Sacrament of Penance - Part 1
Sacrament of Penance - Part 2
Sacrament of Penance - Part 3
We have been
meditating over the last number of Sundays on the Sacrament
of Penance in the Early Church. We noted that for serious
sin one entered what was called the Order of Penitent’s
and began a long period of prayer, fasting, and reading
of the Word of God before being reconciled with the
Community on Holy Thursday. The period of Penance, Prayer,
and the reading of the Word of God became more intense
during Lent, when they were joined with the whole Community.
The whole Community together prayed that all would change
and have a conversion of heart so that they would come
closer in their relation with God and with one another.
Those who were not in the order of Penitent’s
prayed, fasted, and read the Word so that those who
were in the Order of Penitents would have a true Conversion,
and be united once again with Community and God.
Ireland however had its own tradition for Reconciliation.
The Christian community were organised around the Monasteries.
Here the tradition had grown up of confessing ones sins
to the monk, receiving absolution and then doing the
penance privately. When the monks went abroad they bought
this custom with them to Europe so that it became the
accepted way for the sacrament after some time. But
again the emphasis was on Conversion of one’s
way of life. With the Council of Trent in the seventeen
the Century thee provision was put in that one must
confess by number and kind. Naturally the name changed
from the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to
the Sacrament of Confession. The emphasis now was on
Confession and we didn’t emphasize enough the
Penance and Reconciliation until the Second Vatican
Council. But with the second Vatican Council the Emphasis
was put back on Conversion, and Reconciliation. The
Community dimension came to the fore again with the
Community celebration of the Sacrament. We have these
Community celebrations during Lent in preparation for
Easter, in Advent in preparation for Christmas.
The central theme that emerges from a short history
of the Sacrament is that the Sacrament is above all
about being reconciled with the Community and being
reconciled with Jesus. We celebrate the Sacrament because
we are celebrating the change that Jesus has brought
in our lives so that we want to be reconciled with our
brothers and sisters and with God. For this inner conversion
of our lives away from sin and closer in our relationship
with Christ is a continuous process which we celebrate
again and again as we grow closer and close r to God
and further and further from sin in our lives. The three
big words and actions emerging after Vatican 11 are
Reconciliation, Conversion, and Celebration.
I suppose the word that strikes us most strangely is
the word celebrate. How can you celebrate ones own sins?.
So it is important to note that we are not celebrating
our own sins. We are celebrating the work that God is
doing in us in bringing us to conversion from our sins.
We are celebrating what God can do within us through
the power of his death and resurrection. We are celebrating
what God is doing in us through the power of the Holy
Spirit. And isn’t this a great cause for celebrating
and rejoicing in the presence of God. We rejoice because
God is saving us. We are reminded of this great truth
by Jesus in today’s Gospel when we are reminded
that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit who is alive
and active in us bringing about the resurrection in
us each day. For each day he calls us to die to sin
and to rise to goodness, to die to evil, and rise to
goodness, to die to selfishness and to rise to concern
for others. So we die and we rise with Jesus every day,
and especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.