On your knees

When was your last Confession? We are all aware that the habit of regular Confession has much reduced over the last forty years or so. At one time it was common for active Catholics to go to Confession frequently. Like a motorcar, we did not wait until the engine clattered to a halt, we carried out our service schedule regularly.

We may remember that individual, private, confession was not a feature of the Church in the first millennium. There was of course public Confession for serious public sins, followed by stiff penances – which would often have to be completed before absolution. And, although private sins could be confessed privately, the regular habit which most of us were taught in our youth belongs to a later date.

So do we think that this decrease in Confessions is a good or bad thing? And, if we think it to be bad, what do we do about it? As a starting point, I list a few possible reasons for reduction in regular Confession. You may like to disagree, or add reasons of your own.

Shortage of priests leads to fewer opportunities, and often inconvenient times.

If we are not in mortal sin, it is not really necessary.

I know I have a besetting sin, and I feel a hypocrite confessing it again and again. My firm purpose of amendment is hollow.

I commit acts which the Church regards as sinful, but which I don’t.

I am a shy person. Confessing to a priest is agonisingly embarrassing for me.

I am afraid that the priest will interrogate me.

Hard as I try, I find Confession is too automatic. I’d rather repent to God on my own.

I don’t find the priest helpful. He either doesn’t give me advice, or tries to do so like an amateur psychologist with insufficient information.

About Quentin

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92 Responses to On your knees

  1. Vincent says:

    A problem I have with Confession. as taught in my youth, is that it turns on a list of actions: sins which can be tick boxed on a page. Sin or not sin is the gauge of life. Even today in the Catholic Herald I see a letter about an eight year old sinning in not obeying its parents. (We start them young in the sin economy.) But sin is not the currency of Christianity — that is love. Here we all fall short at various levels — sometimes down to choosing unlove. But unlove can apply to behaviours which are not wrong in themselves, as well as to those about which the Commandments warn us. Perhaps the only thing we need to declare in the Confessional is that we have failed to love enough, and to ask forgiveness for this, so that we can return to the struggle.

    • John L says:

      I absolutely agree, Vincent. For myself, you put your finger right on my problem. Taking a more mature attitude to sinfulness makes it, I find, much harder to have a proper examination of conscience. If that is achieved, then rather than the tick boxes one needs to have a proper discussion with the priest. A helpful priest will go into the problem in some depth. But, then, there is a queue of people waiting outside the box…… And, the less sensitive ones wait too close to the box – I don’t want to return to public confession, and sometimes the priest is a little deaf.

    • Martha says:

      Yes, I think realistically this is what we have to do. The priest is not a psychiatrist, and some of these look at behaviours from a completely secular standpoint anyway. To describe some of our actions and give all the context could mean signing up for a year long session of psychotherapy. When we go to Confession or Reconciliation we are talking to Christ through His priest, and He knows all about us already, all the motives we have for our actions and omissions better than we do ourselves. The insight of a priest of course can be very helpful, but it is not necessary for forgiveness. If we have need of that we should probably seek it outside of Confession.

      I think it is important to use the sacrament regularly as it is a channel of great grace. I think Our Lady at Fatima urged us to do so, and she certainly does at Medjudorge, though her appearances there are not officially sanctioned as yet. Saints and contemplative religious are very aware of their need for forgiveness when they fall short of the perfection to which God wants them and all of us to aspire, and it is always of great importance to them.

      It is the means of forgiveness provided for us by Christ, though He has other ways also when it is not available, or for those who do not know or understand its value, contrition, making amends, forgiving others their trespasses.

  2. St.Joseph says:

    When my son was a teenager many years ago he used to write his sins down on a piece of paper and read them to the priest, my daughter use to tell him he should remember his sins, It was not for her to say.However 50 now I am sure he can remember his sins now.He is a Foundation Governor in a Catholic School so he has to be practicing..and know his faith.
    I was amazed at his daughter my grandaughter 17 when speaking about confession a few months ago, and once a year, she said to me that she had no important sins to tell the priest That is why she did not go in the year. So I said to her quite sarcastically ‘You will go straight to Heaven then’. It made her think if nothing else! I would have liked to have discussed with her which sins she found important and unimportant!! Intentional or unintentional!!
    Is that why the Pews are empty.
    Since I became a widow-I think I have less sins to confess!!!!! I dont think I gave him a hard time,however I will soon find out!!!!

    Vincent I agree with your comment. And John L.

  3. St.Joseph says:

    I can’t remember public confession I thought they wer not acceptable with the Church.
    I think it would be a good idea especially for the young and old.!.Also ideal for the shortage of priests

    Continuing a sin, repeating confession gives strength to give it up

    Committing acts that the Church regards as sinful, but one doesn’t.
    That is a difficult one- Abortion, Divorce, Homosexuality Acts. Same Sex Marriage. Adultry I could go on. Could that also be a sin of disobedience? A grave sin in its self?

    Just a few of what you asked.
    I do believe a good Spiritual Director is more helpful than a priest behind a Grid.

    • John L says:

      St Joseph,
      I think your memory may be playing the sort of trick mine does.
      I think that when you wrote of public confession, you might really have been thinking of general absolution.

    • milliganp says:

      In the early church people did public penance, this did however point out that they had sinned. However the only sins were adultery, murder and apostacy (participation in pagan rituals).
      For a brief time the church in some places toyed with general absolution after a penintential service. Rome felt that this lacked the personal dimension necessary for grave sins so the practice was banned.
      Talk to any priest and they will tell you that few who come to confession are guilty of grave sins so we end up with a sacrament detatched from its purpose and the people who most need it.
      Many churches now have pennitential services during Lent where there are a number of priests to allow individual confession. In a parish of ~1000 like my own, 20 years ago 150-200 people would attend such a service, now it would rarely get more than 50 so the sacrament just isn’t being used by many (I suspect the majority) of Catholics.

