August 27, 2009

Endings in Confession

Ever since I've been a Catholic--minus the seven days in between my baptism and first confession--I've found the end of confessions awkward. After a priest prayed the absolution, I would respond with "Amen" and then various things might happen. The priest might say any number of things or nothing at all. If he said something, it would usually be "go in peace," to which I would respond, "Thanks be to God." But he might also say "Have a nice weekend," "Take it easy," or something like that. If the priest didn't say anything after my "Amen," I would say, "Thank you, Father."

Because of all this I was very pleased when I took the confessions course and learned what was really supposed to happen.

After the penitent responds to the absolution with "Amen," the priest is supposed to say, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good," to which the reconciled penitent responds, "His mercy endures forever."

Then the priest dismisses the penitent with one of several formulas, the first of which is, "The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace."

Now I'm willing to bet that the majority of readers have never experienced this. I never experienced it myself before I was ordained. Also, my experience as a confessor is that a large portion of penitents start to get up as soon as the absolution formula is done, or are already saying thank you or bless you or wishing you a good weekend.

Part of the trouble with it is that unless the penitent is a religious or a priest, they are unlikely to produce the response, "His mercy endures forever" naturally.

This brings me to my newest confessor. After I respond to the absolution with "Amen" he continues: May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, the good you have done and any suffering you have endured be cause for the remission of your sins, the increase in grace, and eternal reward. Amen.

Right away I thought, 'this is pretty cool,' and I wondered where this encouraging formula had come from. A quick trip to my Roman Ritual revealed that this ending is my confessor's version of the post-absolution prayer for the old Rite of Penance: Pássio Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, mérita beátae Maríae Vírginis, et ómnium Sanctórum, quidquid boni féceris, et mali sustinúeris, sint tibi in remissiónem peccatórum, augméntum grátiae, et praémium vitae aetérnae. Amen.

Looking back at my copy of the Rite of Penance (which is out of print and very hard to find; how telling is that?) I was surprised to see that a version of this prayer is preserved in the current rite as well, as one of the choices for the priest after the verse "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" and the response, "His mercy endures forever." In the current American English translation of the rite it goes like this: May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ , the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you do and suffering you endure, heal your sins, help you to grow in holiness, and reward you with eternal life. Go in peace.

I like it and I'm thinking of starting to use it myself.


Matt said...

My confessions have always ended differently and some of them have even started differently. In most cases, I did not speak first but rather the priest did, who began by saying a short prayer after which I would say "Forgive me Father..." and oftentimes, especially with the Atonement Friars, there was an absolution and a friendly farewell or, one that I liked, "The Peace of the Lord be with you," to which I always responded, "And also with you, Father. Thank you." It underscored that sense of peace that usually accompanies a confession, which I liked, but the rubrics have never been the same, each priest I went to as a confessor did it differently. But I noticed most of the people going to confession were Spanish-speaking and probably can't understand the Rite in it's entirety anyway.

Brother Charles said...

The Spanish ritual that contains the rite of penance is one the most used gifts I have ever received from another friar. There is a permanent marker on the absolution formula. I should develop a course, "Spanish for confessors."

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I recently started to compare the E.F. and O.F. rites for the Sacrament of Penance. I noticed in the Roman Ritual the presence of that prayer invoking the merits of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, etc., and I wondered why such a "communal" type of prayer would have been removed from the modern rite... also, why such a beautiful prayer would be so easily discarded simply because it comes AFTER the moment of absolution. Imagine my joy at seeing that indulgenced prayer showing up in the Rite of Confession in the O.F.!

Here's what the English introduction to the Rite of Penance in the Roman Ritual says about this particular prayer:

Moreover, when it comes to satisfaction for sin, the Church prays in the rite for confession: "May the passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, and all the good you do and the suffering you endure, gain for you the remission of your sins, increase of grace, and the reward of everlasting life." Herein lies a wealth of teaching and a world of consolation. Christ our head has made satisfaction for all our iniquity by His atoning sacrifice. Left to ourselves we would be powerless to do anything of the kind. Therefore, every penance that we perform by way of expiation and every cross we endure, all are meritorious only because they receive consecration from being drawn into the all-redeeming and all-satisfying, yes, the superabundant sacrament of God's condescension to us. And more -- Christ and the penitent are supported in the expiatory act rendered to the Almighty by the entire communion of saints, the merits won for the penitent by the Mother of the Redeemer and all His faithful members triumphant in heaven, militant on earth, and suffering in purgatory.

Brother Charles said...

I agree, Jeffrey, it's a very beautiful prayer, which is why I was happy to see that a version of it is included as an option in the modern rite.

Rachel Gray said...

I went to confession in the old rite a few months ago and at the end I was absolved in Latin and then heard in English that same formula that your newest confessor said to you. I had the same response: "Cool!"

Anonymous said...

I actually have experienced the proper dismissal from a few priests (though I never knew it was proper, I just figured it was their own way of doing it), two that I can think of, and maybe a third, but it is very rare.

Brother Charles said...

Happy Feast Day, Brother!

Karinann said...

Br. Charles,
My regular confessor who was one of our parish priests until his transfer a year ago always ended confessions with the "Give thanks to the Lord..." I guess because I was familiar with the psalm that it comes from I knew how to respond. I like the "By the Passion..." prayer-wish more priests knew about it.
Thanks for sharing this and God Bless!