Thursday, December 20, 2007

Question for priests & rubricists...

Is it licit to combine a penance service and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament?

I have been thinking about how to make a penance service more meaningful and more attractive to parishioners. We just had ours, and while it went well, I thought. I mean, the music was simple but appropriate, we heard the Gospel proclaimed, the parochial vicar gave a very good homily, people were given good instruction in the sacrament, and many people said they found it meaningful. Yet, only about 150 people came, as opposed to 1200 who attend Mass weekly. That invites reflection: what might we do differently?

So I wondered about doing the following:

Have Exposition beginning about an hour before, with a period of silent adoration; then, at 7 pm, all the priests would enter, we would have a reading from Scripture, and a homily, and preparation for confession, as the priests then went to their "stations" around church. We would hear confessions while silent adoration continued--or, we might find it better to have instrumental music played (this is practical because so that nothing of anyones confession is even slightly heard).

Then conclude with Benediction.

Now, I have two questions: Is this licit? Even if it is, is it desirable?

I can find nothing in either the Rite of Penance or the Ritual for Exposition. Yet it often happens, and Father McNamara, who answers liturgical questions at Zenit, seems to think its okay. I am thinking about this for Lent.

Update: Some may find this a scrupulous question. However, so many of us have had our fill of priests who substitute their own judgment for that of bishops or the Church as a whole, and I can hardly complain when someone goes off this way in taking liberties with the rubrics, and then I do the same, but off in a different question.


Anonymous said...

While I am not an expert on the Rites of the Church and will not pretend to be, I can say that I definitely would prefer this form of penance service! At my parish, our penance services are often attended by 8th grade religion classes who are forced to come and make a joke of it. Having the exposed Blessed Sacrament would (hopefully, at least) essentially eliminate the chatter, thus allowing those of us who feel the need to examine our conscience to do so in peace and with the direct guidance of our Lord! If we are going on preferences, and the Rites allow for it, I would say, go for it!

the Joneses said...

I'm not a canon lawyer (heck, I'm not even Catholic), so I can't answer the first one.

On the second, though, I would rate it as "highly desirable." If I understand correctly, the Eastern Orthodox do confession before an icon of Christ. I think that everything we can do to remind us of (1) the effect of our sins on Jesus and (2) the wonderful salvation He has won for us is beneficial.

At a retreat I went on recently, we did the type of service you are talking about, and I thought it was an excellent combination.

Dn. Darren Jones
Charismatic Episcopal Church

Anonymous said...

I don't see why Form Two cannot be combined with Exposition. That seems entirely reasonable and it would underline the connection between the Eucharist and sacrament of penance.

Anonymous said...

In downtown Dayton at Emmanuel parish, they have a fantastic Tuesday night service that includes exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, reconciliation, reception of the Eucharist, and a Miraculous Medal novena. It is 1 hour long and is generally well attended throughout the year (by people from all over the area), but especially during Advent and Lent. There's enought Latin in the service to require cheat sheets -- the whole thing is pretty cool.

Even my 18 and 9 year old love this service.

I'm sure that Fr. Lee could help with the licit part of the question, but I hope this helps as to the desirability part.

Rich Leonardi said...

You had 150 penitents? We had a third of that and are a parish probably three times as large as yours.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

I don't know if it's OK or not, but it sure would help promote an atmosphere of reverence in the church. I tend to avoid "penance services" because they turn into "chitchat festivals" with your friends and neighbors all too easily. But if the Eucharist were front and center, what a reminder that would be--for reverence, and also about Who is really doing the forgiving of sins.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox -

The only explicit prohibition I can find in the Ceremonial of Bishops or Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite is against Exposition during the Mass. Indeed there are specific provisions for other Liturgies, such as Vespers, to take place during an Exposition.

During the Ministry to the Sick at Home the Pyx is placed on the corporal and there is a period of silent adoration prior to the adminstering of the sacrament of Penance, which is then followed by Communion.

By inference I would presume that Christ can be physically present at any time outside the Mass and would be most appropriately so during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Anonymous said...

You say you have 150 show up for penance service? I think that is great! But, just from the penitent side of thing..
1. Some may be visiting nearby parishes for confession
2. Some may still not know about the abundant graces you receive from regular confession.
3. (and this really irritates me) Some are discourged by others b/c if they do not have MORTAL sins they are not required to go to confession BUT they never are told how the sacrament helps you to stay out of mortal sin and to become more aware of sin in your life.

