Confession, Pope, and Mary as drawing cards (?)

In the NCR, John Allen has journalists’  interview with Cardinal Dolan. I found this line from Dolan interesting (thanks for the tip, Rob Mickens):

Any parish priest will tell you that when you’re working with the RCIA, one of the things that attracts new Catholics is the sacrament of penance. Another is the role of the bishop of Rome, and another is devotion to the Blessed Mother. Those three things were kind of deemphasized after the council, but those are the things that work. If you’re talking about ‘best practices,’ there you go.

Those of you in the trenches, priests and lay ministers involved in RCIA, does this ring true to your experience? Are our three big drawing cards confession, pope, and BVM??



  1. I must give this some thought. As parish secretary, pretty much everyone shows up here at some point… and I often reflect on what brings them, both in regard to how I receive them and what brings them here.

    I’m not sure that I would agree, but as I said, I have to give this some further thought – this is clearly pretty immediate. So I won’t disagree just yet!

  2. Are our three big drawing cards confession, pope, and BVM??

    Well, it’s kind of obvious in a way. Catholic distinctives are what makes Catholicism distinctive. I don’t think Cardinal Dolan’s list should be read as all inclusive.

    I became Catholic because I was persauded (long before I was persuaded that one should be a Christian) that if you were going to be a Christian, the only way to do so that made sense was in union with the Bishop of Rome.

    The attraction of the papacy is also clear in works by converts such as Vladimir Solovyov’s Russia and the Papacy.

  3. Yes, in the south where we are a minority and there is a smorgasbord of choices when it comes to Christian affiliation, I would tend to think that the things that make us unique in our faith are drawing cards, such as the emphasis on the communion of saints, the Holy Rosary, Confession, and our belief on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A great number of our inquirers learn of the Church well before making contact with us through EWTN. Because of EWTN many are praying the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet long before they make contact with the institutional Church. Ultimately, though, it’s all focused on Jesus and what they perceive to be the truths taught by the Church and our practices that diverge from the general Christian population, such as the Pope, Confession and certainly the Blessed Mother.

  4. I think what’s beautiful about the Catholic faith is the diversity of doors through which we enter and continually re-enter the faith. One woman I met with just felt a call to discover a higher purpose for her life. Another was specifically drawn to the fixed structure of the Mass. Often I find people drawn in through a connection with a specific saint, such as the Blessed Virgin, but many others as well. Still others are attracted to the church after witnessing or experiencing an act of charity by a member of the community. Sometimes it’s just as simple as a parent wanting to worship together as a family. A man I met with was drawn to the church through an experience of great suffering. So yes, the good Cardinal identifies a few of these things, but the creator of the universe uses infinite methods to reach out. All these things can and should point us towards a direct encounter with God, especially through the sacraments.

  5. Hmm, I dunno. The “drawing cards” that I’ve observed tend to be: (1) ‘the person that I’m marrying, or have married, is a person of Catholic faith, and so is his/her family, and I am attracted to this faith that so obviously nourishes and sustains him/her.’ I suppose that could mean the Blessed Mother, or the Pope, or confession. Or it could be the Eucharist, or it could be saints and angels, or work in a soup kitchen, or scholarly pursuits, or any and all of ten thousand other ways that Catholic life manifests itself. (2), a variation on (1), is, ‘My kids have grown up in a fairly irreligious household because my spouse is Catholic and I’m a nominal some-other-brand-of-Christian. But now I see that this is a critical element for me, our children and our family, and so me and the kids – who missed the train of cradle-Catholic reception of the sacraments – are going through it together.’

  6. While I’ve enough training in statistics to know that the plural of ‘anecdote’ is NOT ‘data’, for this convert those three “drawing cards” were obstacles. The biggest “drawing card” was seeing people motivated by the sacraments to commit acts of love, not the acts of hate and fear I saw growing up among the Catholics of “The Selma of the North”. As always, YMMV.

  7. In my experience those three have been stumbling blocks for many people. The inquirer usually has some very thoughful questions regarding these three areas. Through conversation/witness and catechesis the inquirers and catechumens begin to embrace the sacrament of penance, etc. I would say in my 15 years in RCIA ministry the most common answer people share with me of why they came to the Church is that they felt at home/comfortable (in the best sense of that word) and they were invited to check it out. This eventually gets named as Christ’s presence and the inquirer or catechumen begins to name or identify the movement of the Holy Spirit in his/her life.

