Skip to comments.Emerging Trends: The Return to the Confessional
Posted on 09/09/2007 6:22:35 AM PDT by NYer
The indications are modest, but consistent. The latest one comes from Loreto, where twelve thousand young people received the sacrament of forgiveness, with the pope's encouragement. And in the seminaries, there's a return of books for studying "cases of conscience"
ROMA, September 6, 2007 – During the two-day meeting between Benedict XVI and the young people who flocked to Loreto by the hundreds of thousands from Italy and from many other countries, something happened that was unexpected in terms of its intensity and breadth: mass participation in the sacrament of confession.
Between Saturday, September 1, and Sunday, September 2, in the large open plain beneath the town and the shrine of the Virgin Mary, 350 priests heard confessions nonstop from two o'clock in the afternoon until seven in the morning, besieged by twelve thousand young people seeking forgiveness.
But even before the pope's arrival, the rite of penance had been part of the preparations for many of the young people attending the event. Almost all of the pilgrimage venues on the way to Loreto included opportunities for sacramental confession. Such was the case with the abbey in Fiastra, which at times became one giant confessional. Such was the case with the shrine of Canoscio, in the Apennine mountains. Each time, there were dozens and dozens of priests all administering the sacrament at the same time.
This was not an absolute novelty. Great numbers of young people also confessed at the World Youth Day events held in Rome in 2000: 120,000 in three days, in the immense stadium of pagan Rome, the Circus Maximus, which had been transformed into an open-air confessional.
But what seemed at first like a flash in the pan turned out to be a lasting trend. And it is a growing one, especially at shrines and at large gatherings. Of course, the percentage of young Catholics who go to confession is still small. In Loreto, they were less than five percent of those present. But a trend reversal is underway, considering that reception of the sacrament had almost died out some years ago.
Besides, the symbolism speaks louder than the numbers here. The sight of so many young people confessing out of their own free will, during a religious event and before the eyes of all, transmits the message that confession is no longer a sacrament in disuse, but is once again returning into practice and favor.
Benedict XVI resolutely encourages this revival of confession, especially among the young. It was his idea to dedicate an entire afternoon, on the Thursday before Holy Week last year, to the celebration of the sacrament of penance in St. Peter's, coming to the basilica himself to celebrate the rite, to preach and hear confessions.
And this is individual confession, not communal confession. The latter practice spread spontaneously after Vatican Council II, above all in Western Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia: the granting of general absolution to whole groups of the faithful, after an equally collective "mea culpa."
This has never been Rome's position. The only situation in which general absolution is authorized – even after the updating of the rite in 1974 – is in danger of death, for example with troops on the battlefield, or when there is a severe shortage of priests with respect to the penitents. But this always comes with the obligation that those who have received general absolution must present themselves "as soon as possible, and one year later at most" to a priest, for individual confession of their grave sins.
Nevertheless, the practice of general absolution has continued in many dioceses around the world. The declared intentions of its promoters, including some bishops, was that of saving the sacrament from widespread abandonment. But the result was precisely the acceleration of that abandonment.
In the seminaries and theological faculties, too, communal confession
had and has its supporters. One moral theologian who made himself the standard bearer of this is Domiciano Fernandez, a Spanish Claretian, in a book printed in Italy by Queriniana, "Dio ama e perdona senza condizioni [God Loves and Forgives Unconditionally]," with a preface written by the Franciscan liturgist Rinaldo Falsini.
The plunge in the reception of this sacrament has gone hand in hand, in the seminaries, with the abandonment of instruction aimed at the practical preparation of good confessors. For several decades, "cases of conscience" have no longer been a subject of study.
But here, too, there are signs of a trend reversal. This summer in Italy, the publishing house Ares released a book by an admired moral theologian, Lino Ciccone, a consultant for the pontifical council for the family, entitled "L'inconfessabile e l'inconfessato. Casi e soluzioni di 30 problemi di coscienza [The Unconfessable and the Unconfessed: Cases and Solutions for 30 Problems of Conscience]."
As the title implies, the book lists 30 "cases of conscience," each followed by guidelines for a solution. The cases are of great contemporary relevance, ranging from abortion to homosexual acts, from divorce to financial corruption. The volume is expressly written for those preparing for the priesthood, as an "exercise booklet" to accompany their books of general moral theology.
But it is also for those who are already priests, and already hear confessions. And its intention is that those confessions be heard more often, and better.
On the Vatican website, Benedict XVI's homilies and speeches to the young people he met with in Loreto:
> Pastoral Visit to Loreto, September 1-2, 2007
More good news bump!
I need to go to confession. I really do. I haven’t been for months. Feels like a build-up of crud!
I can’t read the title to that book. Care to share what it is?