My penance for today is writing about penance.
I often have to speak in front of groups and Catholics and answer questions. That's what prompted me to start this site. I thought it would make things easier, as I could just refer people to Ask Sister Mary Martha and go home early.
Just as often in these situations I learn a great deal. I have been hearing for years that the sacrament of Penance has changed (again) and that it's okay to go with the flow which seems to be group confession. I have saying for years it's not okay.
Here's the truth: It's not okay.
The Sacrament of Confession has indeed changed a great deal over the centuries. For one thing, we don't call it that anymore. Now it's called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I sort of wish it wasn't called that because, although you do have to reconcile yourself with God, you still have to confess.
Maybe it would be best to call it the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation, but since it seems everyone is too lazy to go, we can't go around making the name longer. With a shorter name, perhaps people will at least talk about it. We could call it "C&R". How's that?
The truth is the Church has been working for centuries to try and make the sacrament more palatable for everyone. Way back in the early church after you confessed you had to do penance that lasted for years. You would stand outside the church in your sack cloth and ashes with a sign around your neck stating just what it was you had done to cause you to stand outside the church in your sack cloth and ashes, like being on the cover of the National Enquirer every day, only it's not just your picture, it's actually you.
It didn't stop there. As your penance went on you got to get dressed again and stand inside the church, at the back. Then, after more time, you could come in a little further, maybe stand at the side. You eventually worked your way back to the Communion rail. Everyone could tell just where you were in your penance by where you were located inside the church. They already knew what you did because of the sign around your neck. Embarrassing.
And guess what? People stopped confessing altogether. The Sacrament of Penance was fading away (sound familiar?) until some Irish monks invented the Confessional which I think would still be more popular than the face to face thing of recent years. No one likes that.
We don't call it the Sacrament of Penance anymore, either. I guess everyone is too weak and lazy to realize that in order to get to reconciliation there is going to have to be some Penance.
The Sacrament of Confession, Penance and Reconciliation. Way too long.
"CPR", an ironically great acronym!
So folks have been telling me that at their parish they do this group confession thing. This is where no one has to confess a thing and the priest gives the whole lot of them absolution, ignoring the fact....FACT...that group confession is only allowed in dire emergencies, such as when the whole town is gathered in the church because the aliens have landed with their killing machines and everyone only has seconds to live. That sort of emergency.
The excuse has been that there is a shortage of priests. You can have group confessions if there is just no other way to have confession at all.
But if this were 1862, you would get out the horse and buggy, put the harness on the horse, put on your only set of nice clothes and ride for a several bumpy, dusty hours into town to get to church and confession and then ride a several bumpy, dusty, tired and possibly dark hours back, unhitch the team and put the buggy away.
A far cry from jumping into the car, radio blasting, with a Slurpee and a bag of chips for the trip and videos in the back seat for the kids.
Which is exactly, if not verbatim, what the bishops said recently about group confession. The priest shortage doesn't count and isn't a good enough for you not to get to confession or for the parish to hold group confession.
Unless the aliens have landed and I just didn't hear them.