NEW YORK — Holy Week is the culmination of Lent, a time to repent, confess and come to Easter renewed. U.S. dioceses have been offering increased opportunities for the “confess” part.
The Cathedral of Saint Patrick Young Adults in New York is one of them. With the Archdiocese of New York, it sponsored 24 Hours of Confession at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and 20 Manhattan parishes on the first Friday and Saturday of March.
“Thousands upon thousands of Catholics line up to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday each year,” said Mario Bruschi, the co-director of the young adults group. “Imagine if these same thousands of Catholics line up for confession? It could be a tremendous day for Our Lord.”
The following weekend, none other than Pope Benedict XVI spoke in support of such efforts. The Pope called the administration of the sacrament of penance an “indispensable ministry” that aids the faithful along the “demanding road of sanctity.”
He made the remarks in a March 14 message he sent to Cardinal James Stafford, major penitentiary, and to participants in the 20th Internal Forum, an annual course on matters of conscience.
During his Sunday Angelus address on Feb. 15, the Holy Father prayed: “Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, whom God preserved from every stain of sin, so that she may help us to avoid sin and to have frequent recourse to the sacrament of confession.”
According to recent surveys, millions of Catholics in the United States need to rediscover the sacrament’s value and importance.
A February 2008 survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that only 61% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly go to confession once a year or more. For Catholics who attend Mass less than once a week but at least monthly, the figure is even lower (37%). Only 8% of Catholics who go to Mass infrequently have been to confession in the past year.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in No. 1468, teaches that “for those who receive the sacrament of penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation. Indeed the sacrament of reconciliation with God brings about a true ‘spiritual resurrection,’ restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.”
And the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in No. 305, reminds us that “each of the faithful who has reached the age of discretion is bound to confess his or her mortal sins at least once a year and always before receiving holy Communion.”
Bruschi said the idea for 24 Hours of Confession came from a Wall Street Journal article that mentioned 24 Hours of Grace, a similar 2007 initiative in seven Chicago parishes.
Another 2007 initiative — “The Light Is on for You,” sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington — is also bearing fruit nationwide. In 2007 and 2008, all 140 Washington parishes held confessions from 7 to 8:30 on Wednesday evenings.
“We found if you invite, people will come, especially if you make it easy and make them feel welcome,” said archdiocesan director of communications Susan Gibbs. “We ran ads on over 300 bus and subway cars, put up a giant billboard, ran radio ads, and printed 100,000 guides to confession in English and Spanish,” she recalls. This Lent, the archdiocese is embarking on a major campaign to invite inactive Catholics back to the Church.
Using television, radio, bus, billboard and print advertising, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien launched “The Light Is on for You” initiative in Baltimore to encourage Catholics to return to the sacrament, with all parishes holding confessions on Wednesday evenings.
“Archbishop O’Brien has observed the declining numbers of Catholics participating in the sacrament of reconciliation and wanted a vehicle that would promote the benefits of the sacrament and the restoration of what Pope John Paul II called ‘Eucharistic awe,’” said archdiocesan communication director Sean Caine. “The archbishop observed the success of this particular campaign in the Archdiocese of Washington and thought it would be a good model to replicate in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”
Other dioceses also launched Lenten confession campaigns similar to Washington’s.
In Philadelphia, for the second consecutive year, Cardinal Justin Rigali asked priests of all 269 parishes to hear confessions every Wednesday evening during Lent.
The Diocese of Paterson, N.J., held confessions in all of its parishes on Monday evenings in March as part of its “Welcome Home to Healing” initiative. Likewise, in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., the sacrament of reconciliation was available in all parishes every Tuesday evening in Lent as part of the Lenten Confession Campaign 2009.
Saturdays — when confessions are typically scheduled — “are often the times that families are busy with errands, shopping and sports,” said Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson. After some of his priests successfully introduced weekday confession schedules, “I thought it might be worthwhile trying new ideas. With a priest available in every parish on the same day at the same hour and a half during Lent, not only is the sacrament more available, but there is a strong witness given by the priests themselves that this sacrament is important.”
“This gift given to the Church by Jesus cannot be repeated anywhere else,” added Bishop Serratelli, who chairs the Committee on Divine Worship of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Those who bypass or avoid this sacrament miss out on the graces and healing that God offers us in the sacrament instituted by Christ.”
Like the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Dioceses of Paterson and Bridgeport have promoted confession through extensive advertising campaigns. In Bridgeport, 40,000 prayer cards were distributed a month before Lent so that parishioners could pray for the Lenten initiative’s success.
“Without prayer, no plan bears fruit,” said Bridgeport Bishop William Lori. “The diocese has also distributed 100,000 pamphlets which provide an examination of conscience and step-by-step instructions on how to go to confession.”
Other dioceses have placed special emphasis on confession this Lent. On April 3 and 4, 21 Orlando parishes hosted a Reconciliation Weekend; confessions were heard for eight hours. Since 2000, all of the parishes of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., have held Reconciliation Monday for six hours on the Monday of Holy Week. The Diocese of Arlington launched “Come Back to Me With All Your Heart,” a campaign to encourage Catholics to go to confession.
In addition, “especially during the season of Lent, parishes have started to give more attention to this,” said Msgr. Anthony Sherman, executive director of the bishops’ conference Secretariat of Divine Worship. “In some instances, despite the smaller number of priests, an extended period of time has been offered to people to come to celebrate the sacrament.”
Bishop Lori said that he hopes his campaign will lead to “the rediscovery of the mercy of God in the lives of thousands of people. For some, this rediscovery will lead back to the Church and her sacramental life. For others, it will be a reinvigoration of their Christian life of faith, worship, morality and prayer.”
As he promotes confession in Manhattan, Mario Bruschi recalled that his own Christian life has been reinvigorated time and time again by the sacrament: “Whenever I felt lost, I would always seek confession from the Jesuit priests at my high school in New York City, Regis High School. And they were always available for us, even if they were rushing to a class or a meeting.”
“A couple of years ago,” he added, “I went on a retreat hosted by the Legionaries of Christ, and I made a general confession there that really had an effect on me. I felt renewed after that confession, but I also felt dedicated to avoid these sins in the future. I know Christ is there in that confessional box.”
Jeff Ziegler writes from
Ellenboro, North Carolina.
1. Penance is the only sacrament Christ instituted …
A. In Jerusalem.
B. After the Resurrection.
C. In the Upper Room.
2.Catholics are required to confess their serious sins … Catechism, No. 1457
A. Once a year.
B. Before getting married.
C. Only before first Communion.
3.For the sacrament of reconciliation, you must:
A. Confess all mortal sins to a priest.
B. Be truly sorry and do penance.
C. All of the above.
4.The rule that you must confess serious sins before receiving Communion ...
A. ... ended during Vatican II.
B. ... was strongly reaffirmed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
C. ... doesn’t matter if you’re really sorry.
Answers: 1, B; 2, A; 3, C; 4, B