  8. I like Cardinal Dolan: he’s affable and charismatic, but I think even he would admit after a little reflection that this isn’t a particularly well documented observation on his part. I am not a priest, nor a RCIA director. But I know a lot of converts, and I would say that the three things cited (penance, pope and BVM) are things that most converts have to overcome. In my experience, we find a lot of converts are led to the church by a spouse, other relative or friend that they admire. There are other converts who are academics and begin in search of the readings of the early church fathers (sometimes in an effort to discredit church teachings) and lo and behold they find themselves drawn to it. Still others simply like the ritual; the “smells and bells”.

    But almost all these people have to overcome previously held beliefs regarding penance (Jesus forgives my sins, not some priest), the Pope (how can one man be infallible?) and the BVM (I worship Jesus, not Mary and don’t get me started on Immaculate Conception). Once in and after time, it might be fair to say that these concepts are embraced by many converts, but mostly I think the Real Presence is the cornerstone, and that is really what makes us unique.

  9. What Timothy, Charles and Rita said. Are we sure that something wasn’t missed in the translation of this interview?

    “….I would say that the three things cited (penance, pope and BVM) are things that most converts have to overcome.” (Exactly)

    Dolan, despite his PhD in Church History, really does seem to just go over the top at times to make some type of point.

  10. I agree, with others, that the biggest drawing card is the engagement/marriage “hoop” view of RCIA. Often I wish for numbers underneath the numbers of how many adults we’d have coming into the Roman rite if it weren’t for that. Is anyone aware of such a statistic having been teased out of the larger numbers?

    1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #13:
      It seems to me that people rarely make an important decision (adult baptism, marriage, major purchase, career choice) for only one reason. Furthermore, if a Catechumen (or Candidate for Full Communion) says they seek the sacraments because their fiance/e or spouse is Catholic, perhaps we should wonder why they chose that spouse. They want, shall we say, “integrity of religious practice” in their household, yes, but they could have married a Jew or a Lutheran or a non-religious ethical person. Perhaps it doesn’t matter why they think they are doing what they are doing.

      On the other hand, perhaps it does.

  11. What are the drawing cards for already baptized and confirmed Catholics who experience severe alienation from the sacraments in large part because of the partisanship of the hierarchy? Cdl. Dolan and his brother prelates have shown distressingly little deference to, or even acknowledgement of, Catholics who value the secular republic. The falling-away of sincere Catholics troubled by this partisanship should not surprise.

    Mass attendance is never an individual act, but rather the corporate action of a particular assembly, the Church of a particular period of history, the sabaoth, and the company of heaven. In my view, any temporal partisanship divides the assembly and Church gathered for the sacraments. What aspects of belief, faith, and ritual will bring Catholics alienated by prelatial partisanship back to the sacraments?

  12. In my 12 years of helping with RCIA at my parish the number one reason for the Candidates and Catechumens being there is marriage. Either marrying a Catholic who wants a Catholic wedding or pacifying a spouse (and the kids) after years of attending but not recieving Communion. Yet, that alone wouldn’t have gotten them in the door if they didn’t feel a connection or feel welcomed by the parish community, especially the priest. The things that Dolan states are often the big obstacles of faith they are trying to overcome rather than their primary reasons for coming.

  13. What Timothy, Rita, Bill and Charles said.

    When interpreting statements from Dolan it’s important to remember who his audience is, and it’s not on this side of the Atlantic.

    Same goes for most bishops. Though it’s hard to imagine what Timothy’s ambitions are now. Or, maybe not . . . (sigh) . . .

  14. I’ve been directing the RCIA for six years. During that time there was one person who was drawn to us through her attraction to the BVM, primarily because of a fascination with visions and miracles. It was a place to start. In all cases, confession has been more a stumbling block than an incentive. For one person, so large of one so as to almost stop the process. I don’t think any of our catechumens have given much thought to popes or bishops; the parish priests are very important to them. As others have said, it is the experience of family life with a Catholic that brings them to us. Either they have married (or will marry) a Catholic, or they had one Catholic parent who told them they could decide for themselves when they grow up.

  15. When I went through RCIA, I don’t remember any stuff about the pope or Mary, and confession was only mentioned because we had to go through it before we were finished.

