This is an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called Catholic confession has evolved over time. Judging from the lack of research that went into this article the paper is aptly named it is now past intelligence and indeed is post intelligence.
In the late ’60s, when the Rev. Jan Larson was a new Roman Catholic priest, he would sit in a dark confessional for hours and listen to people rattle off a “grocery list” of sins. They had impure thoughts, said “damn” three times or chewed gum during a fast.
Today, he’s lucky if two people show up for confession at his Snoqualmie parish, and the sins he absolves are more complex. Yet, he sometimes hears about the small stuff, especially from older people who might say they skipped Mass.
In the span of a half-century, the sacrament of penance, as confession is officially called, has evolved drastically, from a rigid, foreboding ritual to a looser, therapeutic practice. Instead of a fearful cataloging of sins, it now emphasizes spiritual guidance and mercy. And it no longer occurs in the booth.
Spiritual guidance and mercy is nothing new in the confessional. It has always been the sacrament of mercy and is totally driven by God’s mercy for the forgiveness of sin and grace given to continue to turn away from sin. Many great saints would be totally surprised to hear that spiritual guidance is now something new. What has changed in this “foreboding ritual?” We still must confess any mortal sins, be repentant of those sins, and intend not to continue in them. The priest must still absolve you of those sins unless he determines that your are not contrite. You still must do any penance assigned to you. So the truth and the conductance of this sacrament has not changed. Only externals such as rooms for reconciliation and the option of face to face confession has changed. How could any of these transform this awesome sacrament of God’s mercy into mere therapeutic practice? And the last line about it no longer occurring in the booth is just inaccurate. The confessional booth might be rarer in churches today but it is still around.
“I’m just waiting for Hollywood to get it right. They always have the dark box, and the gangster gets in, and the grill slides open,” said Roger O’Brien, a retired priest who is writing an article about the sacrament for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Confession, which is often called “reconciliation,” now takes place in a quiet, well-lighted room or chapel, in which a parishioner faces a priest. (If they want to remain anonymous, however, they still have the option of kneeling before a screen).
The changes have occurred as the number of Catholics attending regular confession has declined. In 1965, nearly 40 percent of American Catholics said they went to confession monthly, according to the National Opinion Research Center. Today, sociologists estimate that fewer than 25 percent of Catholics regularly go to confession, and that nearly 60 percent never or almost never go.
“One thing you hear about confession vanishing is if Catholics have lost their sense of sin. Well, I don’t think so,” said Larson, who also ministers to parishes in Duvall and Carnation.
He noted that communal services on forgiveness, similar to those offered by many Protestant churches, are often packed. He said Catholics have more options for absolution, because church officials now say forgiveness can come through Mass or private prayer, instead of only through one-on-one confession.
I have to respectfully disagree on this one. The majority of Catholics I believe have lost the sense of sin. They might believe that other people sin or that in some nebulous way that they also are sinners, but the true sense of what sin is has been lost. We believe that Jesus shed tears, yet it is not quite connected to our own actions. Going to a reconciliation service fits in with this nebulous sense of sin since you don’t really have to detail what it is that you have done wrong. Going as a group allows you to see this as a group abstraction, vice the personal wound on the mystical body of Christ. To say that Catholics have not lost the meaning of sin with the fact that few go to confession is mistaken. If we had a lot of people suffering from disease and very few went to the doctor would we then say that people have not lot their sense of disease?
For a priest writing an article on confession these statements are pretty misleading. If a reconciliation service does not end in individual sacramental confession then those people have been fooled. It might feel nice to go to this service or to write down your sins and have these pieces of paper then burned as a group, but this is not a sacrament and it does not normally forgive sin. In a emergency situation or case of imminent death a priest can give absolution to a group, but if they survive they must still go to regular confession. It is true that saying the act of contrition at Mass and then receiving the Eucharist can forgive those acknowledged venial sins, but not mortal sin. Private prayer will lead you to acknowledge your sins and lead you to the disposition to confess your sins, but private prayer alone will not give you absolution of your sins. Even if you have perfect contrition for a mortal sin, you must still go to confession. This statement “church officials now say forgiveness can come through Mass or private prayer, instead of only through one-on-one confession” is spiritual malpractice. Private prayer instead of one-on-one confession is not an option for mortal sin.
If I was to move to a new city. The first thing I would do is call up the local TV and newspaper reporters and ask them what priests they go to for story information. Once I got this list I would then cross them off a master list of priests of whom to go to for spiritual direction. Reporters are like liberal divining rods that can always find the Chittister’s and O’Brien’s and never the Hardon’s and Dulles’
And some religious experts say there is a resurgence in confession-going among young Catholics, who are praying the rosary and doing other devotional acts that their baby-boomer parents abandoned.
