A Good Act of Contrition

October 2009By Donald J. Malkie

Donald J. Malkie, who writes from Edgewater, Maryland, is retired after 37 years as a contract engineer with Prince George's County Department of Public Works.

During Holy Communion at a recent Sunday Mass, it dawned on me that the entire congregation in attendance, save one person, was going forward to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. There, at the front of the church, were the priest, a baldheaded man, and two women handing out the Holy Eucharist. Each parishioner, in turn, would accept the Host in his hand, put it in his mouth, and casually munch on the way back to his seat.

As I knelt observing this, my mind wandered back to my youth, growing up in St. Jerome's Parish in the small town where I was "bread and buttered," as the Irish say, in the pre-war Depression days.

Between Boy Scouts on Friday night, Saturday morning altar boy meetings, serving Mass on Sundays and holy days, weddings, and funerals, I spent quite a bit of time at St. Jerome's. Then I thought of the phrase, "state of grace." I remembered how five o'clock Saturday afternoon meant confession. After standing in a long line, I would finally enter the confessional and the priest would slide open the panel. I would then try to recall how often I had been disrespectful to or had disobeyed my parents, or when I'd lost my temper, or how many times I had taken the Lord's name in vain. Then I would receive my penance, usually three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys, and Father would say, "Now make a good act of contrition."

"Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell…."

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I see the same thing every week: long lines for Communion (often from the hands of lay people) and very short lines for confession. And it's always the same tiny handful of people standing outside the confessional. Maybe the rest of them go to confession somewhere else (I used to do that because it was more convenient), but I doubt it.

And I have never heard a homily addressing this matter.

M. L. Hearing
Posted by: mlhearing
October 14, 2009 10:50 AM EDT
Is it really a reasonable expectation, that all should be just like we? Since we each have a different portion of the faith, shouldn’t we give thanks and praise to God, that each is receiving a fill in their cup of faith, as appropriate for their particular way of being, during this particular stage in their faith journey, as ordained by God- the supreme deity who gathers and saves what has been scattered?

Didn’t Jesus meet those whom he chose, and also those before and after the time of Christ’s incarnation, where they were and as they were? In today’s 2nd reading, Romans 7:18-25, Paul tells us of his struggles with duality and his bodily imperfectness, and yet, was he not still ordained to have a cup larger than many? Jesus never sumarily dismissed his apostles because they were still imperfect while on their journeys- He loved them all the more.

Why, except through our own blindness and imperfection, does it behoove us to question the manner in which God meets the struggling yet willing where they are?

I humbly suggest that we continually pray, asking God to help us search our hearts, seeking to remove any remnants of pride, arrogance or self love; because we each desire, at some level, to grow in the faith. It is apparent that every flower in his garden is different. Who are we to imply that a violet is better than a rose or a dandelion? When is it suitable for us to judge whether or not those whom our good and merciful God has chosen as his priestly people are worthy to appear before his altar?

Yes, we should encourage one another rightly in the faith, as cooperative workers in a loving response to God’s grace. But in doing so, let us always love one another in mutual affection and anticipate one another in showing honor, because, God alone is the harvester of his magnificent and holy garden.
Posted by: SoSideCubsFan
October 23, 2009 11:59 AM EDT
ML, you bring back memories as I, too, had a similar routine and experience. (also remember the long kneeling throughout the litany of Saints during Holy Week as an altar boy).
About 3 years ago, (retirement gives us time to think - sometimes) I began to wonder if I really understood the prayers I would say. I decided that although I surely dread the loss of Heaven..., I really am sorry because I offended God and so began to say the "perfect act of contrition" I believe they used to call it - omitting the "dread ... and going straight to the because I have offended Thee etc.
Today, confession is held in my parish after the 0830 mass on Tuesday and at 3pm Saturday just before the 4pm Mass. I find the former hard to attend because I have to attend to my wife who is wheelchair bound and the latter is somewhat inconvenient because if you are not attending Mass, you will come close to the time people are coming in which I don't like. Of course, one can always call Father for an appointment.
Another interesting thing is that I still prefer the latin Mass, vestments by those on the altar during Mass etc. However, my wife, a convert and one who never experienced the latin Mass finds it hard to follow and isn't particularly warmed by that litergy. It's like being in a foreign country for those who never experienced it I guess.
Posted by: awunsch
October 24, 2009 08:42 PM EDT
SoSideCubsFan. Of course, only God knows the state of a person's soul, but though we are sinners we have to hold up objective standards of faith and morals for others as well as for ourselves. If I steal money from my employer, I have to repent, make restitution (maybe anonymously), confess my sin, receive absolution from the priest and do the penance that the priest gives me before I receive Communion, and I also have to tell others that stealing is a sin. The author did not judge anyone in particular. He just drew our attention to the undeniable fact that the sacrament of confession is not used as often as it once was but now almost all Catholics who go to Mass receive Communion. Read what St. Paul writes about receiving the body of Christ unworthily. The Didache is probably the oldest Christian writing outside of the New Testament, and it tells us to confess our sins so that our sacrifice may be pure. Posted by: macroom2
November 06, 2009 06:14 AM EST
Dear macroom2,