  4. overload says:

    There are many kinds of sickness, of which sin is the root, and foremost.
    From James 5:15 — “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
    As well as or instead of private confession to a priest, what is wrong with confessing to a group of brothers and sisters in Christ’s name? And what is there to be ashamed about, if it is the true Church? This I think is a good way to come out of ones shell, and to renounce one’s sinful nature (ie. here it is; I don’t want it; it’s not me anymore.) Also, if we shared more in this way, we would perhaps be more understanding, open hearted, and affectionate (in a Godly way), to one another. Might be easier to ‘put on Christ’, a more mature way of relating to one another as Christians?

    • John L says:

      One sin that besets many of us is taking pleasure in another’s shortcomings. That is why I would not wish to confess to a groups of brothers and sisters, nor would I wish them to confess to me. To whomsoever one confesses, I think is has to be one-to-one, with absolute trust in the other’s discretion.

    • milliganp says:

      The current Catholic practice of auricular (spoken / heard) confession is supposed to have arisen from monastic practice in the 5th-7th centuries where the monks did actually confess to the monk next to them in chapel. Northern and central Europe were re-Christianised by monks so much of the form of Catholic religious practice has roots in monastic practices. Another major consequence is the Altar distant and separated from the worshiping faithful which has had serious repercussions in what people consider to be appropriate piety.
      Perhaps this “architectural” influence on faith excessively concentrates on the role of the priest as ‘alter Christus’ and negates the true presence of Christ in the people of God assembled.

  5. St.Joseph says:

    One thing come to mind that is Jesus said ‘Go show yourselves to the Priest.
    That reminds me that we need Absolution from His Ordained Priests. Whether it be private or public confession!

    • Horace says:

      John 20,23 “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Why do we never hear about the last half of this sentence?

      • St.Joseph says:

        Whihc sins do you believe are unforgivable once repented in Confession,?

      • overload says:

        St Joseph (following Horace’s comment), presumably there are cases where a Priest says with his lips “you are forgiven”, but in his heart is doubt, hatred, or misunderstanding as to the reality/gravity of the sin. ??

      • milliganp says:

        No sin is unforgivable per se. However, if the priest has real doubt about the repentance of the penitent he can reserve absolution.
        I think that St Joseph’s exegesis of the “go show yourselves to the priest” quote is in error. The Jewish law on Leprosy was about ritual cleanliness not sin. The cripple cured on the Sabbath and the man born blind both address the realtionship between sin and human ailments – with different theologies.

    • overload says:

      St Joseph, thanks, your point taken, however—and Jesus did not say this to everyone!—I think this is a rule of thumb, not a universal Law.?

  6. Brendan says:

    Reply St.Joseph, 2.04pm.
    Public confession , I remember was short – lived in the ’80’s. It was conditional on the penitent after receiving absolution (? conditional ) from the Bishop , going a.s.a.p. to ‘ full ‘ confession. It was an initiative I feel , following on various ‘ experiments ‘ around that time , to encourage the unobservant/ lapsed Catholics to return to sacramental observance in their lives.
    I remember going to one in my deanery area where the whole church was packed – out. There were people who had obviously not been to Mass for some time and some were weeping openly.It was certainly a grace – filled occasion.
    One wonders though how many fulfilled the the condition and the practice was quickly set aside in short order by the Bishops. Frankly, my view is that the practice was a ‘ cop- out ‘ for the penitent whose genuine sorrow for sin could not be adequately expressed through this anonymous way. Forgiveness and therefore reconciliation with God – AND ONES FELLOW CHRISTIANS – comes through the sacerdotal priesthood as prescribed by the Church. Although I do not recall any notice the this affect, I believe that’s why our Bishops ended this practice – concerned as they were of obvious abuses that could arise in this delicate area.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you for that information. I did think that it was not acceptable to the Church and at the time I didn,t think it was good idea.
      Now a days I did think it a good idea for venial sin, maybe young people would find it acceptable. so that they could keep in touch with a ‘Sacramental’ Grace of forgiveness of sin through a ordained priest and God..
      It is in a lot of cases today what example parents show to their children when it comes to believing in Church teaching. If Parents are on artificial contraception , what does that teach their children and also speak openly against the Church and belief of attending Mass on Sunday etc.
      Parishioners do have time for parish life, however I have noticed when it comes to doctrine it is a matter of opinions.
      I know many many catholics divorced and remarried for years, have brought their children up in the faith, absolutely love Holy Mother Church-and feel abandioned.
      That is a great concern of mine when I see other catholics happily going along with what they think is free will.
      I dont believe that Pope Francis will say all divorced can return to Holy Communion but will give them some reason to speak to a Bishop and explain their circumstances.
      Also it really upsets me when people compare ‘divorced to same sex marriage’.their is no comparison, obviously both sins like many .

  7. St.Joseph says:

    If someone is applying for an anniulment, they have to get a divorce first!.
    So divorce is acceptable to the Church and not a sin!

    • milliganp says:

      I’ve always found that requirement strange. It also had the side effect that in countries that did not allow civil divorce (ireland up to 1996 is an example) annulment was either impossible or meaningless.
      I do believe that if the church has a law it should apply equally to all of God’s people. 6% of the world’s Catholic population live in the USA and yet 60% of Catholic annulments occur there.

  8. Brendan says:

    Vincent – You say that ” the currency of Christianity ” is love. I agree wholeheartedly. But there is a contradiction inherent when you go on to say .. ” un – love can apply to behaviours which are not wrong in themselves “…
    We as Christians in today’s climate where ‘ individualism ‘ reigns supreme mistake your notion of ‘ unlove ‘ for what is really ‘ tough- love ; for this is the only kind of ‘ love ‘ that is not wrong in itself and may not necessarily be sinful. Unfortunately, society by and large has rejected this kind of ‘ love ‘ ………..which is in essence an embodiment of the sacrifice of the Cross.
    And so , also to John L. It is insufficient to say we have ” failed to love enough “. We must spell out the nature of our culpability.That I feel is in the nature of facing a ” more mature attitude to sinfulness “. As to Confession for children; I would hope every confessor would have the maturity to deal with them in an appropriate way.
    After all, the long term purpose of Confession is to purge us – by supernatural grace – of the sin ( sins ) which is a persistent ” thorn in the side ” uniquely inherent in each of us , due to our concupiscence. I personally can testify to this ‘ life-saving ‘ process. Thanks be to God.

