08 March 2006

That's "little book" for you non-Latin scholars.

Since it is particularly appropriate to this penitential season, I'm going to post some things from a little book--hardly a book, but more than a pamphlet--I found in our school library. I won't post the whole book, but the parts I found most useful (about half the book). It's called Frequent Confession: A Guide for those who confess weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. The French version, L'Art de Confesser, was written by Henri Charles Chery, O.P. The translation, published in 1954, is by Lancelot Sheppard (isn't that a great name?).

The little blurb on the inside flap of the cover (one of those rare cover-flaps on a softcover book) reads as follows:

"Frequent and regular confession can be a great means to holiness. Unfortunately, many penitents who go often to the confessional are distressed by the common-place nature of their confessions, and the small benefit they derive from them. They will find this book, written by a distinguished French Dominican, author of What is the Mass?, most helpful. Writing especially with young people--Catholic Actionists, for example, or young married couples--in mind, he tries to show how the merely formal and routine confession can be replaced by one which will be a genuine aid in the development of their spiritual life."

Anyone know what Catholic Actionists are? I've never heard of them. Continuing on, here is a section from the introduction which is helpful to understand before we get to the content of the book:

"Contrition and absolution more important than confession
In the first place, since we are about to consider confession, and nothing but confession, it should be carefully noted that it does not form the whole of the sacrament of penance, and is not even its principal part. The sacrament comprises sorrow, confession, absolution, and satisfaction. Essentially the sacrament is constituted by the absolution blotting out sin from a repentant heart. Should a penitent--on his deathbed, for example--be unable to confess, the sacrament can dispense with this confession, but it cannot dispense with sorrow. God, for his part, can dispense with the sacrament (in the absence of a priest qualified to impart it); he cannot save a soul in spite of itself and forgive a sin for which it obstinately refuses to be sorry.
Those persons for whom the essential seems to be the confession of their sins would do well to remember this. As the priest exhorts them to sorrow and speaks of the steps to be taken to avoid such sins in future they appear not to follow what he is saying because their attention is elsewhere and once they have accused themselves they are worried about mentioning this or that sin which did not occur to them at once. If a serious sin is in question it is normal to desire to mention it before leaving the confessional, but usually it is a matter of venial sins. There is great anxiety to be complete at all costs; there should be great anxiety to be contrite at all costs.
From the foregoing it should be clear that during the few minutes usually given to the immediate preparation for confession it would be well not to devote them all to examination of conscience, but better still to ask God's grace to obtain sincere sorrow for sin and to give expression in advance to contrition and a firm purpose of not falling again."

More--advice on who to confess to, what to confess, the manner in which to confess, and firm purpose of amendment--will follow in the next few days.

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