Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

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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