    • overload says:

      “‘tough- love’ ; for this is the only kind of ‘[un-]love‘ that is not wrong in itself and may not necessarily be sinful. Unfortunately, society by and large has rejected this kind of ‘love‘”
      (Brendan, mis-wording, and — as per usual — overuse of and lots of stray quotation marks! D minus.)

      I agree about tough love, which is very important. In other words, and in view of the cross, God is always kind and sometimes nice.
      And I think this is often (but not always) outlawed by sentimentalism or political correctness — in modern society, and in the modern church.
      But at the same time and despite this, there is also a danger of cold-heartedness dressed up as ‘tough-love’, which does find its home in the RCC!

  9. Iona says:

    With regard to Horace’s point, about sins being “retained”, I suppose if the priest felt that the penitent did not have a firm purpose of amendment, e.g. had confessed some habitual sin but made it clear that s/he was going to continue in the same way, then the priest might say, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you absolution” and the sin would be “retained”.
    There might be a fine line between that situation, and the situation where the person desperately wanted to give up the sin, but realistically knew that s/he probably wouldn’t be able to manage it. e.g if it related to alcoholism.

    • milliganp says:

      Modern psychology is not part of priestly formation and is not considered a true science (the tem psychobabble summaries the attitude of many). However psychology does indicate that certain behaviours are deeply rooted – often in childhood experience – and thus personal culpability for compulsive acts is diminshed.
      However, there are also certain sins where reform is essential – it is one thing to give absolution to a perpetual drunk but another to absolve a wife beater or serial killer.

    • Martha says:

      I think there are some sins reserved for a more senior cleric than a parish priest, probably the diocesan bishop, abortion may be one of them.

      I wonder about excommunication. Is it a formal procedure, or is it sometimes automatic? What sins involve excommunication, and how can anyone in that position be reconciled with Christ and His Church.

      I also wonder about the seal of the confessional, the certainty that a confessor will not reveal anything he is told by the penitent, or possibly would be penitent. One of the conditions for forgiveness is to make restitution as far as possible, which would normally mean the sinner owning up to the appropriate authorities him/herself, so perhaps it is mainly an issue when absolution cannot be given?

      • John Nolan says:

        Most excommunications are latae sententiae (automatically incurred). In some cases the fact that an excommunication has been incurred is made public, for example in the case of a cleric. However, Canon Law gives a number of reasons why the penalty may not have been incurred, even though the offence has been committed. Archbishop Lefebvre and the bishops he consecrated were declared to have incurred excommunication under the 1983 CIC (interestingly, consecration without papal mandate would have incurred a lesser penalty under the 1917 Code) but there is some doubt as to whether these excommunications were in fact incurred in the first place, so their lifting by Benedict XVI might not have been necessary.

        Excommunication is seen as medicinal; if the excommunicated person repents, the sanction can be lifted. If someone procures an abortion and confesses it, the priest may absolve that person. The formula for absolution includes the words ‘may the Lord Jesus Christ absolve you, and by his authority I absolve you from any bond of excommunication or interdict, in proportion to my power and your need.’ The penitent is not referred to the bishop, although the priest might well inform the bishop (in confidence) to get his agreement for the excommunication to be lifted.

        The canonist Dr Edward Peters suggests that latae sententiae excommunications should be dropped (as they have been in the Eastern Church) since the long list of exceptions significantly reduces the likelihood of their having been incurred in the first place, and that ferendae sententiae excommunication (at present rare) would better serve the purpose.

  10. Iona says:

    Martha – I think you’re right about abortion, I remember our pp mentioning (during a teaching session on the Catechism) that normally a priest has to refer a penitent on to the bishop if it’s a case of having agreed to or facilitated an abortion.
    Making restitution needn’t necessarily involve “owning up”, – e.g. it might be possible to return stolen goods or money by some anonymous means.
    One of Quentin’s “possible reasons” why people are not going to confession as often as they used to is that perhaps priests are not available at suitable times. I don’t think this can really be a reason, as priests usually indicate that confessions are heard at a particular time, or “at request” – and I have several times seen people speak to our pp after the end of Mass, and then go into the confessional.

  11. Brendan says:

    Arising out of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod and the confusion that now reigns in the Church on its universal teaching on the Family ; can I suggest that we all look at the Voice of the Family website and consider signing the Filial Petition to His Holiness Pope Francis urging him to arrest this confusion at the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. Our Prayers of course are invaluable for the Pope and Holy Mother Church to effect this urgent initiative.

    • milliganp says:

      I’m not sure petitions (filial or otherwise) achieve much. The Bishops Conference website has details of the next phase of the consultation process; actively responding to this process would be more productive -particularly if people make the effort to give genuine personal experience of the joys and trials of married life rather than merely regurgitating other people statements.

  12. overload says:

    Yesterday at my parish we had a local Lutherian pastor for talk, prayer and tea.
    With reference to the Sacraments, he told us that Lutherians have 2 and a half Sacraments.
    Baptism and the Eucharist are recognised as full sacraments, as ordained by Christ himself, in Scripture.
    Marriage for instance is seen as a more general societal practice predating Christ, which cannot be a Sacrament because it does not apply to Christians generally (we are not all called to marriage). (On this note I wonder whether the early Church at the time of the Apostles conducted marriages within the Church?)
    The half Sacrament, if I understood correctly, is a non-specific congregational confession of sin and contrition at Holy Communion (I think think much like at the beginning of RC Mass). I understand that this is seen as a half Sacrament because it is not ordained in Scripture.

