NB. Archbishop Aymond has asked that we preach on the Penitential Rite this Sunday.
4th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
told by old-timers in the Church that sermons used to be all about
sin, the need for repentance, and the fires of hell for those who
don't repent in time. They tell me that it was pretty much “repent
or burn in hell” every Sunday. Sunday after Sunday. The faith
itself was all about the law, rules/regulations, the legal minutiae
of what counts as a sin and just far you could go before you
committed a sin. They say the Church was sort of like an accounting
firm doing a sin audit. Sometime after the VC2 all that changed and
sin seemed to just disappear overnight. Now it's all about love and
mercy and forgiveness and just being nice to everybody. Homilies
nowadays (I'm told) are mostly diabetes-inducing Hallmark cards; or,
partisan political ads; or, slick bureaucratic HR Dept memos. Pre-VC2
sermons may have ignored mercy. And post-VC2 homilies may ignore sin.
But the truth of the faith is that both sin and mercy are realities.
Sin and mercy are really-real in this world we live in. To forget one
in favor of the other is to cripple the faith and leave ourselves
open to being co-opted by the darkening spirits that want to ruin us.
So, how do we acknowledge the realities of sin and mercy?
we notice, name, and number our sins. For our mortal or more serious
sins, we have the sacrament of confession, of reconciliation. We go
to confession to receive the mercy God has always, already given us.
We name and number our sins. Make an act of contrition. Listen to our
penance. And then receive absolution from the priest. For our venial
or less serious sins, we have the Penitential Rite of the Mass. At
the beginning of every Mass – after the greeting – we are
prompted to acknowledge our sins so that we may prepare ourselves to
celebrate the sacred mysteries – the rites of the Mass. NB. we no
longer simply “call to mind” our sins; we acknowledge
our sins as sins.
We acknowledge, confess, recognize that even in small ways we have
been disobedient to God. All this is done in the silence of one's
heart, alone with God. We allow Him to show us how we have failed;
how we have lost contact with Him; how we've stepped off the Way and
lived a lie. We ask Him to shine His light into our darkest corners
and reveal the truth of our waywardness. Once these sins have been
brought to the light privately, we can confess them publicly and
receive our absolution.
next step is the Confiteor, the act of contrition. We confess to God
and to one another, the Church, that we have sinned. Confessing to
God seems like an obvious step, but confessing “to you, my brothers
and sisters” may seem less obvious. We confess to one another b/c
every sin – large and small alike – damages the Church. We are
all members of one Body. Every sin damages the Body and needs to be
healed so that the Body as a whole may be healed. We confess that we
have sinned in our thoughts and in our words and in what we have done
and left undone. Sins we've committed and good deeds we've failed to
do. The next part of the Confiteor is vital. Mea culpa, mea culpa,
maxima mea culpa! Why vital? B/c
we live in a world where taking personal responsibility for bad acts
is seen as a dumb move, a rookie mistake, something no one in their
right mind does. Blame society, parenting, junk food, genetics; blame
anyone or anything but the bad actor. My sin is my fault, my fault,
my most grievous fault. And your sin is your fault. We have to
confess this if we hope to be healed. Sin is deliberately chosen. We
do not sin in ignorance or by accident. So, if it's a sin, it's
chosen. Deliberately picked. And the one doing the choosing is at
fault. The one at fault needs to be healed.
b/c I need to be healed, I ask you, my brothers and sisters, the BVM,
all the angels and saints to pray for me. IOW, I've sinned against
the whole of the Church, so my healing will come with the prayers of
the whole Church. Once we've acknowledged our sins, admitted our
fault, asked for the prayers of the Church, the priest prays the
prayer of absolution: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive
us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” NB. the prayer uses
“us” not “you.” Even the priest needs this absolution. Now,
we are absolved and ready to celebrate the sacred mysteries. But
first we ask God for His mercy. Not b/c He needs us to ask. But b/c
we need to ask. In humility and with praise and thanksgiving, we need
to ask: Lord,
mercy! Lord, have mercy!
The Penitential Rite of the Mass shows us the proper way to
understand sin and mercy. Both are real. Both are part of who and
what we are in this world. Sin separates us from God, and His mercy
brings us back. Sin is deliberately chosen, and mercy humbly
requested. Sin wounds the Body, and mercy heals all wounds. All of
us, me included, sin and all of us live in the mercy of Christ.
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