Friday, March 30, 2012


In our parish we have a liturgical celebration of the Sacrament of Penance twice a year, once during Advent and the other during Lent. Our attendance is rather good and we have about six priests hearing private confession after the Liturgy of Penance concludes.

In the past, we always had a nice procession of ministers, and the whole array of the Liturgy of the Word, with Two lessons, Responsorial Psalm, Gospel Acclamation and Gospel. I've even used incense for the procession and Gospel.

Then there is a homily, followed by an "Act of Contrition" and a closing prayer and private confessions. By the time private confessions take place usually 45 minutes have been spent on the Liturgy leading to Confession and Absolution.

For the past two years, I've made our Penance Services more noble in their simplicity. This was the Order of Service last night:

Processional and Introductory Rite: Our Father , We Have Wandered"

Chanted Greeting and Collect (Collect is the first option for the Mass for the Remission of Sins in the Roman Missal)

Liturgy of the Word

One reading from St. Paul

Brief Homily

Silent Examination of Conscience

Rite of Penance

Act of Contrition (Kneeling)

Chanted Kyrie

Standing, The Lord's prayer chanted with the priestly embolism and concluding doxology

Then using the Roman Missal for Mass, the chanted "Peace I leave peace I give you" and the chanting of "The Peace of the Lord be with you always" and "Let us offer each other the sign of peace."

The Closing Prayer prior to Private Confession which is the second option for the Collect from the Mass for the Remission of Sins in the Roman Missal

For private confession, the penance is listed on the penitent's program. Our Common Penance was:

"As you reflect upon the Passion of our Lord and your part in His Crucifixion pray:

One "Our Father"
10 Hail Mary's
One "Glory Be"

and the following prayer:

My good and dear Jesus, I kneel before You, asking you most earnestly to engrave upon my heart a deep and lively faith, hope and charity with true repentance for my sins and a firm resolve to make amends. As I reflect upon Your five wounds, and dwell upon them with deep compassion and grief, I recall good Jesus the words the prophet David spoke long ago concerning Yourself: "They have pierced my hands and my feet, they have counted all my bones!"

(Of course a plenary indulgence can be gained if one also prays for the intentions of Pope Benedict and worthily receives Holy Communion with a week of doing this.)

Since the Act of Contrition was prayed during the Liturgy and a common penance is given, these are not repeated again in private Confession, although the priest is encouraged to substitute or give an added penance if he deems that to be appropriate.


Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

I was pleased to see that the attendance was quite good. Almost like a Sunday 5 pm Mass. It was noticeably larger than the last penance service. Of course, some were the C&E Catholics come to clean the slate in order to load up on sins 'til next year...LOL!

Anonymous said...

I'm not fond of penance services. I went to a couple back in the 1990s, and I find just going to traditional private confession is actually much quicker, easier, and less stressful.

Carol H. said...

Like anonymous, I am not fond of penance services, but I do see their value. There are some Catholics who will not avail themselves to the Tribunal of Mercy otherwise.

I think part of the problem is that there are some priests out there who stress that Confession is not neccessary unless one is guilty of mortal sin. If one only goes to Confession for Mortal sin, in the words of Mother Angelica, "it makes the Confession line a place of scandal." Who would want to go to Confession and have others guessing what mortal sin you committed that week?

I am happy that at St. Joseph we are encouraged to come to confession often, even if we are not aware of having committed a mortal sin. It encourages us to examine our conciences more often, and therefore makes us less likely to fall into mortal sin.

Thank you Fathers for making Confession so available to us!

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

It is unfortunate that many people think that it is not of value to confess venial sins and I think that the reason for this due to a very poor catehesis on what venial and mortal sins are. Certainly it is a venial sin to steal small things, but being a thief is serious and although stealing a pen or paper clip is small, one might want to bring this to confession for grace and counsel. The same is true of road rage, it might be classified as venial because of its spontaneous nature and not full consent of the will, but it is still serious and bring that to confession is not at all out of order although technically it would be considered venial.

Templar said...

1) I have found the Confession App for my smart phone (the one approved for use) to be a wonderful tool. It allows me to catalog and save my sins which makes confession so much easier. It's also prompts a daily examination of conscience.

2) I find the Penance Services to be good prompts but that is all. It actually makes the act of going to confession much longer, not just for the service length, but becasue the lines for confession are so much longer ther being many more people there.

3) But my biggest complaint is the communal act of contrition. I think that needs to be done in the confessional by the penitent.

Henry said...

Is not the phrase "liturgical penance service" a contradiction in terms? When churchspeak makes no logical sense, surely that's a tipoff that something is wrong.

Joseph Johnson said...

I know this is trivial, but that is a cool looking stole (with stole collar, no less!) that Montgomery Clift wore in that movie! Because it was in the 1950's (before so many things devolved) that is also probably a real starched cotton or linen collar (attached to a neckband shirt with two metal "collar buttons," one in the front and one in the rear) rather than the plastic ones with the snaps or velcro.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

I'm still trying to process the "Confession App" for a Smartphone...

Siri: You have sinned.

Templar: No, I have not.

Siri: Yes, I saw you looking at that girl.

Templar: I was admiring her dress.

Siri: You have sinned again. Lying is a sin. You will now say an Our Father and ten Hail Mary's.

Templar: But, I have not sinned.

Siri: *auto-dialing Fr.MacDonald*

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

If you confess regularly, I think that attending the Penance service is a good way of supporting the Parish and the Priests as well as re-afirming Catholic identity with the other faithful.
Besides, seeing all those other people there confessing is good. It is nice to have!