  13. Brendan says:

    For all our worries and anxieties which seem to go hand in hand with 21st century ‘ man ‘ and our obsessive penchant for confusing the irrational with the rational conscience ; can’t we just put this down to a ” loss of the sense of sin ” in western society ? In modern times , highlighted by Emeritus Pope Benedict and as far back as Pope Pius X11,in 1946……. ” the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” … and probably earlier. Because and in spite of our fallen nature , concupiscence although always with us ….. ” O happy fault , O necessary sin of Adam ! ” ( Easter exaltation )… we rejoice !
    This is the mother of all the ‘ elephants in the room ‘ and is a global fight to recognise and expunge its confusing and toxic presence from the life and well-being of the Church. This then ( viewed eschatologically ) , I have no doubt is a war against the powers of darkness in our world.

    • Quentin says:

      It helps my understanding to remember that the biblical word for sin (hamartia) means ‘missing the mark’. Sin (syn/n) is an Old English word.

      ‘Missing the mark’ covers both an individual action and a mistaken direction in life. It replaces the tick box with facing up to the reality that we have made a wrong choice.

      • Brendan says:

        That’s clear enough for me, Quentin. Hence the insufficiency of ‘general confession ‘ and the mere cover – all that ‘ we have failed to love enough ‘.

      • overload says:

        The “loss of the sense of sin”…
        I see this in two ways. First is a numbness of conscience and trivialisation of sin. The second is where one is consumed with guilt/weakness/doubt and a sense of ‘missing the mark’, but one feels powerless as to understanding this; what it is, where it comes form, and/or what can be done about it.
        I think perhaps I grew up and was formed, wedged in-between both these problems.

      • milliganp says:

        Brendan, a well thought out and conducted penitential service can be much better than a poor confession; however it does lack the personal “bless me father for I have sinned” and the admission, by speaking out loud, of personal defects.
        I couldn’t imagine a psychotherapy session where the therapist said “just sit there and think to yourself about your difficulties”, part of the essence of psychotherapy is verbalisation and, I suspect, the same is true for confession.

  14. Brendan says:

    The point is not regurgitated The point is that one is concerned enough about a situation to draw attention to the decision makers.

    • milliganp says:

      And my point is that a personal submission making a contribution to the discussion is far superior to signing a petition. Ask any political activist group and they all say that merely having everybody say the same thing (whether right or wrong) has little effect.
      However, having read the “filial petition”, I could not, in conscience, sign it. The reference to the Sorbonne Revolution reflects an almost absurd interpretation of modern history and the remaining wording contributes little to an important debate. Finally, I do not see the signing of the petition by such “celebrities” as Kigeli V, exiled King of Rwanda or H.R.H. Prince Dom Duarte, Duke of Braganza Head of the Royal House of Portugal indicate anything other than an extreme right wing, elitist, tone to the organisation.

  15. Brendan says:

    Overload and Milligamp – I don’t believe a spsychotherapeutic analysis for the penitent instead of or in the confessional. would be the right approach. Only God can judge a good or bad confession through his ‘ agent ‘, the priest. For many people it is a struggle to take that first step. The point is to believe in and to accept God’s infinite mercy – His saving grace . No amount of penitential services can replace the actual affect of receiving the forgiveness of God through Sacramental Penance. In the end ONLY He can judge.
    I have found it spiritually helpful to find a good Confessor who will discuss personal difficulties of a psycotherapeutic nature along with spiritual guidance before approaching Confession. We may be talking about a holistic approach to the ‘ healing ‘ of a person. Either way
    frequent confession to the same confessor – if possible – would allow the supernatural grace from the Supreme Doctor to take effect. That’s why the Church recommends frequent Confession in reconciling oneself with God and His Church.

    • milliganp says:

      Brendan, I have never suggested that psychotherapy is appropriate in the matter of specific sins, however it has a role to play in the underlying causes of some sins. A large proportion of men who abuse their wives are themselves children of wife abusers, as is the case also with many paedophiles. This does not negate but it mitigates the sin. We know that children learn by example and that, in particular, events in early childhood carry into adult life.
      However, I will state here, as I’ve stated before, that only a fool would believe that prayer, confession and spiritual guidance can, of themselves, cure mental illness any more than they will fix a broken leg.

  16. overload says:

    Some thoughts in response to Brendan and others…

    1. All believing Baptised are a “Royal Priesthood”, so, whilst the ordained priesthood is surely sacramental (with a small s), it is inappropriate to suggest that the ONLY way to confess to God is through an ordained priest.

    2. Is the only way to confess to God through another priest/Christian; formally and in person?

    3. Not all Baptised Christians believe in the Sacrament of Penance, or at least certainly not in it’s universal necessity.
    Some presumably confess informally to one or more other Christians;
    Some confess to the Holy Spirit;
    Some may confess to Christ in the Eucharist (?);
    Anglicans I think are one foot in one foot out on Penance, depending on high/low Church (?).

    4. I assume that there are cases where God is calling and expecting a sinner to go specifically to the sacrament of Penance; however this is surely a case by case matter, not a matter of dishing out a general rule as obligation to compulsion.

    5. I think, as I was trying to say before, there may be times that the sinner is so confused about their state of sinfulness (especially in our ‘post-modern’ world), that, even if they know that they are a sinner (even grievously so), and they want to confess, they may not be able to identify or isolate the sin, so as to communicate in formal confession.
    Is such a person to abstain from the Eucharist?

    6. If one is demonically possessed, knowing oneself to be in a state of grievous sin but powerless to communicate/confess this to others without getting into demonic entanglement, would not exorcism be necessary before Penance became a viable possibility?

    7. There is no sacrament of exorcism?

    • overload says:

      8. I was told recently that the CCC explicitly states that the effectiveness of the Sacraments are dependant upon the faith/disposition of those involved.
      This suggests to me that not only would the good faith of the penitent be essential for God’s forgiveness; but also the faith of the priest may have a bearing (whether black white or grey) on God’s forgiveness of the penitent, and his/her subsequent repentance.

