Magazine article The Catholic World

Reconciliation: The Re-Membering Church Process

Magazine article The Catholic World

Reconciliation: The Re-Membering Church Process

Article excerpt

In the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults one can find a number of ritual orders designed to respond to a variety of living situations. There is a collection of rites for initiating unbaptized persons into the Catholic faith community. There are also rites for initiating an already baptized, uncatechized person into the faith. There are rites for emergency and special situations. Finally, there is even a rite for receiving baptized, catechized persons into full communion with the Catholic community. While the same formation process (and basically the same ritual order) is presumed for each life situation, it is likewise presumed that the basic process is adapted to the needs of those who come to the church seeking faith or full communion. Just as inquirers come from a variety of life situations (unbaptized; baptized/uncatechized; baptized/catechized; etc.), so too does the Order presume that there is a specific response adapted to serve their needs. But one size, in this case, does not intend to fit all!

The Order of Penance, however, does not fare so well. It is unfortunate because the history of the Order reveals a rich diversity of forms to respond to a variety of needs. It is also unfortunate because there are at least as many different types of penitents as inquirers into the faith, but an inadequate ritual response to satisfy the diversity of needs. Some years ago, Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago pleaded for "more" ritual possibilities at the Synod on Penance in Rome. He urged study and eventual restoration of a type of communal penance rite adapted from the ancient Order of Penitents. No rites were forthcoming and so, as has always been the case regarding the history of the sacrament of penance, some parishes began trying to restore something akin to a communal penance rite which would respond to the felt need of so many alienated Catholics.

It is my purpose in this article to show that there is, first of all, a need for this kind of communal penance rite in pastoral practice, and secondly, to give some idea of how it might be implemented in a pastoral setting.


Different Types,

Different Needs

Devotional Penitents

Just as inquirers into the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults come from a variety of life situations, so too do penitents. Some penitents still observe a devotional pattern of regular, monthly celebration of the sacrament of penance. Most of them are regular communicants - good churchgoers who live a rather scheduled life. These faithful parishioners use the sacrament of penance as a sort of monthly spiritual check-up; the examination of conscience gives guidance and direction to their lives and serves as a checks-and-balances system for staying on track. For these Catholics the monthly celebration of the sacrament of penance is a boon to their spiritual growth and development.

Occasional Penitents

Another type of penitent is the one who frequents the sacrament between two and four times a year. This is the penitent who can be found at the communal Lenten (or Advent) Penance Service; the penitent who celebrates the sacrament at least a couple of times a year - not as a devotional practice, but because it's a good habit to have. These occasional penitents realize the value of examining their conscience and periodically celebrating the sacrament of penance, but they feel that because they don't have any serious sins in their life, two or three times a year is about all they need. Once or twice a year they might partake of the Saturday afternoon individual celebration of the sacrament.

In my opinion, Form II of the Penance Rite, which is normally used at these liturgies, is the most problematic of all the rites because of its conflicting private/communal dynamics. But I will withhold expanding on this problem for another time.

The occasional penitent is a more or less regular churchgoer who is dedicated to living an honest life. …

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