    I guess the idea is that people converting to Catholicism are usually Protestant and that those things are what makes Catholicism different from Protestantism. An example of a deeper difference between the two, though, might be for instnance that Catholics believe we can learn about God by looking at the natural world, whereas Protestants tend to think we can only learn about God through revelation.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #19:

      When I went through RCIA, I don’t remember any stuff about the pope or Mary, and confession was only mentioned because we had to go through it before we were finished.

      Alas, the last of these is all too typical of priests who have obviously not realized that you can’t make anyone receive a sacrament of any kind, let alone the sacrament of penance, when they are not yet a member of the Church and are therefore not subject to the Church’s discipline.

      I hear about this frequently — Father won’t baptize me at the Vigil unless I’ve been to confession first — and I think we need to admit that it is nothing less than an abuse. It is also a clear indication that the priest has no understanding of the effects of the sacrament of baptism.

      The Rite of Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church does recommend (para 395) that the candidate “should make a confession of sins beforehand”, but qualifies this by saying “according to his or her own conscience”, with the strong implication that it is up to the candidate if they wish to do this. The priest may not insist on it. As with unbaptized persons, this recommendation once again appears just as ill-founded. Those who are not yet in Full Communion cannot yet receive a sacrament. The Rite of Reception also indicates that “no greater burden than necessary” (para 387) is to be placed in the path of those seeking full communion.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #25:
        I applaud, as ever, Paul’s pastoral desire not to foist inappropriate requirements upon those who have not yet been received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. However, to say that such candidates MAY NOT receive any Catholic sacraments before their reception contradicts the rite itself (RCIA 482).

        Those who are not in full communion can indeed receive a sacrament from a Catholic priest under certain specified conditions. They are part of the Church through baptism.

        The specific canonical point regarding Penance for Candidates for Full Communion in the RCIA (RCIA 482, NCCB Statutes 36), is addressed by John Huels in The Catechumenate and the Law, LTP 1994, p. 18-19, as follows:

        “It should be noted that the English translation of the phrase ‘according to his or her own conscience’ could convey the false impression that the sacrament of Penance is wholly optional according to the desires of the candidate.

        The original Latin (attenta sua personali condicion) does not have this optional sense. A literal translation is ‘having considered his or her own personal condition’, that is, having reflected on his or her own personal history, life circumstances, and especially any serious sins committed after baptism, the candidate should celebrate the sacrament of penance according to the first or second rite of penance, either of which provide for individual confession and absolution.

        As for the prescriptive nature of the law, the verb used (confiteatur) is a jussive subjunctive, commonly translated as ‘should confess’ or ‘is to confess.’ It is not as strongly preceptive as a command in the indicative mood, but it indicates the practice that normally ought to be observed.”

        [continued in next comment box]

      2. @Paul Inwood – comment #25:
        [Sorry for the long delay between my last comment and this one; my computer went down.]

        What I wanted to add is that initiation is not the only occasion when Christians not in communion with the Catholic Church may receive sacraments from Catholic ministers. The Directory for Ecumenism (1993) says in article 129 that the Catholic Church “recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments [eucharist, penance, and anointing of the sick] may be permitted or even commended for Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities.”

        The conditions outlined in articles 130 and 131 (grave and pressing need, their own minister not being available, they ask for it on their own initiative, they are properly disposed, etc.) are oriented toward situations far different from that of the RCIA baptized candidate, and are obviously extremely rare. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that exceptions can indeed be made in more than one situation.

  16. Terri Miyamoto : As others have said, it is the experience of family life with a Catholic that brings them to us. Either they have married (or will marry) a Catholic, or they had one Catholic parent who told them they could decide for themselves when they grow up.

    I think this situation, which many commentators have remarked upon is different than the one Cardinal Dolan was remarking upon, which involves converts who approach the Catholic Church “cold” rather than as long term members of our community through their families.

  17. My parents entered the Church in 1970, neither had been baptized previously. My father is from the Midwest and had Catholic friends and relatives. My mother grew up in the Bible Belt. She was probably the first Catholic in her family since the reign of Elizabeth I.

    The Pope, Mary, and Confession did not draw either of them. My father came in because of the example of his friends. My mother came in with a lot of misgivings but entered because my father entered. I’m the only one in the family who practices regularly. My sister won’t set foot in a Catholic church and my mother regrets that we ever had anything to do with Catholicism. Sometimes I think she’s right.