      • milliganp says:

        The Catholic Church teaches that sacraments are valid as long as the correct form is used by someone with the power to administer the sacrament and with the intent of administering it; (in the case of marriage the sacrament is effected by the couples exchange of vows in the presence of a priest or deacon).
        Thus for confession a priest saying the words of absolution effects the sacrament independent of the disposition of either the priest or the penitent – however the effectiveness of the grace of confession depends on the participation of the penitent.
        The anointing of the sick, because it is linked to the forgiveness of sins, also requires a priest to be valid.
        For the Eucharist the priest saying the words of institution over valid matter effects the sacramental transformation. The need for intent means that the priest cannot accidentally consecrate the contents of a passing bread van or even a host hidden on the altar. At Papal masses a large number of Ciboria containing hosts are held on a table separate from the main altar and the Pope consecrates these by intent (no, I didn’t make this up).
        For baptism, any person can baptise – provided form and matter are observed.
        Only a Bishop can ordain or confirm, though he has the power to delegate confirmation to a priest (this is normal for those received into the church on Easter Sunday).
        The reason for having this somewhat legalistic approach is to ensure people can be confident of the validity of the sacraments in which they participate.

    • Vincent says:

      The absolving priest must have the intention to absolve through the sacrament. The state of his faith or his virtue is irrelevant. The penitent must be sorry for his sins, have a firm purpose of amendment and a readiness to make satisfaction for his fault. A sacrament is defined as an outward sign of inward grace. The outward sign is the giving of absolution, the inward grace is the forgiveness. CCC 1128. “From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and His Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister”

      • milliganp says:

        Canon 987 reads: To receive the salvific remedy of the sacrament of penance, a member of the Christian faithful must be disposed in such a way that, rejecting sins committed and having a purpose of amendment, the person is turned back to God.
        There is no mention in this of “readiness to make satisfaction for his fault” unless you mean by tthis that he intends to do his penance.
        The Church allows “imperfect contrition” which is contrition out of fear of God’s punishment; for many of us “firm purpose of ammendment” doesn’t make it much past the confessional door.

      • overload says:


        Do you assume that the authority and doctrine of the RCC is paramount; that the beliefs of other Christians are to be disregarded? I understand (at least in respect of the synod on the family) that the Pope does not want us to be restricted in our thinking by RCC doctrine; nor (more generally) does he want us to think ourselves superior/separate to other Christians.

        “The absolving priest must have the intention to absolve through the sacrament.”
        Is the presence of this intention necessarily a binary matter? I believe not. Almost certainly a grey area.

        “The state of his faith or his virtue is irrelevant.” / “independently of the personal holiness of the minister”
        I’m not thinking about holiness of the priest as such, however without faith the priest cannot have an intention which is “in accordance with the intention of the Church”. The Church is not a robotic legalistic organisation and formula; rather the living fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not of us but rather a gift of God here-and-now in this moment; so I agree that “the power of Christ and His Spirit acts in and through [the sacrament]”. None the less, although I do not propose that there is a proportionate relationship between the holiness of the priest and his faith in administering the sacrament; yet this faith is surely not to be considered as existing independently of the priests person, disposition and character?
        For instance, the priest presumably needs some insight with faith — whether through the content of the confession, and/or through a human understanding of the penitent (ie. through ‘body language’), and/or through supernatural gift — into something of the reality of the penitents sin. The more powerfully the priest and the penitent are, with faith, together in fellowship, awake to the reality (in God’s heart and mind) of the sin in question, the larger the heart of forgiveness and amending grace. That’s my thinking anyhow.
        Perhaps the priest can, with prayerful insight into the reality of the penitents sin, even help bring God’s forgiveness to a penitent who’s contrition is half-hearted — initiating in fellowship in that moment whole-heartedness?

      • Vincent says:

        Overload, I am all for learning from the insights of the Christian denominations which stem from the Reformation. But this characteristic of sacrament, known as ex opere operato, has been orthodoxy since the 4th century, and was occasioned by the Donatist heresy. It is either true or false — we can only know through the Church’s authority. The principle is important because, without it, we can never be sure of the validity of a sacrament.

        Incidentally, even an atheist can baptise, providing he intends to do what the Church does. (this ipso facto forgives all previous sins and punishment due to them — without the need for Confession.)

        Milliganp, satisfaction includes penance but it may also include putting right what has been put wrong by the sin when that is practicable, e.g. restoring stolen goods etc.

    • Brendan says:

      If you re-read my piece Overload you will realise that Sacramental Confesion is not the only way to receive forgiveness for sin.

    • John Nolan says:

      Exorcism is a sacramental.

      • overload says:

        Interesting that (if I remember correctly?) there is little or no mention of exorcism in the forming Church (ie. in Scripture; in Acts or the Epistles), yet it was apparently a fundamental part of Jesus’ ministry, including the disciples exorcising in His name.

  17. overload says:

    I might add to my previous comment on Christians; there is also the question of what the Pope’s perspective and our perspective is towards non-Christians.
    Ie. do we see all the non-Baptised as non-Christians or not? If not, the implications are very complicated! As it is also complicated to suggest that many or even most of the Baptised may not be Christians.

    Today a requiem service at mass, good service although I didn’t know the deceased. What upset me was implication that he is already in Heaven. This cheapens the name of Heaven. We don’t know the state of grace of his soul. Even if we do, how do we know he is in heaven yet? Scripture says different things about going to heaven, for instance the good thief “this day” (one “day” does not necessarily mean what we think, I think), others maybe wait for the final resurrection for judgement? Apart from purgatory, then there is (to my mind) also the question of re-birth / reincarnation, although I understand that this is not an open subject amongst Christians of any denomination, and perhaps there are good reasons for this.

  18. overload says:

    “The cripple cured on the Sabbath and the man born blind both address the realtionship between sin and human ailments – with different theologies.”
    Can you explain what you mean?

  19. Ignatius says:

    I think confession is important. I go with some frequency, usually around every 6 weeks or so though this may vary. Last week I went twice but that was because the second time was during my 5 day pre ordination retreat and something came up that needed to be absolved(Yes the diocese have selected me!)..

    I make a list before I go of the simple specific things I have done wrong and I confess them, inn other words I simply say the words on the list. I do this so as not to start my usual old self justifying blather in the confessional. I do not find this process easy and to my adult mind the most challenging thing is just to say what it is I have done: envied so and so, lusted after so and so, resented such and such, shouted at my wife etc etc etc.

