My Dear Friends,
If you have a sharp ear when you go to confession this Lent, you will notice a minor change to the Prayer of Absolution that the priest says at the end of confession. Don’t worry. This does not affect you and it only applies to the English prayer. Last year, the Conference of Bishops approved a new translation to the Order of Penance so that the English can better mirror the original Latin prayer. This change went into effect on Ash Wednesday so that priests can get used to the new prayer and goes into full effect on Divine Mercy Sunday. There are literally three words that are changed in the prayer, and the most important words, the words that we so long to hear, are left unchanged: “I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Once again, I say “don’t worry” if after Divine Mercy Sunday those of you with those sharp ears hear the old translation, the confession and the absolution are still valid. Please be merciful to us as confessors for we have memorized the old Prayer of Absolution and have said it thousands of times since we were ordained. We do have the new prayer printed and staring right at us in the confessional.
The new Order of Penance also includes 10 options for the Act of Contrition. Sometimes people tell me before a confession that they have forgotten the Act of Contrition, so I tell them to recite the “simple one” that is easy to remember: “Lord, Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer is a variation on how the tax collector approached God as opposed to the Pharisee in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 18:13). There’s also a variation on the supplication of the prodigal son when he returns to his father: “Father, I have sinned against you and I am not worthy to be called your son. Be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 15:18).” For the old timers out there, the Act of Contrition that you learned when you were a child in Catholic school or CCD is now formally in the new Order of Penance. Next time you walk into one of our confessionals, all 10 options will be there for you to choose from. There is no prayer that is more valid or more important than the other. In fact, when the time comes for the Act of Contrition, the Order of Penance says, “The Priest then invites the penitent to express his (her) contrition, which the penitent may do in these or similar words (Order of Penance 45).” [Editor’s note: “Priest” is always capitalized in the book of the Order of Penance.]
Let me repeat this for the third time, “don’t worry.” This new Order of Penance does not change the Sacrament of Confession. But this Lent is definitely a good time to examine how we go to confession. Do we make a good examination of conscience? Do we let scrupulosity get the best of us and over worry because we may not know how many times we lied or missed Mass or (insert sin here)? Beware scrupulosity! That is the Evil One trying to undermine God’s mercy. I still remember approaching my spiritual director when I was in my second year of seminary as an anxious 19 year old and telling him that I was concerned that I was not confessing correctly. He smiled and said to me, “Manny, confession is the simplest of all the sacraments. All you have to do is tell the confessor your sins, and God will take care of the rest.” That spiritual director is now a bishop, and he is right, confession is so very simple. The problem is, depending on when and where you were born, as a parish community, we may have been taught how to go to confession in many different ways.
Confession is a simple 5 step process in the Order of Penance and this order is the same from the previous Rite of Penance from 1975:
- Reception of the Penitent. The priest welcomes the penitent with kindness, and the penitent and priest begin: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The priest invites the penitent to trust in God.
- The Reading of the Word of God. “The Priest may read a text of Sacred Scripture that announces God’s mercy and calls people to conversion.” (This usually is omitted when there are long confession lines.)
- The Confession of Sins and the Acceptance of Contrition. “The penitent tells the Priest when he (she) last celebrated the Sacrament and then confesses his (her) sins.
- The Prayer of the Penitent and the Absolution. The Priest invites the penitent to express contrition and then the Priest extends his hand(s) to say the Prayer of Absolution to which the penitent replies: Amen.
- The Proclamation of Praise of God and the Dismissal of the Penitent. After the absolution the priest continues in these or similar words: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.” The penitent responds: “For his mercy endures forever.” Then the priest dismisses the penitent who has been reconciled, saying: “The Lord has forgiven your sins. Go in peace.”
That’s it. The simplest of sacraments! Notice that there is no “Bless me Father, for I have sinned” or for our Spanish language speakers, there’s no “Ave Maria, Purísima…” That doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing that if that’s the way you have been going to confession. The priest will not rebuke you, but as I said earlier, this is a good time to examine how you go to confession. Three reminders: It’s simple.
Beware scrupulosity. Trust in God’s mercy.
Have a blessed Lenten season,