You may have heard there are changes coming to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The changes will be mandatory as of Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls on April 16th this year (2023). (The changes were optional as of Ash Wednesday this year so some of you may have already experienced the changes).
When one hears of changes in the way we do something in church, one’s thoughts might go back to 2011 when we implanted the latest translations of the Mass. There were a lot of changes then. We had to let go of being able to say the old translations without having to think about it and learn the new translations. It caused some angst but over time we learned the new translations.
The current changes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation are much smaller. In fact, you might not even notice the changes. There is nothing changing about how we go to confession. It is only wording that is changing and even that is minimal.
The suggested Act of Contrition(s) (there is more than one Act of Contrition provided in the rite) are changing some. Add to that that the rite says, referring to the Act of Contrition, “which the penitent may do in these or similar words.” So, unless your parish/diocese mandates a particular Act of Contrition, if you have an Act of Contrition memorized, you can continue to use the same Act of Contrition. If you don’t have one memorized, I suggest you learn one of the new ones. (For parishioners at the two parishes I serve, I will be updating the materials we have to reflect the new translations but you may continue to use what you have memorized).
The new translation of the first Act of Contrition provided in the rite goes as follows:
O my God,
I am sorry and repent with all my heart
for all the wrong I have done
and for the good I have failed to do,
because by sinning I have offended you,
who are all good and worthy to be loved above all things.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid the occasions of sin.
Through the merits of the Passion of our Savior Jesus Christ,
Lord, have mercy.
I would like to take a moment to reflect on these words. The second line includes the word “repent.” Here I think of the message offended by John the Baptist and continued by Jesus, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” When we realize we have sinned, we are called to repent, realizing that God offers something far greater to us than anything in this world to all who are pure of heart. This should motivate us to repentance.
Then, the prayer speaks of the wrong we have done. These are sins of commission. They are sins where we do something that goes against what God has commanded. These are the sins most people confess. However, we must not forget the next line, “and for the good I have failed to do.” These are sins of omission. For example, maybe we saw a person in need and chose not to help them. We omitted something we could have done (It is not a sin if we were unable to help them). When we examine our conscience, we need to ask ourselves if there are things we could have done but didn’t.
Next, in this Act of Contrition, we acknowledge that in sinning we have offended God. In sinning, we offend God because we think we know better than God. We fail to trust in God as the one who knows what is good and evil. We choose our own way or the way of the world over God’s way.
Then, we come to the part that some people wonder if they mean it when they keep committing the same sins over and over, “I firmly resolve…to sin no more.” We can desire real change but fall short. The only way we will overcome our sins is with the help of God’s grace. Even then, we fall short at times but not because God’s grace is insufficient. We fall short because we seek earthly ways over God’s ways. Do not allow the devil to weaken you in his efforts to point out that you keep committing the same sins. If you come to Sacrament of Reconciliation with a repentant heart, God will forgive you each time.
If we desire to sin no more, then we must be willing to “avoid the occasions of sin.” Just as an alcoholic should avoid bars, we need to avoid things that lead us to sin. We can’t always do this but we must try.
I encourage to reflect in prayer on whatever Act of Contrition you use. They are not just words we say. The words mean something. What do they mean to you?
The words of absolution are also changing. It is just two lines that are changing. Here is the updated prayer of absolution with the changed words bolded:
God, the Father of mercies,
through the Death and Resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace.
And I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
The priest will now say “poured out the Holy Spirit” where he used to say “sent the Holy Spirit among us.” God has not changed how He absolves us. These changes are not a change in theology. They are a sincere attempt to find the best words possible to describe what God is doing for us. When I see the word “poured” I think of two things. First, in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, the words of consecration for the wine becoming the Blood of Christ say, “which will be poured out for you,” referring to Jesus’ blood poured out for us in his Passion. Secondly, I think of how passages like John 7:37-39, speak of the Holy Spirit as living waters. In forgiving us, God pours the living waters of the Holy Spirit upon us.
The other change in the Prayer of Absolution is more subtle. We move from God giving us “pardon and peace” to God granting us “pardon and peace.” It is a small change in words but I see it as pointing more to the divine action of God. In his greatness, God chooses to grant us pardon. God does not have to forgive us. He chooses to. God grants us pardon and peace from his divine nature.
Before concluding I would like to speak briefly about how we end the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As soon as the priest finishes the words of absolution people respond “amen” and rightly so. Then, many people typically say, “Thank you father,” and leave. I understand they are thankful for the priest hearing their confession but who is it that actually forgives us? God!
There are various options given in the rite to conclude the Sacrament. I’m going to point to just one:
Priest: Give thanks to the Lord for his good.
Penitent: For his mercy endures for ever.
Priest: The Lord has forgiven your sins. Go in peace.
Never forget, it is God in his goodness, his divine life, who forgives us.