    In order to make myself feel more sophisticated I can talk about acidie, sloth, occasion of sin, but I try not to do that. I listen to what the priest says, and do whatever penance I am given. On the way out I tear the list into small pieces and throw it in a litter bin; I breathe a sigh of relief and then begin trying to be a disciple again.
    I recommend confession strongly, it works. If you had a rash or a disease you would take it for treatment wouldn’t you?

    • Quentin says:

      This is an excellent account, from which I have benefited. Thank you.

      Congratulations on your selection! We were all behind you.

      (You may know the story of the young monk who went to the oldest monk in the abbey and asked: ‘Brother please tell me when I will be free from the lusts of the flesh.’ And the oldest monk, in a quavering voice, answered: ‘When it happens, I’ll let you know.’)

    • overload says:

      Thanks Ignatius, I might try your suggestion of writing down sins to confess, if I can find enough space and clarity in my mind to do this.

    • Martha says:

      I simply say the words on the list. I do this so as not to start my usual old self justifying blather in the confessional.

      Ignatius, For a long time, although I still took this approach, though not usually writing out a list, I really thought it rather mechanical and automatic, and felt some sympathy with younger people not finding it very helpful, but I have more recently come to understand its value, strengthened now by the way you have put it into words. It is Christ we are speaking to, and He knows the context of our actions and omissions, our motives, any extenuating circumstances there might be, if we were tempted beyond our strength, any other excuses we could come up with. He also knows what talents we have, if we have been given many and not used them, or if we have been given less, but used that less as well as we could.

      I sometimes have a difficulty with the concept of graces given to encourage extra good deeds, not absolutely required by the commandments, beyond the strict call of duty so to speak, and can feel more guilty if I do not cooperate than with an actual sin. You are obviously responding to a call to be a Deacon, there are smaller choices as well speaking to our consciences, to go to Mass during the week when we can, to refrain from some expense and give to those in need, to use spare time visiting someone lonely, to pray more, to say the Rosary daily for instance. If we do not follow the Beatitudes, we are not really following Christ. We do not always love enough to want to do these things. I sometimes think of St. Francis, who I believe used to talk about his human body as Brother Ass, and use that as an excuse for all the reluctance that can be felt.

      I think the hymn, In bread we bring you Lord, our bodies’ labour, turns much of this into a real heartfelt prayer:

      Take all that daily toil, plants in our heart’s poor soil,
      Take all we start and spoil, each hopeful dream.
      The chances we have missed, the graces we resist,
      Lord, in thy Eucharist, take and redeem.

  20. overload says:


    Thanks for pointing out ex opere operato.
    I’m not sure it must be true or false. And assuming it is true, this does not necessarily mean straightforward.

    “even an atheist can baptise, providing he intends to do what the Church does.”
    This looks to be a silly contradiction. How can an atheist intend to be instrumental in another man’s Salvation, if he does not believe in Christ or Salvation? Obviously, so much as he is confined to being an atheist, he cannot.

    “[Baptism] ipso facto forgives all previous sins and punishment due to them — without the need for Confession”
    Yes, but again this is a misrepresentation, as also here:
    From wikipedia, “In modern usage, [ex opere operato] often refers to the idea that sacraments are efficacious in and of themselves rather than depending on the attitude either of the minister or the recipient. For example, Confirmation might be held to bestow the Holy Spirit regardless of the attitude of both the bishop and the person being confirmed.”

    milliganp some weeks back linked to an article about the effects of Baptism. The council of Trent apparently made it clear: “We are not to confound an obstacle (obex) to the sacrament itself with an obstacle to the sacramental grace.”
    So, other than indicating that ‘wrong’ motives would invalidate the Sacrament, it also says that we cannot partake in the sanctifying grace of Baptism if one is Baptised with ‘improper’ motives, ie. “lacking a real detestation of sin”. In such circumstance one can still be validly Baptised, but must repent to partake in the sacramental grace.
    (Again, I’m not convinced by the binary formula; suggesting either grace or no grace.)
    To my mind this has broad implications as to our understanding of the Sacraments and the Church, and suggests a big grey area.

    • overload says:

      Further to Vincent’s comment “even an atheist can baptise, providing he intends to do what the Church does.”
      It occurs to me that if Baptism is not an action of the Church (ie. the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; “two or more in my name”), then what is it? If an atheist can Baptise me, then why can I—a believer—not Baptise myself?
      I understand that the early Church fathers decreed that not only should the Eucharist be celebrated only at the jurisdiction of the Bishop, but Baptism also (Ignatius of Antioch).

  21. overload says:

    Further to Brendan’s / Vincent’s the belief that the only way to give confession and receive forgiveness is through the Sacrament of Penance as prescribed by the RCC: this reminds me somewhat of Jesus arguing with Pharasees over whether or not it is permissible to heal on the Sabbath.

    This indicates another complex issue…
    We are told by Christ that whosoever believes and is baptised shall be saved, and whoever believes not shall be damned. This suggests that Baptism is bound up with belief, however He does not explicitly state that Baptism is necessary for salvation, rather belief.
    The RCC teaches that Baptism is necessary; however other than Baptism in water, she teaches 2 alternative forms of Baptism, one of which is Baptism of desire.
    Baptism of desire apparently takes effect when the believer has not had the viable opportunity to be Baptised in water. This raises a whole host of questions, if we consider that the Gospel as proclaimed by the RCC may not be viable to many believers or would-be-believers. For instance, if I am a believer but am not convinced by the RCC (or all the laws and beliefs I have to sign up to), then I may not have a viable opportunity to be Baptised. If this is because of my unbelief, then perhaps I am being disobedient to God by not getting Baptised in the RCC. However, if the problem is the unbelief of the RCC (radiating a corrupted or misrepresented Gospel), then I cannot be held responsible for a reluctance to get Baptised. In which case, it may conceivably be, by the grace of God, that I have already been (or am being) Baptised with the Baptism of desire. Yet humanly speaking this would presumably be impossible to assert.

