10 March 2006

Libellus II

As a small child, the instruction I received on how to go to confession was pretty minimal. It covered what you were supposed to say in the confessional, and what the priest would say to you, and what would happen as a result of saying these things. I made my first confession before my first Eucharist, and was not thereafter encouraged to go frequently until I was in junior high--by which time I had to basically re-learn everything from the preveious inadequate instruction, plus gain some understanding about what it was really about, and why frequent confession is important.

But I have always felt a lack of knowledge about how to go to confession. I make my examination of conscience, am contrite, go in and tell the priest my sins, come out and do my penance. Sometimes, the priest gave me really helpful advice and a penance designed to help me keep from sinning again. Other times, I got a very general sort of admonition and exhortation, and 10 Hail Mary's. I very much disliked having the latter experience (which happened far more often than the former), and assumed that the priests I went to just weren't very good confessors, and that I should strive always to find priests from whom I'd get good advice and a really "useful" penance. This little book has, I think, provided me with much useful advice on that subject, as well as some others (preview of things to come: the general exhortation/"boring" penance phenomenon may sometimes be because of me, not the priest). Again, the booklet is Frequent Confession by H.C. Chery, O.P. The following is from the section, "To whom should I confess?"

In the first place, to a priest
"I have purposely used this general term to emphasize the importance, the primary importance, in the use of the sacrament of penance that should be given not to the qualitites of the man who hears the confession, but to his capacity as Christ's minister. Because we lack faith, we are apt to pay exaggerated attention to the human value of the confessor--real or objective value or one that our instinctive liking or trust attributes to him. Obviously it has to be taken into consideration, but from a point of view that, so to say, is marginal to the sacrament. It functions in connextion with the advice which follows the accusation of sins and precedes the absolution. But the sacrament is not made up of this advice; it can even do without it entirely. What is important is to be in touch with Christ who holds our pardon in his hand, with Christ living and acting in his Church. Every priest who has received from the Church the power of absolving you validly acts in persona Christi, in the name of Christ. For your soul he opens the living springs of pardon, the Blood of Christ our Redeemer, and washes it in this Blood.

To a priest who represents the Church
Consequently, it is an erroneous attitude, due to lack of faith, which causes some penitents to postpone freeing themselves from a serious sin or to put off indefinitely a confession which would deliver them from a growing spiritual sickness (by purifying the gradually spreading centres of infection) because 'their confessor' is absent. If they understood what the sacrament is, and how it is superlatively efficacious in its work of purification, independently of the priest who administers it, if they understood that the confessor is primarily the minister of Christ, that is, the ear of Christ to hear the accusation, the wisdom of Christ to judge, the mouth of Christ to pronounce the absolution, they would cling less to human appearances and not postpone their confession."

The next part goes on to say why it is important to confess sins to a priest instead of merely acknowledging them directly to God. I will post that tomorrow, if I have time.

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