Perhaps the main reason for the continued diminishing numbers of Catholics that avail themselves to the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession in the pre-Vatican II jargon…is the lack of understanding for most Catholics as to what constitutes sin. Sin used to really be a black and white matter. According to the Baltimore Catechism, the need for confession was to be absolved from mortal sins. Mortal sins of course fell into the category of any action that had premeditation of the sinner, knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act, execution on the part of the sinner of the premeditated and wrongful act.
Maybe it is just the opinion of the author, but the privatization of sin into a personal recognition since the Modernist era of the 1960’s has led to a complete disregard for sin as a personal and communal offense. In most cases, the entire notion of “sin” is rationalized by Catholics as the residual effects of bad social etiquette or complete disregard of human social interactions on every level. Regardless, the reason most Catholics do not go to confession is that they do not think they commit any sins. The pseudo-psychobabble of the late 20th century has placed the individual into such a preeminent position of cosmic significance it is relatively impossible to commit a sin. Justification of the lack of reconciliation varies, but the most heard is that people can get forgiveness from Jesus Himself without the sacramental absolution of a priest. Unfortunately, the Catholic educational process has reduced our sacramental appreciation of penance to a modern interpretation of a counseling session.
Another reason there are not a lot of Catholics going to confession is rooted in the secularization of the Catholic Clergy into a professional business model for our parishes that require a preset appointment within the office operating hours of our 9-5 Catholic rectories. Frankly, sin and the admission of the commitment of sinful do not require an appointment. Well, it does not make me very comfortable when I have to make an appointment for a Sacrament, especially when the Sacrament considers the penitent anonymous. Personally, my own penitential observations really deserve the attention of a priest in a sacred space with a good old fashioned and pragmatic confessional box. Most parishes do not even offer the “box” anymore as an option. My own daughter’s catechetical instructions for the preparation of the Sacrament did not even give her an option of a confessional…just a Reconciliation Room.
As Catholics, we need to also start demanding that the Sacrament of Penance, Reconciliation or whatever we now call it be celebrated for more than just 40 minutes on a Saturday afternoon before the Sunday anticipated Mass. It seems to me that the line for confession should at least be equivalent to the long communion lines that require every available extraordinary minister of the Eucharist in lieu of the ordinary ministers of the Sacrament.
Why is it that the line for Confession is always shorter than the Communion line? Maybe I am just missing something here, but not all of these people prancing off to receive the Eucharistic Lord were in Church for the 40 minutes of confession once a week. Maybe I am just a guy that has too much understanding of what constitutes a mortal sin. Regardless, Catholic parishes need to realize that sin and its effects are a 24/7 occupation of Satan…you know…the nemesis of God’s plan for salvation history. We need to return to our Catholic heritage and start teaching all of our faithful brothers and sisters that the notion of sin and sinful behavior is not antiquated or merely a pre-Vatican II custom. Additionally, we need to tell all of our Parish Business Offices, that they are not engaged in a business…but a good old-fashioned religion, that should not require appointments to confess sins or a theological HMO before Father will see you.
Maybe more Catholics would go to confession if we talked about the serious presence of “sin” and evil in our secular and solipsistic society. At least let us try to equal the playing field and acknowledge that the lines for confession are indeed and strangely too short when compared to the line for Communion.
Finally, for all of the Catholic Clergy out there, ministering the Sacraments to the People of God is your job. Perhaps the time is here for Catholic priests to take back the full responsibility associated with the sacerdotal office and stop trying to pawn it off to a task of the laity.
Copyright 2010 Hugh McNichol