“Most Catholics who grew up in the ’50 and ’60s would rather go to the dentist than confession,” said Greg Magnoni, Archdiocese of Seattle spokesman. “But today, that’s changed, and the sacrament of reconciliation is a celebration of God’s grace and mercy.”
On a recent Saturday, the traditional day to confess, Keith Abrahams let in a gust of cold air as he rushed inside St. James Cathedral to wait for a priest. He joined about 10 people, who sat in silence, bundled in coats.
Since when is Saturday a traditional day to confess? It is a rather new tradition born more of convenience to overworked priests and the lack of demand by Catholics.
A retired mental-health therapist and former Army first sergeant, Abrahams said he goes to confession every two weeks and that it helps him understand and forgive himself. He likes the modern way of facing a priest, viewing it as a spiritual therapy session.
“It helps me to avoid doing the same things over and over again,” said Abrahams, 62. “I feel relief and forgiveness.”
Nick Coffman, a 19-year-old Seattle University student, waited his turn nearby. Longhaired and dressed all in black, Coffman plays guitar, studies philosophy and would be right at home in a hip coffeehouse.
He grew up Catholic, but was an agnostic for a while in high school. Now he works as a sacristan, or a chapel assistant, and goes to confession every two weeks.
“I do find a healing and a merciful forgiveness,” Coffman said. “Really, it speaks to my whole person.” But he recognized that going to confession is difficult.
“It really requires looking at yourself and asking where you can be more virtuous, where you can positively embrace God’s love,” he said.
At Seattle University, administrators say they’ve noticed that more students are going to Mass and confession than in the past. Many of the students grew up with parents who offered a “smorgasbord approach” to religion or told them, “When you’re old enough, you can choose for yourself,” said Sheila Barnes, the school’s faith-formation coordinator.
Those students are now searching for more meaning in their faith, she said.
“For a lot of young Catholics, there’s a feeling that Catholicism has been watered down, and it’s gotten really confusing what it means to be Catholic,” said G De Castro, the school’s chapel coordinator.
He said going to confession and doing other traditional religious practices are “kind of an attempt to solidify the Catholic identity in an external way.”
Sacramental confession it not just a “traditional religious practice” but the normative means of forgiveness given to the Church by Christ.
Religion experts say the overall decline in confession-going stems from a broader notion of sin. In the past two centuries, Catholics were less educated and didn’t distinguish between small and big sins. So, in order to avoid going to hell, they confessed often and to everything.
Here is a infallible guide in life. If you see the words “Religion expert” used you can guarantee something really stupid will immediately follow. Catholics in the past were probably more educated on their faith or at least knew they should go to confession. If we were really more educated we would be going to confession more frequently or the same rate as before. While having a scrupulous conscience is not a good thing, never seeing anything as a sin and never confessing is much worse. Some “more educated” priests turn people away from confession if they “only” had venial sins. I only added a thorn to the crown of thorns, it is not like I crucified you or something.
Now, “people are more likely to make personal judgments about their sinfulness, rather than going off and running to confession,” Larson said.
He said many people who go to confession tend to be at a crossroad in life and need both forgiveness and counseling. In the past, when a parishioner said, “Father, I drink every other day, and I’m drunk at home,” a priest would give him penance for committing “the sin of drunkenness,” he said.
Now, Larson would help him find community resources to fight addiction. Priests also advise parishioners to do acts of contrition, from saying prayers to contributing to a charity.
In a few weeks, when Advent, the penitential season before Christmas, starts, parishes will prepare for their communal absolution services. The Vatican wants priests to offer one-on-one confession time as part of these services. But many priests, particularly those of large parishes, say they can’t accommodate everyone.
One local priest says that tension between the Vatican and some parishes is a “landmine.” And some hard-liners say the communal services — without individual confessions — offer “cheap grace.”
To tell the truth now makes you a hard-liner? Obedience to the church is now seen as stodgy and out-of-touch. Maybe they should have a confession lottery at these large communal absolution services where those lucky few get to actually have their sins absolved. Oh sorry your still in sin, better luck next time. If they truly can’t accommodate the number of people then they should limit the size of these services.
But O’Brien said the services are powerful, with songs, homilies and prayers.
Sorry no homily no matter how well preached can forgive sin. No song no matter how well sung will forgive sin. I might agree that singing some of these songs could be given as a penance.
“They’re healthy,” he said. “That’s an encouraging thing for us to experience that sacrament that way.”
If there is no individual confession than there was no sacrament for them to experience. These people are like used car salesmen practicing the bait and switch. You think your going to be forgiven, but you walk off the lot with something less than forgiveness. You might have noticed that this subject irks me. I am extremely saddened that this beautiful sacrament is ignored, misrepresented, not preached about, and is not at the forefront of Catholic parish life. The reform of the reform needs to start with bringing this sacrament back to it’s proper place in our life of grace.