    To my mind, problematic but necessary questions for the RCC to consider. And again, many grey areas.

    • Brendan says:

      Please excuse the pun , but to me every grey area you produce seems to me to have a further ‘ fifty shades ‘ within it !

      • overload says:

        Would that be a range, such as 49-99% black—or 1%-51% black—or 25%-75% black—or what are you talking about, 50 shades?

  22. Brendan says:

    Ignatius, and that prodder.. the Holy Spirit has freshened my sclerotic mind.
    ” Try as hard as we might, there are two realities which we cannot escape from: sin and repentance. ” ( Commentary for today ,Three Bishops of the Welsh Province )
    The Catholic Parish Community ( Family ) to which I belong, it seems to me , is on the up . By all observable readings it appears to tick every box …. and I mean every box ! I popped in to see my pastor the other day as our parishioners do, and the first thing he said to me – perhaps because I was unusually early for Mass – was. …. ” What’s the matter, do you want confession ? I said no, and we took it from there.
    For all our parishes response to the leadership of an inspirational and frankly, terrific priest : His call to repentance looms large particularly this Lent in our minds Drawing us closer to our Maker and the joy of Easter. Our pastors’ call to repentance is firm but gentle and scriptural….. particularly appealing to the needs of our congregation [ As Pope Francis has recently commented on ]. Apart from the usual times for Confession , It seems it’s there pending the availability of one of our two priests, the other priest being Polish with very good English. He has introduce regularly every Sunday ( even outside of Lent ) auricular confession during Masses. To my thinking this no only enhances the feeling of being reconciled to the worshiping community of believers, bur also gives one greater significance and prominence to the Penitential Rite of the Mass. It is obvious that candidates predisposed to the Sacrament of Penance is on the increase in our parish… young and old. Now, from time immemorial isn’t that the Catholic way !
    Unobtrusively, unashamedly, and with some style in our Parish, the Spirit of God – that soft wind that blows where it wills – is having the required affect on our lives ! There’s is no ‘ tip-toeing ‘ around this ‘ elephant ‘ in our House. His work continues, thanks be to God !

  23. Iona says:

    Brendan, that sounds like a wonderful parish, and very hopeful in face of the pessimism which one often seems to encounter re the current state of the Church in Europe.
    Re baptism of desire: I had an idea (I wait to be corrected) that it was put forward in the very early Church, to take account of the fact that during periods of persecution catechumens might be put to death before they had reached the stage of being baptised.
    And re Overload’s post above, about the Council of Trent and what was said about baptism not conveying sanctifying grace “if one is Baptised with ‘improper’ motives, ie. ‘lacking a real detestation of sin’ ”. – we baptise babies (and so they did at the time of the Council of Trent) although the babies can’t be described as either having or lacking a real detestation of sin, as their understanding is insufficiently developed.

    • overload says:


      I wonder what you mean about the sate of Churches in Europe?

      Re. Baptism of desire, I imagine you are correct about the original introduction of this doctrine. I am merely giving my understanding of its (likely) broader implications.

      Re. Baptism of children and Trent; if you read the article that I (rather milliganp) linked to, it talks about this and indeed suggests that a child’s Baptism cannot have improper motives.
      But I beg to differ, speaking myself as an unusual case example.
      For instance, the usual basis for the Baptism of a child is the faith of the parents / guardians; in which case the parent’s faith obviously acts as representative for the faith of the child. So whilst the child may be validly Baptised, and may have (momentarily) received sanctifying grace; none the less it by default relies on nurturing and transmission of faith from the parents to remain awake to — to not forget — it’s Baptism, so as to grow in it’s new true self.
      The conveying of the sanctifying grace in Baptism — as St Peter suggests — is not merely momentary, but, with our cooperation and effort, a continuous unveiling of our sinless and loving Christ nature.

      • milliganp says:

        You raise an important issue. A child’s baptism may well be the only time they are ever in church and yet we (the Catholic Church) place obligations merely by this accident.
        As an example, a baptised Catholic may not contract a valid marriage except in a Catholic church, no matter how sincere the intent, even if they don’t know they are a Catholic.
        In earlier times you either grew up in a Catholic country – and faith was part of culture – or you grew up in a Catholic enclave within another faith culture (whether Protestant, Muslim or Hindu) and thus faith practice was essential.
        Only 20% of UK Catholics attend church regularly so what it means to be a baptised Catholic is somewhat unclear, particularly in relation to the life of grace.

    • overload says:

      Iona, I just realised you made a mistake, you were talking about Baptism of Fire (martyrdom), not Baptism of Desire.

    • Brendan says:

      Indeed, it is a wondrous thing to see and experience the Lord of Life in action. But unlike some pre-conciliar Catholic we know that ‘ numbers ‘ are not everything and the old heresies are ever present. It is more important to believe that when we present ourselves for the Sacrament of Reconciliation , his minions like bothersome ‘ harpies ‘ retreat in terror. In stark realism a line from the poet Baudelaire puts our sinful behaviour in perspective… ” how sweet it is to the Devil when he sees that we do not believe in him. “

  24. Ignatius says:

    ” I sometimes think of St. Francis, who I believe used to talk about his human body as Brother Ass, and use that as an excuse for all the reluctance that can be felt…”

    Ha ha, that’s great!! I’ll remember that. I read at the weekend Teresa of Avilla talking about distractions in prayer. She said that they happened all the time, going round in her head incessantly.. but she would no more pay attention to them than she would to a raving madman!!
    I like the saints for their down to earth view of things; thanks for that.

  25. Nektarios says:

    With all that I have read here, interesting though it is, I wonder what faith one is talking about? Is it faith in the priest to give absolution; is it faith in the RCC; is it faith in the sacraments; is it faith in ones own confession? No Pope, Cardinal, Priest, or religious denomination died for your sin.
    To obtain absolution from an other who is a sinner themselves perhaps seems to defy common sense. All that is is not the Gospel at all, so what is?

