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from issue no. 06/07 - 2009

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Confession: the sacrament of the humilty of the faithful

by Lorenzo Cappelletti

“In our day, in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel”. Thus, in the letter sent to all the bishops of the world on 10 March, Benedict XVI described the current condition of faith. A little less than a year earlier, talking to the participants at the annual course organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary, he had recourse to similar expressions, describing the “dying out” of the practice of confession, a symptom of the widespread “disaffection” from the sacrament also registered in the Church.
The use of the same metaphor – that of “dying out”, of losing – is itself eloquent. The sacrament of confession is lost when faith is lost.
The cause of the loss of faith may be the freedom of man. When, like the rich young man, one says no to the loving attractiveness of grace. But faced with the dying out of faith in vast areas of the world, what is required first of all is prayer because, “when it comes to faith, the great director is God, given that Jesus said: no one comes to me unless my Father draws him”. Thus Pope Luciani.

It being determined that the main cause of the dying out of the sacrament of confession is the dying out of faith, it can also be added that the centering of the life of Christian communities on events rather than on everyday life has also contributed to the disappearance of the practice of this sacrament. And daily life is made of prayer (“the little morning prayer” and “the little evening prayer”, as Pope Benedict recently reminded children) and of the forgiveness of our failings. “Quotidie petitores, quotidie debitores” (St Augustine). Every day we must pray, every day we must be forgiven. The Vatican II Ecumenical Council, in Lumen Gentium, mentions that it is precisely “in the ordinary conditions of family and social life of which existence is interwoven” that the faithful “make Christ visible to others with the radiance of faith, hope and charity” (n. 31).
No longer recalling the tragic possibility of committing the sin of sacrilege when one approaches communion unworthily (cf. 1Cor 11, 27-32) can also be a further occasion of the dying out of the practice of confession. With sorrow we note that in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church the sin of sacrilege committed both when some mortal sin is culpably concealed in confession, and when communion is approached unworthily, that is in mortal sin, is no longer mentioned.
When the confession of sins is “humble, complete, sincere, prudent and brief,” as we learned as children in the Catechism of Saint Pius X, along with forgiveness, the grace of humility is also received and learned in the sacrament of confession. Thus confession is experienced as the sacrament of the humility of the faithful that makes it possible to approach the sacrament of humility of the Lord worthily, according to the splendid definition that the Pope gave of the Eucharist as “the most humble and most holy sacrament”.

The “Nova et vetera” feature reproposes the article that Stefania Falasca dedicated to the Capuchin friar Leopoldo Mandic, holy confessor, in January 1999.
Those who confessed to Father Leopold learned that there is no need to add long speeches to the confession of one’s own poor sins (confessing to Father Leopold was usually a very brief matter): merely getting on one’s knees to confess sincerely contains in itself the contrition necessary and sufficient for receiving absolution.

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