Upon hearing the phrase, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” many Catholics of all ages know in an instant that these words signal the beginning of confession.
Yet millions of Catholics haven’t participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in years, and many of those because they don’t exactly know what to do or say next.
Interestingly, a priest in northern Vermont, and actually someone who is a friend and who I had the good fortune of working with at the Diocese of Burlington for 8 years, identified with the intimidation that many Catholics face in approaching the sacrament associated with God’s forgiveness and a simple response.
Rather than go to confession with a laundry-list of sins, which seems forced and disconnected with communion with God, Msgr. Richard Lavalley, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, Vermont, urges Catholics to “just come. Don’t prepare. We’ll do it in there.”
“The more complicated it becomes, the worse it becomes,” he told Catholic News Service. Penitents “don’t know what to make of it and they become ashamed.”
While Msgr. Lavalley is a most pastoral priest, his response is not out of the norm for the Church. In fact, the U.S. bishops this Lent have made a real effort to remind American Catholics that “we are ready to welcome you” and “offer ourselves to you as forgiven sinners seeking to serve in the Lord’s name.”
So what’s going to happen if we can get ourselves to the confessional? After being greeted by the priest with a short blessing or Scripture reading, these steps follow: 1. you both will make the sign of the cross; 2. you’ll confess your sins with rigorous honesty, knowing God knows and sees all; 3. the priest will propose an act of penance, be it prayer, a work of mercy, or charity or advice on how to live a more Christian life; 4. you’ll pray an act of contrition (with which the priest can help you, if you can’t remember it); 5. the priest will offer absolution, to which you will respond “Amen”; 6. the priest will usually praise the mercy of God to conclude.
See Franciscan Media’s Catholic Update for a new take on a timeless way to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as a discussion on confession being a celebration of God’s forgiveness.
Will this be the year that more Catholics – including you and me – see Lent as that chance to connect our desire to grow closer to God with the need to admit our limitations, our imperfections, our sinfulness?
Photo top: Father Kevin Regan of the Archdiocese of Washington demonstrates the granting of absolution that occurs during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)