We have always been encouraged to use the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a particular way at this time of year as part of our Lenten preparation for the great feast of Easter. Pope Francis has placed the Sacrament at the very heart of this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Fr. Kevin Hanley OFM, a confessor at the Vatican, recently led the Scots College Community in a weekend of Recollection focussing on the Sacrament and here, he reflects on the Sacrament.
On the 4th March 2015, Pope Francis announced his intention for a Year of Mercy to be inaugurated on 8th December 2015 and concluding on 20th November 2016. Since the commencement of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken often about the mercy of God and the need for reconciliation. By this declaration of a Year of Mercy, the Pope has placed a spotlight on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and its importance in the Sacramental life of the Church.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of listening. The priest is a guide. The four elements to the Sacrament are: admission of sins, contrition, repentance and purpose of amendment. An examination of conscience is a useful method of helping a penitent prepare for the Sacrament. In the celebration of the sacrament the penitent atones for their sin and seeks the opportunity to be absolved of those sins and amend their life.
The Confessional ought to be located within a Church or Chapel so that the penitent may confess their sins anonymously [or face to face]. The experience a penitent has in confession will leave a lasting effect. When the experience has been good, their sacramental life will gain strength. Where the experience has been negative, the penitent may hesitate to attend the sacrament; as though some form of allergy has developed. Although there is a desire to receive the Sacrament, memories of an upsetting experience will always prevail. In some cases the individual may develop a “direct” line with God believing that it is satisfactory to confess their sins to God alone; bypassing the priest and having no desire for sacramental absolution.
The Holy Father encourages that the Sacrament be available whenever and wherever. He uses the analogy that the Church is like a “field hospital” and that her ministers offer treatment to offer a cure for the sin. The Year of Mercy has opened up the possibility for all baptised Catholics to renew their participation in the life of the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As a sacrament of listening, the confessor helps the person in their faith journey. It is imperative that a Confessor does not judge the person, but rather be a guide for them. Many penitents will be unprepared; therefore the confessor must be patient and understanding.
The Minor Penitentiaries based at the four Papal Basilicas will be assisted by volunteer confessors from their respective Religious Orders. The Year of Mercy is a type of outreach programme, therefore, on Ash Wednesday 2016, Pope Francis commissioned Missionaries of Mercy; priests who will celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in their respective jurisdictions. The penitent has an opportunity to attend the Sacrament in their locality. Diocesan Cathedrals throughout the world have established Doors of Mercy whereby penitents may obtain an indulgence when they enter the Cathedral.
In order for the Year of Mercy to be successful, the Sacrament of Reconciliation needs to be continually promoted. It is also essential that preparation for the sacrament be sustained within the parish community.