Amen brother, I agree with your assessment of the current day tendency towards the infrequent use of the confessional and also your Didache and New Testament references to Paul wholeheartedly. I deeply admire that John Paul II used to frequent the confessional, even up to once per day- a great example for us all.

The sentence that struck me as slightly judgmental and caused me to post is the one that follows:

"Each parishioner, in turn, would accept the Host in his hand, put it in his mouth, and casually munch on the way back to his seat."

I might ask in reflection, how does the author actually know whether one is "casually munching" as they return to their seat or what might be going on in that particular person’s heart and mind and in the state of their soul? How does he know whether they have been to confession recently or not? By looking at just one individual and allowing that thought to manifest itself upon them in his heart, he is casting a shade of personal judgment. How can he make this statement, except only by summarily dismissing a recipient’s cross and wherever that individual might be on their journey? We must trust that Jesus shepherds his flock and cares for his sheep during this lifelong journey.

I am happy to see people come to Mass. It troubles me to prayer when I hear “regulars” comment with indignation at the “Chreasters” who only out of obligation come twice a year to steal their regular place in the pew. Which of them is more in the right or wrong and who among us is to decide? When people begin to judge, especially without any PROOF, one as worthy or unworthy, maybe they might begin to set a prideful trap for themselves. (Reminds me to focus myself on the loving admonishment to “remove the log from my own eye before I remove the splinter from another’s”) Of course it would be ideal, if in this present world, everybody would express the same zeal for the faith that Paul lived out through his words and examples. But we are each unique individuals. To this end, we should constantly pray for one another that “God’s will be done” in each of us...

And yes, again, it is right to desire and encourage everyone, especially through our own example, to make frequent use of the healing sacrament of reconciliation to receive the bounty of mercy and forgiveness that Jesus is so willing to pour upon us- so all might grow in spirit and that none might receive unworthily and thereby cast judgment upon themselves. And of course we are called to admonish one another (although I tend to think we might not fully understand the proper meaning of this word at times because it must come from a place of love and charity in our hearts therby imitating Jesus; not in comparing what others do to what we might believe we do rightly from within our own ego)

We have to be careful to distinguish that a sin for one might not be a sin for another, due to their individual state… assuming that for any individual all three requirements of mortal sin might have or might not have been met to one extent or another. Frankly, we just don’t know…. So why surmise or speculate at all?

Ultimately, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who can shepherd and care for his flock far better than we could ever attempt to. We must trust that his ability to forgive is far greater than our ability to sin. I am NOT saying we should carelessly relegate ourselves to our imperfectness or otherwise not care about ours or other’s need for growth in any way- I just don’t want to be guilty of another sin as well. By submitting ourselves as cooperative branches on the vine, we must always observe, first and foremost, Jesus’ greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor. In doing this, I believe, there is no room to allow ourselves to approach the precipice of considering whether or not one is “casually munching”, worthy or unworthy.

I am, like the author who readily admits this, occasionally guilty of this one thing as well…. Looking around and watching others after we have received the Eucharist- instead of immersing myself in prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of love and hope for salvation- for myself and all of our brothers and sisters in faith.

To our greatest extent, we must live by example, teach the truths we have been taught, love, respect, honor and then trust that Jesus will blossom each flower in the garden as he sees fit, in his own time. The key to saving souls is through perfect love.
Posted by: SoSideCubsFan
November 06, 2009 12:56 PM EST
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