Perfect Catholics

Early this century I worked as the Saturday evening cantor at a little parish, with some fun extra duties besides, like giving days of recollection to liturgy volunteers.

An elderly priest, retired then and long since passed away, used routinely to take the Saturday evening Confessions. He would stop in my office where I was usually working on some flyer or another, and as he unrolled his purple stole he would complain about how perfect all the parishioners are, since they never go to Confession. Always at Communion–never in the confessional.

This is not what one sees in parishes with the Extraordinary form, or even with a more solemn and careful celebration of the Ordinary form. In those parishes, people know they are sinners. You can tell they know because the lines for Confession are long every week, and in very devout parishes, every day.

In contrast, those attending more casual celebrations of the Mass might go for years on end without even hearing anything whatsoever about the sacrament of Confession, apart from the announcement twice a year that Advent and Lenten penance services will be held next Tuesday at 7:30.

I once worked at a parish that had 21 scheduled times every week for Confession, and people came. The priests would leave as soon as the line ended, so it was important for people to show up on time. There were 4 times each Friday. One popular time was before one of the Sunday Masses. And the lines were very long on Saturday evenings, and every priest was scheduled.

Once upon a time, when cars had bumpers, there was a bumper sticker that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a revitalized use of the sacrament of mercy throughout the Church!

6 Replies to “Perfect Catholics”

  1. Perfect, or just rejecting scrupulosity as a way of life? If priests could take even half of the time they spend listening to the ultra-holy's tales of minor transgressions, and use it for the conversion of the world, then the world would be a very different place!

  2. I couldn't disagree more. St. Paul urges the believers to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, and St. Peter, to make every effort to add goodness to faith.

    The way out of scrupulosity is to talk through it over time with a good confessor. This is very difficult to do without generosity on the part of parish scheduling of confession.

    And there is no better use of the priest's time, and the Church recongnizes this for example in Canon 528 §2, and Canon 986 §1.

  3. Echoing Kathy, I have to agree. First off, priests have both the training and experience to recognize the signs of scrupulosity and will seek to remedy it. Secondly, characterizing people as "the ultra-holy's tales of minor transgressions" and directly implying such is a waste of time is rash. Leaving aside the fact that the Church teaches the goodness of confessing venial sin, think of it like medical triage. Yes, the guy with the severed aorta is the most urgent case, but that doesn't mean we tell the guy with a dislocated pinky toe to suck it up and and quit whining. That's unmerciful.

  4. You may be unaware that St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, and other saints went to confession weekly, and that many popes have written about the value of "frequent confession" – i.e. the confession of venial sins.

    Pius XII used very strong language in combating the notion that confession of venial sins was useless: "Let those, therefore, among the younger clergy who make light of or lessen esteem for frequent confession realize that what they are doing is alien to the Spirit of Christ and disastrous for the Mystical Body of our Savior." Paul VI wrote in his document of Christian joy: "Following the line of the best spiritual tradition, we remind the faithful and their pastors that the confessing of grave sins is necessary and that frequent confession remains a privileged source of holiness, peace and joy." He also said, "Other works, for lack of time, may have to be postponed or even abandoned, but not the confessional."

    And I find it strange that confession would be contrasted to the "conversion of the world," when it is precisely in confession that the conversion in the most profound sense happens – one soul at a time.

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