  18. Satire alert:
    According to the folks afterwards in mystogogia, they were attracted by Gregorian Chant in Latin, particularly the use of propers (they mentioned the gradual and alleluia verses specifically), ad Deum posture of the celebrants, the orthodox but soft-selled homilies, the preparation of all collects and prefaces of MR3, and our adult acolytes, male and female, in vesture.
    Actually, there are not a few RCIA/The Way guided catachumens who are quite aware of the liturgical and theological chronology of the emergent Church through the testimony of the early church fathers’ documents being consistently ratifified locally long before Nicea which prompts a metanoia (as Todd would call it) of how the OHCA Church pillars were erected. And they’re not all validating marriages or Scott and Kimberly Hahns.

  19. As many comments have already testified, the sociological evidence is very solid that religion spreads through social networks, especially those with strong interpersonal ties such as marriage, family and nationality.

    People of little or no religion are much more influenced by people of stronger religion rather than the other way around.

    Observations of the actual process of changing make very clear that the new relationships come first, followed later by changes in beliefs and practices.

    However when people after the fact are asked about their “reasons,” they generally come up with beliefs, practices etc since those seem to be the expected answers. Especially here in individualistic America, having a “reason” looks better than being a social conformist influenced by other people. The mainline Protestant migration to upscale congregations and denominations has morphed into power prayer breakfasts.

    The Mormons win very few converts by going out and knocking on doors, less than one in a thousand. However they do make quite a few converts by inviting people to their homes for “family night” a weekly relaxed informal discussion of how things are going in their family in a religious context. They usually target new comers to the area who are likely to have few friends and relatives. This method works very well. (Mormons do a lot of research but are rather secretive about the results).

    In the Vibrant Parish Life Study The availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) ranked 36th in importance and Devotional services (e.g. the rosary) ranked 38th out of 39 in importance.

    If we are to keep people and bring people back, The New Evangelization needs to begin raising the top priority, the Liturgy and the next priority, Community, identified by Vibrant Parish Life up from their mediocre rankings (21st and 18th) of being well done.

    Dolan’s ambition? A seat on the Congregation of Bishops?. Law aged out. Rigali will in a few years. Burke can take Law’s role; Dolan may want Rigali’s role.

  20. In my 25 years of experience with RCIA, I would say the thing that attracts people the most to the Catholic Church is a sense of sacramental wholeness — a sense that Catholics “have it together” at some fundamental level, divorced from all of the superficial issues which we fight about. Picking three things like confession, the pope, and Mary is a simplification and, I think, a little demeaning to people who are joining the Church. If I were a pastor I would be more than a little concerned if people were joining the Church because of confession, the pope and Mary. Really? And let me tell you, it’s definitely not because they are eager to celebrate sacramental reconciliation in the traditional way.

  21. Paul,

    Thanks for the information. At our church the place where confession takes place is a room where you face the priest sitting across a small table from him – sort of intimidating 🙂 That was years ago and I’ve never been to confession again.

  22. I’ve played an active role in teaching those who seek to become Catholics for more than forty years. I can think of maybe a handful of people who mentioned one of those catholic issues as drawing cards. Interestingly nearly all inquirers agree when I cite those three things as among the least understood elements of Catholicism by non-Catholics. I always cover those matters early on and notice that nearly everyone is surprised to learn what Catholics really believe.

    I have to take exception to what my friend Paul Inwood said about hearing the confessions of those being received into full communion. I invite all of them to come in for a holy conversation prior to the Rite of Reception and tell them it could just turn into an opportunity for the Grace of Sacramental absolution. This has always turned out to be a highlight of their RCIA experience. People invariably leave that encounter with tears of joy–men and women. Whatever apprehension they had about confessing sins to a priest goes away and some go out to tell the good news about this sacrament.

  23. My experience during two decades as an RCIA catechist is that no one ever stated they came because of the attraction of confession or the pope. Rather, as mentioned by many above, it is usually because the example of a loving community inspires one to inquire further. This might be experienced because one attends Mass regularly with a spouse, or attends the funeral or wedding of a relative or friend and wants to know what motivates this community , etc. Similarly, no one ever says “I am here because I find the doctrine of transubstantiation so much more satisfying than consubstantiation.” Most people start serious intellectual and spiritual inquiry because they are already attracted to the local church.

