Frequent Confession - Part Two
By Barbara Kralis
©Barbara Kralis 2005
Frequently, we Catholics have been asked from those outside the Church,
“Why confess your sins to a priest when you can go directly to God yourself?”
Our only answer must be:
“Because Jesus gave His apostles the power to forgive sins when He said, ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (Jn. 20:23, RSV).
It is true that it is the Priest, in persona Christi, who forgives us our sins in the Sacrament of Confession. Christ definitively conferred this salvific gift, this gratuitous action of Divine Mercy, on the Catholic priests in order that they distribute it often. In fact, the Sacrament of Confession is one of the most important ministries proper to the duly ordained Catholic priest.
Sometimes, however, pastors do not make the Sacrament of Confession sufficiently available to their congregation for frequent Confession. Forty-five minutes of Confession once a week for a parish of 1,000 families is grossly inadequate.
Because of the short time allowed for Confession, the laity is discouraged from approaching the Sacrament of Mercy or Confession.
Moreover, if the priests’ homilies do not often remind the people of their sinfulness, their consciences become desensitized, unable to recognize the need to be pardoned and converted.
In this regard, the Church stresses the obligation of the bishops and priests thusly:
“…To see to it that the number of confessors does not become too small by reason of the fact that some priests neglect this outstanding ministry [of penance] while involving themselves in temporal matters of spending their time on other less necessary ministries.”
In the ‘Codex iuris canonici’ or Code of Canon Law, revised and promulgated in 1983 by Pope John Paul II, canons 959 – 997 pertain specifically to the Sacrament of Penance [Confession]. Canon 986 §1 specifically directs the clergy’s obligation to the faithful:
“All to whom by virtue of office the care of souls is committed are bound to provide for the hearing of the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them, who reasonably request confession, and they are to provide these faithful with an opportunity to make individual confession on days and at times arranged to suit them [the faithful].”
Furthermore, Pope Paul VI, in l978, instructed all bishops and priests:
“Other works, for lack of time, may have to be postponed or even abandoned, but not the confessional.”
The often asked question, ‘Are priests able to hear Confessions during Holy Mass?’ comes from a misunderstanding of a statement in the Sacred Congregation of Rites’ Instruction of 1967 entitled, ‘Eucharisticum mysterium’ which states the faithful should be encouraged to go to confession outside Holy Mass.
In October 2001 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), in an Official Latin text in Notitiæ, nos. 419-420, explained that this 1967 Instruction’s statement is not conflicting and does not in any way prohibit priests from hearing Confessions during Holy Mass. The Notitiæ goes on to teach:
“Consequently, it is clearly lawful, even during the celebration of Mass, to hear confessions when one foresees that the faithful are going to ask for this ministry. In the case of concelebrations, it is earnestly to be desired that some priests would abstain from concelebrating so as to be available to attend to the faithful who wish to receive the Sacrament of Penance [Confession].”
Pope John Paul II recently instructed all bishops, priests, rectors of churches and shrines to:
“…Periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertised times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available ...
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