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The Neglected Sacrament

The Sacrament of Reconciliation went into a sharp decline after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. And yet, in the 1950s, Confession was a major part of people's Saturday afternoons.
by Lorraine E. Espenhain | Source:



"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and His Word has no place in our lives." (1 Jn 1:8-10).


In his address to the American bishops in April of 1983, Pope John Paul II spoke to them about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and reminded them that the ministry of reconciliation is a fundamental part of the Church's life and mission. He then called on all of the American priests and bishops to do everything possible to make the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation a primary aspect of service to God's people.


   The Sacrament of Reconciliation has been greatly neglected in different parts of the world, especially here in the United States. Most Catholics do not receive this Sacrament on a regular basis. They haven't made it a normal part of their walk with Christ.   


   There are several reasons why this Sacrament has been, and continues to be, greatly neglected in the lives of most Catholics.


Lack of Proper Religious Instruction


First, Catholics are not being instructed adequately on the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you take a look at the typical Catholic sitting in the pew, you will find that he or she hasn't had any kind of catechetical instruction since elementary school. Because of this, it is important that Catholics continue their religious instruction on a daily basis by studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church. While it would be ideal if all churches offered regular Catechism classes for adults, this isn't always possible for several reasons, i.e., already overwhelmed and overburdened pastors and/or inability to find church members who are adequately fit to teach religious instruction to adults. Most Catholic adults are ignorant of the Catechism themselves, which makes it somewhat challenging for a church to find one to teach the class. Because of this, it is important that you and I take the time to educate ourselves on our own.  


   There are so many excellent materials available in the market today when it comes to learning the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There simply is no excuse for the ignorance of the Catechism that we are seeing in typical churches. We cannot sit back and wait until someone comes along and teaches us because that day may never come. It is up to us to get a hold of the materials and to teach ourselves. But as long as we willingly choose to remain uneducated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we will continue to be ignorant when it comes to understanding the importance of receiving the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


Desensitization To Sin


I am convinced that this is probably the biggest reason why most American Catholics haven't stepped into a confessional in decades. Here in the United States, we've lost all sense of sin. We are living in a society that takes its cue from the media, not from the Word of God. In our culture, anything goes. Almost everything is accepted. When you live in a warped culture where everything is accepted and very little is considered inappropriate, you lose all sense of having offended God. Consequently, you see no need to confess.


   Our churches today are filled with men and women who are living together and having children outside of holy Matrimony. Because this is completely acceptable in American society, they have become desensitized to the sinfulness of their choices. They aren't offending society; therefore, they are not offending God.


   Our churches today are filled with men, women, and young people who are engaging in sexual relationships outside of marriage. Because this has become such an acceptable thing in our society, they don't have a sense of having done anything wrong. If something becomes acceptable long enough, it just doesn't feel wrong anymore. If we don't believe we've done wrong, we won't feel the need to confess.

   Sometime ago, my husband and I went out of town. When we went to Sunday Mass, the woman who was scheduled to read that morning was dressed in a skirt that was so short it would have barely covered a fetus. This woman truly had no perception that the attire which she was wearing was not only inappropriate for Sunday morning Mass, but for a Christian woman as well. When we take our cue from the world, we are going to dress like the world. Because the world didn't have a problem with this style of dressing, the woman truly believed that God didn't either. The world didn't take offense at her attire; why would God? In Saint Paul's letter to Timothy (who was a young pastor of Christ's church at that time), he instructed him as follows: "Women should dress modestly, with decency and propriety." (1 Ti 2:9)

   Propriety means proper, suitable, and that which is fitting. But if you don't expose yourself to the teaching of God's Word on a daily basis, how are you going to understand that to dress otherwise is to offend God? If we aren't taking our cue from the Word of God, then we're going to take it from the world. If somebody had gently approached the woman and suggested to her that her attire was inappropriate for Mass, she would have been offended and shocked. This is because she has become completely desensitized to sin and things that are offensive to God and inappropriate. She has received instruction from the world, not from the Word of God.


   Another example is that of missing Mass. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, missing Mass is a serious sin requiring absolution before receiving the Eucharist. People miss Mass all of the time and think nothing of it. It's one thing to miss Mass because one is sick, but you and I both know that many often miss Mass because they just don't feel like going. When they do return to church, they think nothing of going up to receive the Holy Eucharist without first having gone to Confession because they have completely lost their sense of having sinned.


   Many Catholics use artificial contraception and see nothing wrong with it. Some are involved in gay relationships. Some have been divorced and remarried numerous times. Because these things are so acceptable in our society, they have no sense of having transgressed against God and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Consequently, they see no need to confess.


   The Sacrament of Reconciliation went into a sharp decline after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. And yet, in the 1950s, Confession was a major part of most people's Saturday afternoons. In those days, there were often long lines of penitents. In many churches, confessions were heard for two-hour sessions on Thursday evenings, Saturday mornings, afternoons, and evenings.  Most families went weekly.


   Many U.S. dioceses are encouraging people to return to confession as part of the Year of Faith. This is an admission that many of the faithful have been staying away from the confessional. In the U.S., the 2008 census by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate revealed that only 2 percent of Catholics confess regularly. Quite a few priests who live in rural areas admit that no one in their churches has gone to confession for 10 years. In a straw poll survey among people who lived through Vatican II, one in three admit that they have not been to confession in 30 years.


   According to many pastors, children rarely return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation after their first Communion. Some people who wish to go to Confession have actually had to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at another parish because the sacrament was only available at their church by appointment only.


   When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive not only pardon and forgiveness, but sanctifying grace as well. Pope John Paul II reminded the bishops that there could be no substitute for the means of this sanctifying grace which Christ Himself had placed into their hands. Christ's blood shed for us on the cross has power to redeem a man from his sins. But it is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that this redeeming blood is made effective in our lives.

   I want to encourage you to set aside some time each and every single day in order to read the Scriptures as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We must give the Holy Spirit something to work with in our lives. If we do not expose ourselves to the Word of God, we are not going to be sensitive when we are doing things that contradict its teachings. The world is not going to convict you of wrongdoing. The world isn't going to raise a red flag and say, "You're going astray!    You've sinned against God! You've made the wrong choice! You just did something that goes against the Catechism!" When we spend all of our time watching worldly shows, reading worldly books, and listening to worldly music, how is this going to cultivate any sensitivity to the Word of God in our lives? And yet, without that sensitivity, how will we be open to the conviction of the Holy Spirit when we have sinned?


   Do you remember the little green light that used to shine above or next to the confessional? When you saw this little green light on, this was an indication that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was now being offered and that a priest was "in the box."


   Several years ago, the Archdiocese of Baltimore wanted to get the attention of Baltimore's Roman Catholics during Lent because the Church leaders knew that too many of them were neglecting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They had large ads plastered across many of the public transportation buses which then drove throughout the city. The elongated placards bore the words, "The light is on for you."


   Come back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Come back to the gift of God's pardon and forgiveness. Come back to the sanctifying grace that you will receive through this Sacrament in order to live a life that is more victorious and pleasing to God. Come back…


…The light is on for you!

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