11 July 2019, The Tablet

Thinking outside the box: why the Sacrament of Reconciliation needs to be revisited

Thinking outside the box: why the Sacrament of Reconciliation needs to be revisited

An outdoor confessional prepared for the World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland


The Sacrament of Reconciliation is in crisis. As a result, as one of the most eminent canon lawyers in the Church warns, the flow of mercy through the Church – its most precious commodity – has dried to a trickle

“The Church from time to time ought to examine herself in the mirror of the Gospel” was one of the favourite sayings of Yves Congar, the French Dominican theologian who played an influential role at the Second Vatican Council. The Council, of course, did a great deal of such examination, but the process is a never-ending one. More than 50 years later, in the papacy of Francis, who never ceases to proclaim that “the name of God is mercy”, it may be the right time to let this holy exercise be repeated for what might be called “the sacrament of mercy” – penance, or reconciliation.

Acknowledging that “with the passage of time, there have crept into the rites of the sacraments certain features which have rendered their nature and purpose far from clear to the people of today, some changes have become necessary to adapt them to the needs of our own times” (62), the Council decreed in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, that “the rite and formulas for the Sacrament of Penance are to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament” (72).

In other words, the Council made it clear that it judged that the present external rite and formulas are inadequate expressions of the internal gift of grace, and it therefore mandated the Church to search for a better framework for the administration of the sacrament. “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). In this spirit, I would like to reflect on the present state of the Sacrament of Penance, to explore what we might find in the tradition of the Church that might help us refresh and renew the sacrament for the needs of the faithful today, and to suggest what kind of changes to the rite and formulas might make God’s prodigality more manifest than the present ones do.

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User Comments (3)

Comment by: Alex
Posted: 23/08/2019 10:55:26
That's a good suggestion. Start "thinking outside the box" and once you are done doing that, start "thinking inside the box" and then, do it over and over again! Guys, hurry up! The permanent pastoral revolution train is leaving the station! Hop on board everybody! Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Comment by: John Macias
Posted: 22/08/2019 17:29:02
Please stop this non-sense! Confession is not a therapy meant to boost your wellness. Repentance, as C. S. Lewis put it, "means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into... It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death". If you have issues with receiving absolution from a minister of God, then why don't you go to India and take a dip in the Ganges or in some other water source near your parish church? Please dont meddle with the Sacrament of Confession and please stop playing with my confessional!
Comment by: Eliz
Posted: 12/07/2019 18:06:56
This is so enlightening. In my Parish we have at times had a similar type of service and the Church was packed conversely a reconciliation service had a congregation of 20. The need is not being met. The merits of children make their first and very often their last confession. It is time to act in mercy.