Anonymous said...

I do not like penance services. I believe they encourage confession only during those times. Like so many things in the name of Vatican II, they do have an inherent value and would be good, but not in our own time and not in our culture especially. It comes down to prudence. While penance services are a very good concept in themselves, they give the wrong impression.

They are extremely imprudent because all but the most catechized and in-the-know Catholics know that regular confession is not "replaced" by penance services. Just listen to what people say sometime after one of these things as they're leaving the church. Extremely imprudent.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Anon, What do they say?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The parish should provide additional times for confession during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. Why in the world complain about a Liturgical Service to precede confession? Would you simply prefer that we have six priests in the Church at 7:00 to hear confessions. I'm not sure I understand the antipathy toward Penance Services?

Marc said...

Ha... I was actually just thinking, "Why not just have 6 priests in the Church hearing Confessions?"

Anyway, I think these Penance Services should be safe, legal, and rare. Thankfully, that is exactly what they are at St. Joseph.

I would have a problem with them in some other parishes where the people are not regularly exhorted to go to Confession and the opportunities to do so are limited. At St. Joseph, however, Fr. McDonald and Fr. Kwiatkowski do an excellent job preaching regularly on the need for Confession. There are also many hours of open Confession time throughout the week.

My only complaint is that I'd like to see Confessions being heard before all Sunday Masses. But, by all means, whatever gets the people to the Confessional needs to be done these days. Once we've gotten everyone back in line believing what the Church teaches, then we can do away with these Penance Services.

I do agree the Act of Contrition should probably be done individually, though. Other than that little change, why not?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Of course at the end of the listing of sins, the penitent can say this form of the act of contrition which is an officially allowed one (and it could simply end your confession of sins part: "Lord, Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Henry said...

"Would you simply prefer that we have six priests in the Church at 7:00 to hear confessions."

This might send a better message. That sin and guilt and penitence is a personal and not a social matter, an individual, not a communal matter. (Things began to go downhill in the 1970s when the idea of communal guilt took hold.)

That personal examination of conscience should be a serious and systematic matter, not relegated to a brief moment of "silent examination" after a homily (with 30-yard stares as in the meaningless vacant period after every homily?).

Surely the act of contrition should be personal and not communal. Better offered meaningfully and personally after one's specific sins have been confessed.

And it seems to me that a group penance trivializes the very idea of personal responsibility and individual penance for individual sins.

A liturgical penance service may be beneficial if it encourages confession by people who would not otherwise come, though it seems hard to draw the line between encouragement of annual or semiannual confession only--as some priests say is the mode of most penance service participants--and discouragement of regular confession. But it may not be when it sends bad messages that dilute the concept of personal guilt and responsibility via elements like those mentioned.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

RE: Fr.'s preaching on the need for regular Confession. Tell me about it. I got lectured for my last confession being over two months ago! It is most unfortunate that St. Jo's seems to be the exception compared to other Church's I have attended. At one place in another diocese, the Priest was almost flip. He told me, now go and say an Our Father and come join us for coffee in the social hall. Let the good times roll, baby!

Anyway, like penance services or not, nothing can be bad that gets as many people as we had Thursday into the Confessional.

I would like to strongly second Marc's idea about Confession before Mass on Sunday!!

Anonymous said...

Gene said: "If you confess regularly, I think that attending the Penance service is a good way of supporting the Parish and the Priests as well as re-afirming Catholic identity with the other faithful.
Besides, seeing all those other people there confessing is good. It is nice to have!"

Well put.
too much complaing about Penance Services here.
Is anyone around here GRATEFUL?


Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

I understand what Marc and Henry are saying, and I agree that Confession is an individual thing and not some affirmation of "communal guilt" (although there is certainly such a thing as collective guilt). I guess my feeling is that since everyone there understands what Confession to a Priest is all about (presumably), it is not an issue. I see it as no more of a problem than all of us going down to receive together, being sprinkled together, or receiving the Blessing at the end of Mass together. Even as we confess privately to a Priest in the Confessional, there are millions of Catholics around the world doing exactly the same thing.
There is some comfort, for me, in realizing that, as I confess, attend Mass, recite the Creeds or the Rosary, not only are there millions of Catholics around the world doing the same thing, billions have done it over the centuries through the history of the Church. And, when I die, I will be returned to my Creator and Redeemer on the very same wings of liturgy, confession, and prayer that have carried so many before me. The Church is a wonderful example of unity in individuality...of the deepest personal passion and humility within the context of a universal, all-embracing community of the Faithful. Thanks be to God!

Marc said...

Well put, Gene.

SL, I think those who are complaining about penance services are not reacting to the way these services are handled at St. Joseph. We have all heard stories of priests attempting to do a general absolution of the people at these sorts of things. There is room for abuse at these sorts of things to be sure.

Actually, to be positive, the penance service makes a nice distinction with the Absolution at the Mass. There is a tendency to see that as an actual absolution of mortal sin - having a communal penance service reacts against that directly by putting people in the same situation communally but then requiring individual Confession. To that extent, it demonstrates an important truth of our faith - the need for individual Confession.

At a parish where the priests did not preach regularly about the need for individual Confession, but had a bi-yearly penance service, imagine the confusion amongst the people as to what was required of them... that is the problem with penance services. But, it is really a larger problem and not a problem with the service itself.