Where we are, I would not want Eucharistic Adoration b/c of all the children and their talking (and older adults as well). We are not in the same state as you are in. But if you do decide to do this, I await to see how it goes and how you preped everyone.

Anonymous said...

Several things come to mind when I read your post.

First of all, 150 is not bad these days in America.

Second, 150 out of 1200 is still terrible from an historic perspective, which, unlike most priests in America, you wisely acknowledge. But do you really think the absence of 1000 people is because the penitential liturgy you offer is wanting?

This isn't being snarky, but when a man covered in manure for weeks refuses to go in and take a bath, it isn't because he doesn't prefer the frangrance in the bath oils. The man has a serious problem.

Modern American's don't go to confession because a) they don't realize their feet are dirty, or b) they don't think they need to let the master of the house wash them before they sit down at his table and eat with him.

People aren't taught, with lots of routine examples, to take every thought and motivation captive for examination. Scrupulosity is not our problem in modern Catholic America--indifference, apathy, and presumption are our problem. Half the people think "gravity" means someone's physical life had to have been endangered, the other half think you're talking about falling bodies.

People need specific examples of where temptation turns into venial sin and where venial sin becomes mortal. In more than a decade of homilies and teaching moments, I've never heard teaching on that from a priest. A couple discussions in a home group or a Bible study, people never treat those discussions with authority unless a priest is talking.

I think it's a function of ignorance and several generations of terrible catechesis rather than not feeling the penitential experience was meaningful.

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether it's licit, but I appreciate your concern. As for being desirable, I have mixed emotions. Exposing the Blessed Sacrament seems to be desirable, but I don't know that it ensures that people will be more reverent. In my parish, people generally seem to be somewhat oblivious to the Real Presence. Once I complained to the bishop about the liturgical "environment" committee using the altar as a tool bench; he said, "I'm just relieved that they don't use the tabernacle as a stepping stool."
I believe penance services encourage people NOT to go to confession regularly, and I avoid them.

mbyrne said...

I have no idea of the answer, but I do know that recently discovering Eucharistic Adoration has had a profound positive influence on my own faith. The same seems to be true for the other people who attend Adoration at my parish. If anything can break through the clutter and reinforce appreciation for the Real Presence, that is it. It seems to me that a desire for confession easily follows from that appreciation.

Anonymous said...

Don't know the answer..but i sure could do with Confession!

Anonymous said...

I generally go to Confession about every 4-6 weeks and since that fell right at the beginning of Advent I didn't see any point in waiting for the round of penance services. It was just better to stick with what is already working fairly well spiritually for me.

That there was the benefit of beating the rush on the confessional was a bonus.

Fr. Ed said...

Well, good Father, you asked an opinion, and as you well know, when asked, I do love to give one (and even when not asked!)

While I can't speak authoritatively on canons and such, my liturgical sense would lean against it. While your aim is commendable, I think you are mixing two types of prayer that don't coordinate well. Exposition ought to be a time when a reverent silence can be maintained. A penance service, by nature, is not as reflective. Why? People naturally need to be moving around--getting to various priests, waiting in line, seeking direction from ushers/hospitality. So much moving around doesn't help much with the mediation people seek in adoration.

I wonder if doing a real penance service as the books have them would help. That is, a service that is only meant to arouse in us a sense of compunction for our sins (sometimes even an awareness of our sins). All of this WITHOUT sacramental confession. Perhaps here you could have exposition, but not when sacramental confession is part of the prayer. Does any of this make sense?

Interesting thought, however.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Father Ed:

Thanks for your comments. You make good points.

As far as a penance service without sacramental confessions you know if anyone who has actually done this successfully?

Candidly, I really wonder how many people would come for that.

Anonymous said...

Father, I love the fact that you are searching because it shows that you care about your flock. It also made me once again look at why I do not go to confession. I think having a priest who is trying to bring a focus to the sacrament would help some, but blaming others is an easy route. I love your idea of having adoration and benediction as part of an hour long service makes sense. Maybe the answer lies in the fact that my going would entail taking up most of the hour to begin to list my sins and that would leave out the other 149. Maybe the answer lies in the fact that each time I would go, I would list the same sins. Paul and a thorn in his heal, I am covered with them and fear some I really have not yet begun to detest. It would be interesting to see you post the most common reasons you think the flock do not go and your response.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ed,
So, during the Pennance Service, when they become convicted of their sin, where do they go?

You may need to go to confession at another time if you have not gone in awhile. But, do you think the rest of us are not struggling with some things, thorns, they we want to overcome? The only difference between those in hell and those in heaven is the ones in hell gave up; the ones in heaven keep trying. Don't stop.

Fr. Ed said...

Fr. Martin...true, it is rarely done this way. Of course, that alone isn't a good reason to pass on something new.

Annonymouse: They go to confession at a regular time, or make an appointment with a confessor.

Anonymous said...

I guess that is the issue with me. the last time I went was to our parish priest after making an appointment. Since I had the appointment, it was obviously not a hidden confession. This for me was very uncomfortable since I also had several meetings a week with this same priest on a variety of other issues. He was very good about it, but I have not been since. One would think you could have a major confession and then be cleansed to go regularly unless one finds that the sins so continue that they are there by the end of the week.

So it is either make an appointment or not go unless one would take up all the time for others. I once went to a priest at a church in downtown Cincinnati who had no questions, but just kind of hurried me along. In that case, I would suppose one could easily take 5 minutes or so. So I try and simply talk it over with God. Since it sounds like there is no solution, I am hopefully letting God work on this with me.

Fr. Ron Williams said...

Fr. Ed makes the suggestion, "I wonder if doing a real penance service as the books have them would help. That is, a service that is only meant to arouse in us a sense of compunction for our sins (sometimes even an awareness of our sins). All of this WITHOUT sacramental confession."

Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the ordained priest is able to dispense Christ's power of absolution to the repentant sinner. That is why sacramental confession has long been regarded as a sacrament of healing. It doesn't make sense, therefore, to invite a crowd of people to arouse within them a sense of sin and then deny them the absolution they need for those sins. That would be akin to a doctor gathering together a group of sick person to arouse within them a sense of their pain and suffering and then deny them the opportunity to treat or heal them of their sickness.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of thought put into this suggestion other than to dare someone to try something new. Why is it so attractive to do something new in the first place? It's far better for us priests to stick to the program and help prepare people for the coming of Jesus Christ through the celebration of the sacraments.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,
FWIW, I agree with Fr. Williams. Having a penance service without sacramental confession would be wrong. In fact, to me the idea smells of the general absolution/ psuedo sacrament stunts from the days of Bernardin.

Fr. Zuhlsdorf's suggestion makes perfect sense.

Tim Langenderfer

Fr. Kelly said...

Fr. Kelly says:

Fr. Fox's original question is laudable, and I think Fr. Zuhlsdorf has given a good viable answer to it. Form two ie Reconciliation of several penitents with individual confession and absolution can be very well carried on in the presence the Blessed Sacrament exposed, as long as care is taken that Our Lord is never left unattended (in the case that confessions are held in another place). Concluding with Benediction at a reasonable time which was announced beforehand would be good, so that it does not become an unreasonable burden on those who are waiting for benediction. This will show your people that you are yourself believe in the personal invitation each one of us receives from Christ to be reconciled to His Mercy. Indeed, isn't this why our confessionals are almost always in the church building with the tabernacle?

I don't know which "books" Fr. Ed is referring to when he suggests a penance service without sacramental reconciliation. The Church publishes no such book. In fact, such a suggestion goes against all sound penitential advice. We are advised against making a thorough examination of conscience when we are not on the way to confession, as it can do significant spiritual harm to do so. The daily examen is a much more cursory thing than the examination to be made before confession.
Fr. Ed seems to want to claim some level of authority behind his suggestion by referring to "the books", but I would suggest that he look again at The Rite of Penance before making such a suggestion. Even the third form which is only to be used in real cases of necessity includes general reconciliation and general absolution. The Congregation of Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has repeatedly said this form is is not to be used routinely.

In my diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, the priests do not, as a general rule, have the privilege of absolving reserved sins apart from certain times and occsions. One of the circumstances in which we _do_ have this privilege is when we are hearing confessions in conjunction with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Needless to say we are encouraged to make use of this where it is to the good of our faithful.

In sum, the authoritative books say nothing against this practice, it is entirely consistent with true Catholic practice, and it is extremely salutary in its effects.

The only warning I would give is to prepare for the confession lines to grow even longer. What a great problem to have!

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your feedback.

In fairness to Fr. Ed, if you look at the Introduction to the Rite of Penance, nn. 36 and 37, you will find described just what he referred to: a "penitential celebration" that does not include the sacrament of confession.

