I spent the morning hearing confessions (along with two other priests) from our third, fourth and fifth-graders. Hoped to get to sixth-graders, but ran out of time, so we'll get them, with junior high, next week.
In a few, I'll hear confessions before evening Mass, then a weekly Bible study.
Here are some thoughts...
* It is...well, let's say "odd" since I can't come up with a better word--to have people confess my own sins to me. Maybe it's just me, or maybe God is sending me a message; effect is the same: it is humbling, and it challenges me to repent.
* Part of the value of bringing children to confession is so they become accustomed to examining their lives, and to recognizing sin as sin, and having discernment about it. The idea that young children don't have sin to confess is absurd. Oh, I am not saying they have mortal sin, only God can read souls. But if you think second- and third-graders don't have sin, what planet do you live on? I was talking to a 3rd-grade teacher last night, about today, and she said, "some of them said, 'but we did that last year!'" I said, if they have any problems coming up with sins to confess, I bet you can help them! She laughed, as did the others at the table; Sister said, "that's what my mother always said to me!"
Another part of it, of course, is so they learn the form. Some will say, the form doesn't matter. And, on one level, that's right. I can help anyone go to confession. But learning the form, and getting it down pat, is valuable because then the penitent can focus energy on the really important stuff: the self-examination. A lot of people use, "I don't remember how" as an excuse not to go, and months become years. Also, a certain rigor of practice contributes to a certain rigor of thought; i.e., it helps people organize their thinking, and that helps their spiritual growth.
* I told the kids, with the sacraments, we think about what God gives us; but did you notice how, in this sacrament, its important that we give Jesus something? And did you notice what we're supposed to give him? Our sins! And, incredible as it seems, he actually wants them! Because he knows how they weigh us down, and he wants to get rid of them for us. I also told them the confessional is "the garbage dump"--we get rid of our spiritual garbage. So I led them in a simple examination of conscience, and I said, we feel sorry for sin, we feel bad about it; that's appropriate. But in a moment, when we let Jesus take all our garbage, we will feel great! So before confessions, we said the Act of Contrition together, kneeling; after, we said a Hail Mary and Glory Be together, expressing our thanks and joy.
(For all you liturgy purists, let me know what you think of this. I also lit the Easter Candle, and asked the kids about that. My dialogue with them led them to see the connection with Baptism, and how Penance is about re-gaining that same purity.)
* There's a good reason for using rhythm in speech (and hence, song).
One of the odd things I notice in this sacrament is that the words of absolution seem kind of long; particularly for children; and I wonder if their eyes glaze over.
Today, it dawned on me; what if I said them with a certain rhythm, with emphasis rising and falling? Maybe it would help the children attend to certain words and images. That's when it dawned on me: that's precisely what we do when we chant prayers; that rising and falling, rising and falling, creates a pleasing cadence, along with the varying notes, and the varying lengths of the notes, to create variety but also something familiar, and keeps a long string of words from being monotonous (which they easily can be when spoken--which is precisely how we've become accustomed to hearing almost all our prayers offered!
No, I am not planning to chant absolution! But borrowing this tool from the practice of chant could be helpful, and it may shed light on the genius at work in this ancient form of prayer.