A reader sent me this story from the Washington Post on confession that like most media coverage of religion manages to mix in a lot of nonsense. Though there are certainly some good aspects in the article. The title is "A Call to Confession, for It Is Fading" is rather dumb since if anything the sacrament is making a comeback from a lower ebb in years past.
Priests and sociologists of Catholicism have theorized about the drop for years. Is it because of a culture that tells us we aren’t responsible for what we do wrong? Or could it be something less dark: that the traditional Saturday confession time has simply been gobbled up by youth soccer leagues and errand-mania? Or maybe something more dark: that we don’t even know what sin is anymore?
Surely it is all the above and more. The lack of the sense of sin is a large contributor, but the fact the confession has been put on the back burner and relegated to a short block of time on Saturdays certainly doesn’t help to offset this.
The campaign, the first big public endeavor by the new archbishop, Donald Wuerl, is timed to start with Lent, the 40-day period of reflection and penitence that started yesterday, Ash Wednesday. The 100,000 brochures that parishes are distributing lay out rules for the rusty, complete with a pop-out, wallet-size card ("Step 3: Confess all of your sins to the priest. If you are unsure or uneasy, tell him and ask for help."). Starting Wednesday, all 140 churches in the archdiocese will be open for confession from 7 to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Lent.
Bravo Archbishop Wuerl.
Parishes have been cutting back the time they set aside for confessions for years; many now allot only 30- or 45-minute blocks or ask for appointments. Years ago, lines at confessionals were long and priests listened for hours.
My parish still has long lines and confession before every Mass and as I have said before – if you offer it conveniently they will come.
Also known as the sacrament of reconciliation, confession involves several mandatory steps: being sincerely contrite, articulating to a priest (who stands in the place of Jesus) what was done wrong, apologizing, receiving an assigned penance and being forgiven.
Not bad for an MSM piece.
But the biggest changes, church historians say, came in the 1960s, when clergy began preaching more about the sins of racism, militarism and environmental degradation. The ’60s also brought the Second Vatican Council, which said — among many other things — that eating meat on Friday was no longer a sin.
I wonder if a political reporter said that in 1960 that some such law was passed and it never happened would he get to keep his job? What if he made these same types of mistakes repeatedly? Though if your are a religion reporter you can consistently make all kinds of blunders. The truth is Vatican II did no such thing. What actually happened was that 1983 Code of Canon Law said:
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
Thus in those diocese where the bishop’s conference has mandated a Friday penance such as abstinence then eating meat on Friday would still be sinful. In the United States where the Bishop’s conference has not mandated a penance for Friday’s during the year, during Lent on Ash Wednesday and Friday’s eating meat is still sinful for those that are to required to abstain.
Vatican II also made a slight change in the confession rite that emphasized a moment at the start of Mass in which parishioners, together, take a moment of penance.
Which is another bit of conscience. The Confiteor is not exactly a new addition to the Mass. "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" anyone?
Matthew Gallaugher, a government technology worker who lives in Foggy Bottom, said he experiences a "lighter, supernatural feeling" after confession, which he attends at least once a month "to clean out the gunk" of regular life: the bickering with his wife over who would make the bed, the little snip to someone at work.
"I want to become holy, I want to be transformed, to be Christlike," the slim 30-year-old said yesterday outside the downtown church St. Stephen Martyr, where forehead-smeared parishioners poured in at noon for Ash Wednesday Mass.
Beautifully said Matthew.
Clergy say the rise in therapy and self-help may be a contributing factor in the decline in Catholics’ going to confession. And though they praise the advancement of mental health care, they also worry that people are forgetting that confession involves more than, well, confessing.
You do wonder about the connection between Catholics not going to confession and more and more people needing psychiatric help is. Maybe if priests started charging $100 an hour more people would go. Proof though that some of the best things in life are free. As much help as some psychiatrists might give you just won’t hear "I absolve you in the…" at the end of the session and you will still be in your sin.
According to Gibbs, the archdiocese spokeswoman, watching Internet pornography is the most commonly unloaded baggage to priests, who have been protected under civil law from having to reveal confessions.
How exactly would the archdiocese spokeswoman know this? Are they filling in surveys of "commonly unloaded baggage" now after hearing confessions? Though while this is something that can be easily extrapolated from the culture, it is not something the spokeswoman should have any first-hand knowledge of. As you would expect the article ends on a down note.
Damiana Astudillo, 33, a researcher who lives in Mount Pleasant, said she hasn’t been to confession in a decade because she is turned off by what she sees as paternalism among church leaders.
"The Catholic Church is unwilling to adapt to the modern world. They’re still hung up on the dogma of ancient times, and life is very complex today," she said yesterday on L Street NW. "I’ve grown to believe a priest is a man, and he doesn’t have the power to forgive. Confession and a prayer? That doesn’t work for me anymore."
Oh yes "the dogma of ancient times." Why hold to to a authoritative doctrine that is old? Doctrines are only cool if they are fresh. All doctrines come with a shelf life – an expiration date stamped right on them. "Best if believed by …" Though once again the master Chester ton already spoke to this conscience in Orthodoxy. "You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays."