Some time ago I was in a parish visiting for a Lent mission and they had a penance service. I went to confession and after I made my confession I listened to a very long, rambling piece of advice from the priest. This doesn’t really appeal to me because a strange priest has no idea what my real situation is so for him to attempt counseling misses the mark. Nevertheless, when this happens I just listen patiently and thank the priest and wait for absolution.
Finally after waiting the priest said, “Go in peace.”
“Father, I’m waiting for absolution.”
“Oh. Okay. Jesus forgives you to in peace.”
“Would you please give me absolution Father?”
“I just did.”
“No. I’m sorry you didn’t. Maybe I’m being a bit fussy Father, but I really would like to hear you say the words of absolution.”
“Okay, if you insist, Go in peace and be forgiven.”
“I’m sorry Father, but those weren’t the words of absolution.”
He’s annoyed with me now. “Well what do you want me to say?”
“You could say the full words from the rite, but if you want you could just say, ‘I absolve you from your sins.”
Now much annoyed he said, “I absolve you of your sins.”
Has this happened to you? I’m curious because some friends of mine say the same thing happens to them. They are given a great long piece of advice which they don’t’ really want because they have a spiritual director for that, but then the priest doesn’t give them absolution. One friend complains that the priest says, “Jesus forgives you.” or “Remember Jesus loves you.”
While all that is very nice and true, my friend and I want to be absolved of our sins.
I make it one of my promises that I do not criticize particular priests in public. Sometimes on this blog I have slipped up and the priest has been identified. I’m sorry about this, so I will have a grumble in general terms.
There are really only two things the priest is really absolutely required for: to celebrate Mass and forgive sins through the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing. How can it be that so many of my fellow priests can’t seem to get it right? Hearing confessions well does require patience and wisdom and not a small amount of discernment and listening, but the basics aren’t that hard. The priest simply needs to listen, give a penance, hearing an act of contrition and grant absolution, and yet so many of my fellow priests can’t seem to do that.
What’s the problem? I can’t imagine that they are that incompetent therefore I think the problem is that their priesthood is dominated by a kind of liberal ideology. They don’t say the words of absolution because they either don’t believe they have the authority to or they don’t like the fact that they have the authority to forgive sins because it is somehow not very egalitarian. They are so darned scared of appearing elitist or not a man of the people that they won’t even grant the people absolution.
This, it seems to me, is a kind of false humility. It’s really arrogance. Who do they think they are that they can change the words of the reconciliation rite for shallow ideological reasons? I hear the same thing from time to time when a priest takes it on himself to change the words in the liturgy of the Mass to make them more politically correct. You’ve probably heard it too–it’s a little thing like insisting on saying “sisters and brothers” rather than “brothers and sisters” because the second form of words puts men first.
I wouldn’t mind so much except that when the faithful report it to me they are often quite upset. A person might say, “I waited thirty minutes in line for confession and then after listening to a long piece of advice father didn’t even give me absolution.” What is even more tiresome is that sometimes a convert will say, “You know father, one of the reasons I became a Catholic was for the comfort of confession and the knowledge that I was receiving objective absolution. I gave up a lot to become a Catholic and now I go to confession and the priest is either too lazy, too incompetent or too ideologically driven to even bring himself to pronounce the words of absolution.
I’d be interested to hear from readers whether this is a commonplace occurrence or whether my experience has been unusual.