Sacramental" "Auricular Confession?" Please clarify.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Mar. 29, 2004 8:49 PM ET USA

    The 3rd form of the Rite of Penance, "general absolution," cannot be administered in a diocese where penitents can reach a priest w/in 30 days. No bishop has authority to even permit general absolution in the Lower 48 US. Unless you're in Alaska, Antarctica, or in a batallion about to engage in war, general absolution cannot be administered. Report priests/bishops violating these rules (notarized letter to Papal Nuncio). Br.priests: preach on/go to/expand times for Sacrament of Confession.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 29, 2004 5:31 PM ET USA

    Seldom mentioned about Confession is that you don't (as a rule) go because you need it, you go so that after lots of times you begin to understand that you need it.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 29, 2004 5:31 PM ET USA

    It's a product of the "I'm OK, you're OK" mentality. People have lost any sense of sin. Which of course proceeds from a belief that there is no objective right or wrong in the world today. Everything is relative and can be explained away based on the 'situation' - which we formerly referred to as 'Situation Ethics' and is now called 'Relativism'. The Sacrament of Penance has become the least used and appreciated of the Sacraments. A pity - it is a rich source of Grace and conversion.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 29, 2004 4:11 PM ET USA

    It is no surprise that Confession ("reconciliation" in newer parlance) is looked upon in a poor light. Auricular confession was early the butt of derision by Protestant revolutionaries. Their spiritual progeny have since infiltrated the Church to such a degree that it is difficult for the orthodox view of the salutary practice of frequent confession to get a fair hearing. The neglect of this sacrament bears fruit in mediocrity, ignorance and apostasy - bitter fruits indeed.