18 August 2012
Sacrament of Reconciliation: Chore or Ritual?
I need to go to Reconciliation; to be restored to a state of grace, first and foremost, but also frequently, to be strengthened by its Sacramental Grace. But I need time in prayer asking guidance of disposition, for Confession is a sacrament that I have trouble with. Not in general: it is one of the most theologically beautiful of God's gifts to us--perhaps the most tangible sign of God's loving hand as Father of the Prodigal Son, who must chastise and teach His children to grow in virtue but also celebrate their return to his arms. No, my trouble with the Sacrament stems from a block internal, and in part external, that keeps me from experiencing Confession as sacrament and rite, but as a chore.
As Confession is conducted at the parishes here, my subjective experience of it is that it is conducted along the lines of a series of patrons waiting for the dentist to extract decaying teeth. You slide into a pew for a few moments, read from your prayer-book as if reading a magazine offered in the foyer but hoping pious thoughts are present, then join the line in hopes that there will be time for Father to see you today in the limited time offered. Inside the Confessional, there's no expected dialogue of Priest and Sinner other than the classic and perfunctory "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned" (and is the "Father" the priest or Father of Our Lord, here? is not the latter more appropriate than the former?).
"What seems to be the problem?" asks Fr Dentist and you rattle off your list of sins, the obligatory advice (is not spiritual direction a more appropriate time for this?), then extraction of the sin via absolution, get a lolly pop, and you're on your way. "Thank you Father." Objectively, I know that this is not what happens at all, but that is the sense I am left with because I am a sinner and weak. I need more ritual, more formality, in my prayer life to make those graces tangible to me.
I know deep within that Confession can be approached with the reverence deserved of a Sacrament; not a listing of sins as actions that ought be punished, but a presentation of this sinner before the Lord--as almost a mirror image of the Eucharist presented before the Father--who knows his sins and begs forgiveness for them. It is not chore, but ritual, no matter how others (and especially myself!) may compose themselves at the sacrament. Is that not as true, if not truer, of the Mass? And yet I can be properly disposed (God willing) toward the Mass in the face of most distractions of impropriety, even if the celebrant isn't in top form. Perhaps with the Mass it is that the prayers and responses are nicely ritualized, publicly so, that little can be altered, and there is as much a sacred rhythm to the words of the priest and response of the laity, that lacks in the Confessional, where it becomes almost too personal, too open to subjectivity.
I suppose I almost hope one day that every scheduled time for Confession would begin with the priest in the Sanctuary, a hymn is sung asking for reconciliation, a prayer raised to the Father for mercy by the power of the Son's sacrifice on the Cross, then the priest processing to the confessional, followed by the laity with the solemnity of the congregation approaching the Blessed Sacrament--for are we not approaching the presence of Christ in the confession, indeed even Christ on the Cross? I want to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a member of the body of Christ, even if it is a diseased member of that body, but knowing that I am part of a Church of sinners, and that my responses and my words are part of the impassioned plea of God's children kneeling before the Cross as one to ask for mercy and forgiveness, hands upraised to catch the falling blood of the Lamb of God, that we may wash and be made clean.
Once one's individual sins were confessed, no one would mumble their penance and then scurry out the door. We'd come together again, as we remain together after receiving the Eucharist, for a closing prayer, (I would even be open to something resembling the 'sign of peace' here, symbolizing that we know ourselves as sinners restored to the Body by the Blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit), a blessing and a closing hymn extolling the Glory and Love of the Lord who forgives the sins of the world. And in place of the dismissal "Go in Peace,"
"Your faith has saved you. Go and sin no more."
But really, I just need to ask for God's grace, and learn to see this within.