  24. Generally I teach Reconciliation as a “second Baptism,” as a chance for candidates to experience the grace of their Baptism as a present reality. Isn’t that the theology of that sacrament? That fits with the unified initiation ritual of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. I suppose the sense of being accepted by God and the Church is a draw for many, though I’ve never heard anyone articulate it as an attraction to “Confession.”

    I have heard of, and can imagine, people attracted to the Church by the Pope or Mary, but I have never met any.

  25. I have had Protestants in the confessional coming during our normally scheduled time. And yes, if there is a baptized Christian who is not in full communion with the Church there are circumstances when they may be allowed to receive Holy Communion. I believe Pope Benedict gave Holy Communion to the then head of the Tazie community at his installation ceremony. Our bishop allowed an elderly Episcopalian nun in my former parish who had attended our Sunday anticipated Vigil for years permission to receive Holy Communion each time she came to Mass as she could not in good conscience receive in her own community because of her opposition to women’s ordination and some of her sisters who were ordained. At the age of 96 I receive her into the “Roman” Church without the RCIA process but she had been receiving for about three years prior to that. She died at 102 in a clear state of mind and her community never expelled her even when she became Roman. And yes, many of our inquirers in the RCIA already have a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary prior to contacting us and already have Rosary beads and we sell Rosaries to Protestant regularly in our little gift store on our parish property.

  26. Clarifying my comment at #25, my concern is that we should not be appearing as gatekeepers, and I maintain that forcing members of the Elect to undergo a “sacrament” when they are not yet baptized members of the Church is an abuse.

    I am grateful for Rita’s comments concerning the Rite of Reception, and I am certainly aware of non-catholics who have regularly requested reception of Holy Communion when they are unable to receive in their own Church. I applaud our pastoral sensitivity in granting this. Likewise, Jack Feehily has some valuable things to say (and I likewise applaud the “holy conversation” idea). But these and Allan’s examples all relate to a context in which a person freely requests admission to the grace of a sacrament, not to circumstances where someone is being in effect compelled to go through an experience as part of a journey to another stage of life. It seems to me that in those circumstances one would be justified in asking whether what was experienced was actually a sacrament at all.

  27. At our RCIA retreat the week prior to the Easter Vigil, we have the Sacrament of Penance as a Reconciliation service during it. We tell the unbaptized that if they wish to “go to confession” to receive not absolution but a blessing, they may do so, but that they need not do so as all their sins, Original and actual are washed away in the primary Sacrament of Forgiveness which is Holy Baptism. In terms of those candidates already baptized the question they ask is how far back do they need to go. I tell them that the Church respects how they experienced forgiveness in their own tradition and should only bring forward anything they feel would be helpful to them, perhaps they should go to the point when they went through the Rite of Welcome and actually became candidates for Full Communion.
    In terms of making people do anything, I think technically we can’t force anyone to receive Holy Communion either although I have never encountered that from anyone being received into the Church as it would be inimical to the Easter Vigil for someone not to be fully initiated through the reception of Holy Communion, but we do have to make clear to the baptized candidates that they must be in a state of grace, similar to what their state was at their baptism to complete their initiation into the Church which means Sacramental Confession as the Ordinary Form of forgiveness for mortal sins, which they of course have to determine if they are in a state of or not.
    P.S. Just anointed a baptized inquirer suffering from MS and undergoing serious eye surgery in an hour or so–she requested it and as I offered it to her, she had Rosary Beads in her hands and afterward asked me to bless it and two others and several medals, one being the Miraculous Medal. Her movement to the Inquiry stage of the RCIA began when she was baptized a Baptist, then became a Lutheran for 30 years but told me she’s always been Catholic in her heart. The papacy is what impresses her about the Catholic Church and unity that we have under the See of Peter–out of the mouths of babes, although she’s older than me!

  28. To play Devil’s Advocate (in a thread on entering the Church, no less)…

    Would not the celebration of a sacramental confession help one better appreciate the grace of the liturgy itself for Baptism and Confirmation? Of course God is not bound by the Sacraments, but this might be a way to “sell” confession to someone who is a little nervous…and then establish a positive pattern for the rest of their lives, no?

    1. @Bruce Ludwick, Jr. – comment #38:
      No, Bruce. Baptism is the gateway to all the sacraments, and is the premier sacrament of the forgiveness of sins. We have to keep this straight. Kudos to Allan for keeping this understanding up front in his catechesis and pastoral practice.

