After 12 years of celebrating the third rite of reconciliation with up to 600 people attending the ceremony every Advent and Lent, St Joseph’s Parish, New Plymouth, has had its permission for this practice withdrawn. The parish is now appealing to the church to have permission to hold this rite reinstated.
The parish became interested in using the third rite, which includes general confession and absolution, at the end of 1996 when the parish was studying the New Zealand National Liturgy Commission’s Programme ‘Exploring the Liturgy’, Module Four—Reconciling and Anointing.
For 12 years, our parish has celebrated services involving General Absolution. It now seems this should not have been happening. But because our experience during every Advent and Lent over those years has been so positive, we would like to share our experience with readers, in the hope that this practice could happen.z
We have always followed the ceremony as it is given to us in the Book of Rites of the Catholic Church: gathering song, opening prayer, readings, examination of conscience, recital of the prayer, ‘I confess’, Our Father, an invitation for people to stand to indicate that they are confessing their sinfulness, the prayer of Absolution particular to the Third Rite, sign of peace, thanksgiving prayer, thanksgiving hymn and final blessing.
Until a couple of years ago we invited people to come forward to have hands laid on their heads as a sign of the forgiveness and the healing they had received through the prayer of Absolution—most accepted.
As part of the catechesis we have usually reminded people that the wisdom of the church is that grave sins need to be confessed, those who are in such a state need to go to First Rite or Second Rite rather than the Third Rite. I personally think that some better thinkers than I need to apply their learning to this wisdom.
One of the benefits of this celebration is the use of an extended Examination of Conscience. I believe that this has widened considerably our understanding of what sin is and helps us to know what we need to be sorry for.
Another blessing is that it has gathered people from all corners of our pastoral area. It has widened our horizons a little and helped us to see that we can cooperate and worship together, and that distance is not a factor if we really want to participate in something.
Our practice has always been to give people the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the most appropriate way for them. At St Joseph’s we celebrate about six hours of First Rite before Easter and Christmas, and on every Saturday of the year usually up to five people come to the First Rite.
We normally have a Second Rite the week following the Third Rite, usually attended by 50 to 80. As well, we have a Second Rite in our two larger outlying towns.
We use the Second Rite as the celebration within which children make their First Reconciliation and also as part of our young people’s (age 15 and above) preparation for Confirmation. These celebrations work well.
The power of God’s forgiving and healing love is obviously experienced. The abundance of God’s mercy is felt and celebrated. We also see that God has forgiven everybody else (for whatever they have done). This way of celebrating the sacrament is giving Jesus an opportunity to touch more people’s lives. The possibility of abuse is far outweighed by the benefits as is the case with all the sacraments.
After our experience we cannot understand why this form of the celebration is not more readily offered and we have some questions that express our doubt about the church’s current discipline regarding Rite Three.
In restricting the sacrament to the ways specified in law are we adequately reflecting the lavishness of God’s mercy?
In restricting the sacrament in the ways specified are we denying the faith experience of good Catholic people who appreciate Rite Three? Is the Holy Spirit, through the faith of the people of North Taranaki, challenging the discipline of the church?
In our area people have shown an overwhelming preference for Rite Three. They have access to Rites One and Two. Can this preference be accounted for simply as a way of avoiding individual confession?
Many more people have experienced the sacrament through these prayerful and penitential services. Should they be denied access to this sacrament because individual confession is required for those who have serious sins to confess?
Are we justified in not making Rite Three available when, from our admittedly limited experience, we know that this is the only contact with the sacrament many will have? As well it is possibly the path to Rites One and Two.