    The Apostle Paul writing to the Galatians plagued by false teachers and those setting themselves up as authorities and apostles, he writes: Galatians 1: 3-4. Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
    4. WHO GAVE HIMSELF FOR OUR SINS… that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.

    That is where our faith, all of it is, and should be placed and in none other.

    Go to Galatians 1 verses 6-7.
    Since the Apostle had preached the Gospel and they received it, he was surprised that they
    were… and note this: ` I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel.
    The cause of the trouble is in verse 7……. ` but there would be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
    And what follows is a dire warning to all such, in what ever form it takes,
    Galatians 1:8 `But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let in be accursed.’

    One cannot merit Salvation, it is a gift from God. When we were yet in our sins… Christ died for OUR sins – yes all of them. What personal depths there are in the pronoun `OUR’ here?
    One cannot work ones way to heaven you know: our own righteousness, even at our very best,
    is as filthy rags before God.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Jesus said to St Peter, ‘ Upon this Rock I will build my Church and I give to you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven’,
      ‘What ever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven’. .
      He said that to Peter before he denyed Him!!! St Peter was a sinner too!
      Jesus knew that he would deny Him!
      The Holy Priesthood has the power from the authority of Jesus and the RC Church Words to forgive sins.’Your sins are forgiven. Go in Peace’

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph
        As does every true born again believer in Christ.
        What Christ says to Peter, Christ says to all His People.
        What the RCC have made of this statement to Peter is a total misunderstanding of what is truly meant here.

      • milliganp says:

        Nektarios, there are a billion Catholics in the world, don’t be so ignorant and condescending. Catholic teaching on the forgiveness of sins has its roots in the apostolic era with continuity in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. You quote one piece of scripture and claim canonicity but the words St. Joseph quotes are of Christ.

      • overload says:

        St Joseph.
        Roman Catholics can keep on confessing and being forgiven and forgetting and backsliding and starting again. This can go on and on.
        Lukewarm lukewarmness.
        Immovable stale grey rock blocking the Tabernacle.
        Grey milk, whitened with a white-wash.
        Unless Roman Catholics wake up and repent (change direction), there will be another thesis nailed to a door. And if they do not respond, or, if it is already too late, perhaps the Holy Spirit will, in the blink of an eye, be murdered and nailed to the cross—if He has not been already!

      • Vincent says:

        Yes, I fear we make a poor showing. Pope Francis, when asked to describe himself, said that he was a sinner. So are we — continually letting ourselves down and continually picking ourselves up. It is fortunate that Christ has promised to forgive our sins whenever we repent, and however often that occurs. He only asks that we should always forgive others, just as he does for us.

        I am assuming that you consider the Lord’s Prayer a late and deceptive interpolation. It suggests that we should be asking for forgiveness every day.

      • overload says:

        Vincent, my thoughts…

        Repent = turn towards God; enter the mind of God; become Godly.
        Confession, penance, absolution and forgiveness do not necessarily mean repentance (although presumably they are intended to, should do, and can do).

        Yes, we should be daily asking God for forgiveness, and furthermore, even if we are righteous and Godly, we still daily rely on the sacrifice and love of Christ to give, sustain and fulfil that Godliness. Also, the Lord’s Prayer is about us reaching out with solidarity and mercy to&with those who do not yet know God or are shaky in their knowledge, who are directly and urgently in need of His forgiveness.

        Is it right that the Pope should, proclaiming the Gospel to the world, tell the world that he is not much or at all different from them? Yes, if he is being honest, that is surely good. However why is he in the job in the first place; true believers have (we are told) died to their sinful nature, been crucified to their sinful nature; walking in newness of life. And he is telling the world that he is Christ’s representative on earth.
        Is the Pope and are we confused about this?

  26. St.Joseph says:

    You asked the question ‘I wonder what faith one is talking about?
    That is why I told you!

    • Nektarios says:

      St. Joseph & Milliganp
      I would not disturb your actual faith in Christ at all, but when it comes to the external religious practices, from the clergy upwards to the heiarchy, it is clear where their calling and ministry is coming from – they have their calling and ministry given them by men.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Jesus was a ‘man’ Yes also God.
        However He carried out His Ministry as a man too.
        He left the legacy in the hands of ‘men’ through the Power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the first Church.
        Where Our Blessed Mother was there too!
        She is still keeping Her eyes on things as our Mother. Making sure we do not stray from the Truth!

      • ignatius says:

        Speaking as someone going through the process I would say you speak from a position of oversimplification to the point of being disingenuous. Your calling, tell me who it comes from and how it is/was recognised?

      • St.Joseph says:

        I am pleased hearing your news, Pray for us.

        Your comment above, who is that meant for?

      • overload says:

        Ignatius, what do you think St Paul means by ‘eloquent wisdom’ when he says:
        “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians 1:17)

      • overload says:

        Nektarios, I agree with Ignatius. You generally seem to undermine the truth and integrity of what you say with oversimplified and unconstructively controversial statements.

      • milliganp says:

        When St. Paul writes to Timothy, advising him on the appointment of overseers and deacons, he is talking to a man about men appointed to minister to and in the church. This ministry continues through time by handing on (tradere hence tradition) and the apostolic succession is part of the nature of the church. These ministers have taught and interpreted the word of God as part of a living tradition. Once you abandon this it is every man for himself, self-selecting and interpreting scripture to his own end.

      • overload says:

        Yes milliganp, historically I understand there was a big problem in the early Church with the ‘gnostic’ churches and ‘every man for himself’; and this was with as yet no fixed Scriptures in respect of the New Covenant. And, at that time, the power succeeded from the Apostles was only just beginning to fade (an inevitable process, it would seem).

        Now is another time and context, and indeed many ‘every man for himself’ interpreting scripture, especially amongst the American Protestant/Evangelical churches. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you like), one such ‘every man for himself’ is the RCC, accounting for many many men. But this does not justify the RCC’s sometimes self-willed interpretation of Scripture.

  27. St.Joseph says:

    I believe we are getting there.!! Do not be afraid!

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