For a number of reasons, it is a sad reality that the Sacrament of Reconciliation (still known by many as “confession”) has fallen into profound disuse within Roman Catholic parishes. In fact, one parish within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, when renovating, did away with the confessional / reconciliation room altogether. It is a mystery if it was ever put back in place. Such is the reality of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please recall that the individual confession of sins was an innovation of the church during the Middle Ages. Prior to that time it did not exist, nor did Christ command it upon his disciples. There are a number of reasons why “confession” has fallen into disuse and arguments are made on both sides of the issue, but for our discussion, suffice it to say, most priests have very short lines for confessions these days.
One of the first measures introduced into our church, upon the Roman Catholic Bishop Duarte Costa resigning his Roman Catholic diocesan assignment in Brazil, was the introduction of “general absolution” of all sin as being part of the Mass in place of the traditional penitential rite. This change was thought revolutionary in the 1940’s, but reflected even then the uneasiness people had with the sacrament and the realization that Christ never promulgated oral confession of sin. His first innovation, by the way, was changing the Mass from Latin into the vernacular. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is alive, well, and celebrated within Saint Patrick’s parish in keeping with the example set for us by our beloved founder, Bishop Duarte Costa.
First, at the beginning of every Mass, a pronouncement of absolution is added to complete the Penitential Rite. The absolution received does forgive all earthly sin provided the person receiving this absolution is sorry for their sins and does desire to be forgiven. No private confession is necessary to achieve the desired forgiveness of sins beyond the absolution received at Mass .
Secondly, two communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Reconciliation occur yearly at Saint Patrick’s. The first celebration occurs during Advent (in preparation for Christmas) and the second during Lent (in preparation for Easter). These occur to address the parish need of more detailed examination of conscience and time is provided for individual council from the parish priest. At the conclusion of the evening, each person approaches the priest and is asked if they are sorry for their sins. Responding to the affirmative, each person receives an individual pronouncement of absolution, whether or not they sought out the individual council of the priest.
Lastly, individual confession is always available to those who desire it. It is usually reserved for individuals who have had an ongoing problem in their relationship with God and desire to receive helpful advice in the living out of their Christian faith. Penance and Absolution are pronounced at the conclusion of the celebration. There are no “reserved” sins as this is a human innovation. The Lord never limited authority given to the disciples, and therefore, by virtue of ordination, passed on to bishop and priests the ability to forgive anyone who is genuinely repentant.