Adoro said... first response is to Father...I like your idea. In my parish, the confessionals are in the Adoration Chapel, which is also used for Daily Mass. I have often been convicted of certain faults while standing in line, facing the Blessed Sacrament. Granted, this is not in the context of a Benediction, and I'll even go so far to say that some of my Adoration is spent in a church with Jesus hidden in the Tabernacle. But you will NEVER hear me say that the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is a bad thing!

Joe ~ I really feel I MUST speak to you, because some of what you're saying is exactly what kept me away from Confession. It sounds like you're going, here and there, even though you said that you "don't go", so I'm perhaps not clearly understanding, but just the same, I think I understand some of the issue. I've been there, albeit differently.

For the longest time, I didn't go because I was surrounded by our non-Catholic bretheren, and "confessed" only to God...but I KNEW that I had to go to Confession...Jesus himself said so, and even during the time of Jesus' own baptism, it was customary to directly confess sins in kind and number.

Part of my hangup was my lack of catechesis and protestant influence, and lackluster Catholics surrounding me.

Part of my hangup was the really twisted idea that I had to make myself holy. I thought that I had to overcome my own sins first before I could approach the sacrament. I thought that I had to dissociate myself from my sinful life before I came to Jesus....because, otherwise, in my way of thinking, I was not making a "firm purpose of amendment". I remember actually CONFESSING during that 12-year confession that I had been away for so long because I KNEW I was going to committ the same sins again. No, I didn't want to, but I knew I had to be honest, and so I told the priest that I was so imperfect that my contrition wasn't perfect. Even though that's not what I understood myself to be saying at the time.

(as an's amazing how a little theology helps one know oneself...and God...)

Anyway, the good priest explained very clearly that THIS is EXACTLY why the sacrament is needed...because we cannot save ourselves. We cannot perfect ourselves. We cannot break ourselves out of our bad habits and sinful desires. We are but dust.

I was dense, I still didn't get next confession was 3 years down the road, and I stayed away for the very same reasons...because I couldn't save myself.

Big surprise.

I'm not sure if this is your problem or not. But please understand...even if you go to a regular confession time and do so "at the expense" of another's, please understand...this is the same thing I did, because it was the ONLY WAY I could make myself go. And now that I go regularly, I'd far prefer that someone who has been away take a long time, than for the priest to hear sins that don't REQUIRE confession in order to be forgiven.

Go. Don't worry. If the Holy Spirit is drawing you to the Sacrament, OBEY! Don't worry about the others in line, and if you do, then go to the end of the line so as to be able to spend time in confession.

You have a right to anonymous confession. I do recommend an appointment as spiritually it has greater benefit and is much greater cause for humility...and my 12 year confession could have been better had I made an appt. versus going during a penance service.

God bless you as you struggle through this.

Fr. Ron Williams said...

Fr. Martin, the citations you mentioned from the Rite of Penance also say, "[these kinds of] penitential celebrations...are very useful in places where no priest is available to give sacramental absolution." (#37) This does not apply to Piqua, where currently there are three priests available in the city and many more in nearby areas.

I stand by my earlier commitment that for a priest to arouse a sense of sin within a group of people and then deny them the opportunity for sacramental absolution would be akin to a doctor arousing a sense of pain and suffering within a hospital full of sick people and then deny them treatment or healing. Perhaps if the number of priestly vocations were to continue to decline to the point where you are the only priest in what is now the Sydney deanery, then that would be a different story.

The benefit of a penance service, as we currently celebrate them, is to arouse within a group of penitents a sense of their sin and repentance, and then give them the opportunity for sacramental confession and absolution.

Fr PF said...

Here at Saint Mungo's, Glasgow (, we have been having Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during our Christmas and Holy Week Penance services since Christmas 1982. We expose the Blessed Sacrament after the homily, before the examination of conscience, and while individual confessions are being heard, we encourage those who are waiting or have already been to confession to pray for the other people present that the grace of the Sacrament will touch their hearts. There is always a prayerful atmosphere during the confessions and everyone stays until the end when we conclude with Benediction.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Fr Ron:

I understand, and I am not advocating the idea; but Brendan seemed to think Fr. Ed was inventing this idea of a penance service sans confession. He was not.

FY(or others')I, the Ritual also suggested these could be used, by priests, for catechumens.

My suspicion is that if I held such a service, one of two things would happen: (a) few would come, because there's no confession, and/or (b) those who did come would expect confession and be confused that it wasn't available.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox-

An equally likely outcome will be people who leave the service believing that, because it was after all a penance service, they have been absolved.

If Lincoln and Glasgow can have confessions during Exposition, why not Piqua!?