Strengths and Inadequacies of the Ritual of Forgiveness in the Roman Catholic Church: The Sacrament of Penance

In: Webbing Vicissitudes of Forgiveness

David H. Pereyra

The Church’s theology of forgiveness is situated within a vision of the world marked by disintegration and divisions. How the faithful are able to experience forgiveness depends on how they perceive the impact of sacramental reconciliation. In 1983, the Synod of Bishops developed propositions on how the Church could respond to its contemporary reconciling mission through a renewed practice of Penance and Reconciliation. Almost twenty years have passed and the number of people going to confession continues to decrease. This chapter will discuss what future, if any, the sacrament of Penance has in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. In Western culture, our relationship with the ‘transcendental other’ has always been a cause of crisis, stretching and shattering the symbols through which people struggle to express faith, forcing them to find new ones. Forgiveness and grace are not experienced directly in the sacrament, as it is celebrated. This possible lack of experienced reconciliation, together with other factors, has influenced the decline of confessions. I will analyze which ritual activities can confront this crisis. Attention will be paid to ontological, phenomenological, and cultural aspects of the ritual of reconciliation. I will look closely at the theology that flows in the celebration of the sacrament. This analysis will include a reflection on the actual experience in order to point out both strengths and inadequacies of the ritual. Question will include: How do liturgical actions help the faithful take hold of this mystery-laden myth? What kind of ritual is needed for forgiveness and reconciliation? What is the role of body language? The experience of confession is not an easy task for many believers, nevertheless, this ritual has the attraction for the faithful of being a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

Cover of the book "Webbing Vicissitudes of Forgiveness." Edited by K Bettez Halmon. Ed. Brill

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