      Paul Inwood is also 100% correct when he says that the unbaptized have no business receiving the sacrament of Penance, any more than they would be justified in presenting themselves for communion or confirmation or holy orders without baptism.

      Allan’s optional sort of “non-sacramental confession” experience is a pastoral strategy I’ve heard of, and I know the motives are positive, but I believe there are many forms of penance in the Christian life and we need to use the ones that are appropriate in each case.

      For the unbaptized (catechumens), the Church recommends Penitential Services — it says so in the Rite of Penance, Appendix III. Surprise!

      And here is the big one: For the unbaptized, the essential way of grappling with sin is by means of the three Scrutiny Rites. There’s a lot of weight placed on this in the tradition, in canon law, in liturgical law, and there’s a sound theological basis for it. In preparing for and reflecting on the Scrutinies, the elect can certainly be offered opportunities to name their sins — to a priest if they desire, or to a holy person such as their sponsor (!) if they desire, in complete confidentiality. But it’s not the same as the Sacrament of Penance, and shouldn’t be confused with it.

      Aquinas (quoting Jerome I think) called Penance the “second plank after shipwreck” and I think that’s right on target. The three sacraments of initiation are the ship — and it hasn’t wrecked yet, they are only just climbing on board!

  29. Rita, I think you’re misunderstanding me. I’m not excluding the process of the Scrutinies, et al. I’m actually dealing with it more like what Fr. Allan is mentioning. Perhaps I muddied the waters by including “sacramental”. My point is that it is good to introduce catechumens and candidates to confession, as it is something they will need to be familiar with for the rest of their lives. Also, I am including candidates from other Christian traditions in this discussion. I would think, in their imperfect union with the Church, that it might be worth having an individual confession. I did so before entering full communion, and it was a great comfort to me before the celebration of my Confirmation.

    1. @Bruce Ludwick, Jr. – comment #40:
      Dear Bruce,

      Thank you for clarifying that you did not really mean “sacramental confession.”

      I agree that adults who are preparing for baptism should be aware of and catechized about all seven sacraments. My point is that the real grappling with sin and grace in the catechumenate is about baptism in the first instance. Penance does come later in our sacramental system; what I was objecting to is your putting it first.

      Let’s take an analogy. For most catechumens and candidates, the anointing of the sick is not an immediate need, but they should know about it and know that it is there for them when they do need it. That does not mean they should role play being on their sickbed, and do “part” of the ritual in order to grasp what it means. Right?

      Finally, there is one more strategy that the rite itself gives us for “praying our way” through the mystery of sin and grace with catechumens, and that is the minor exorcisms and blessings. The ritual text says specifically that these minor rites are there to help catechumens because they cannot yet avail themselves of the sacraments.

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #42:
        Your point about the scrutinies which are penitential acts and also minor exorcisms is well taken, although one could view the option given to an unbaptized person to speak to a priest in a confessional experience and without absolution but just a blessing, not “role playing” but an experience of a form of spiritual or pastoral direction as they prepare for the Sacrament of Penance in their post-baptismal life. But again, the option to do this should be their choice and not forced upon them. However, for the baptized candidate, I think it would be malpractice on the part of those teaching in the RCIA not to insist that the Sacrament of Penance be celebrated as a renewal of their Baptismal washing to enable them to be in a “pristine, baptismal” state of grace for Confirmation and Holy Eucharist, even if there are no mortal sins but only a confession of venial ones. Penance is not just for mortal sins but could be devotional and venial sins may be mentioned.
        However, it is not role playing for a priest or lay person to pray over a sick person (catechumen or candidate) offering a blessing which might include the laying on of hands–charismatics do it all the time and sometimes they use blessed oil. It is not a sacrament nor a mocking of the sacrament but a sacramental that could be available to any catechumen or candidate.
        The same for Holy Water and blessing one’s self. We cannot forbid the catechumen from using Holy Water. No they aren’t recalling their baptism but could be encouraged to use it as an anticipation of their baptism and it would clearly be seen as a sign of their desire for baptism in case of death prior to baptism.
        Sometimes this fear of making the Sacrament of Penance more readily available to people seems contrived and based upon a prejudice toward this sacrament which surely should not exist in the Church. Again, would any of us caution people against receiving Holy Communion each time they attend Mass or daily. I hope not. And surely we shouldn’t discourage candidates and catechumens from attending daily Mass if they so desire even though they can’t receive Holy Communion yet.

  30. I wish I had made more of an effort to understand what was going on with my RCIA group. I hadn’t been baptised but most in the group had been. I particularly remember the part about confession before Easter Vigil because the facilitators of our group themselves so disliked our priest that they customarily went to a different church for their confessions. That didn’t exactly inspire confidence.

  31. Personally, I think it is the continual, continuous, unabashed, unapologetic, awe-inspiring exposition of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins -and everything we believe which arises from this eternal salvific act. Walk into any Catholic church, and there it is! Regardless of what non-Catholics say, they are impressed by this – even stunned. This constant reminder of what it’s all about, and what we are all about.

  32. Allan:

    Catechism of the Catholic Church extracts:

    1393 Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is “given up for us,” and the blood we drink “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins…

    1394 As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins…

    1395 By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins…

    Thus the Eucharist itself ensures that all who receive it are “pristine” and cleansed from all sin except grave sin, as CCC 1395 also reminds us.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #46:

      Thanks Paul for these reminders that the Eucharist is food for our journey as well as an anticipation of the Heavenly Banquet.

      This capacity of the Eucharist to heal and nourish us is very evident in the Byzantine Rite penitential practice of the celebrating Vespers with a Communion Service during Lent.

      While ascetical practices (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) form an important part of our Lenten observance, we have to avoid the idea that somehow we can make ourselves holy and pleasing in the sight of God by these practices rather than responding to God who comes to us in our need and heals us.

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #47:
        Good points, Jack, and reinforces Paul’s comment. Here is another interesting way at looking at the sacrament of reconciliation throughout church history:

        The 1974-Present indicates that the paradigm used is *eucharist*. In a way, it uses the Emmaus story structure but focuses on *reconciling* and *commissioning* rather than *eating/drinking/sharing* and then *commissioning*.

        It keeps penance focused as a communal action within the community (not just confessor) or RCIA.

        This also changes the understanding of reconciliation based upon the RCIA model. Brief summary of national committee on this meeting with Cardinal Bernardin in 1979-80 and published in Origens:

        “This model was discussed in the Working Group on Reconciliation of the North American Academy of Liturgy at our meetings in 1979 and 1980. The conclusions of the discussion were presented by Giles Pater to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and the cardinal took this material to the synod of bishops. See: Bernardin, Joseph. “New Rite of Penance Suggested.” Origins 13 (1983) 324-326.”

        “..a model of “fall and return” to describe the process of “sin and reconciliation,” while apt, is not entirely adequate, and must be corrected by other models which sustain both the once-and-for-all character of Christian initiation and a sense that an individual enactment of the sacrament of penance is but a step (albeit significant) in the church’s journey.

        Rather than speaking in terms of norm with regard to the place of penance in the sacramental economy, it would be more appropriate to speak of baptism (and confirmation) and eucharist as primary sacraments of initiation, and of penance as an extended derivative of both baptism and eucharist. Penance is related to both, though not designed to supplant either.”

        From Tad Guzie: “The practice of sacramental confession is a good example. Confession has been plagued throughout its history with a narrow legalism that turns the celebration of God’s mercy into a kind of coldly clinical legal pardon for unobeyed prescriptions. The decline of this sacrament — which few people associate with festivity! — owes much to our having recourse to it before some degree of reconciliation or healing has taken place, and before the mercy of God has been savored and experienced. The new Rite of Penance tries to put the sacramental moment back into its correct context: “Faithful Christians, as they experience and proclaim the mercy of God in their lives, celebrate with the priest the liturgy by which the church continually renews itself”.

    2. @Paul Inwood – comment #46:
      Paul, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve quoted and wholeheartedly embrace that, but we are speaking of the Sacrament of Confirmation also for those baptized Christians who are being received into the full communion of the Church which occurs prior to the reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. It would seem to me that it would be quite advantageous for the already baptized to experience in a sacramental way the renewal of the forgiveness of sin as well as reconciliation which they received in Holy Baptism prior to their Confirmation in the Catholic Church. Of course we are speaking specifically of RCIA already baptized candidates from other Christian communions whether or not their completion of Christian initiation takes place at the Easter Vigil or another time.

  33. It seems to me that some of the problems with the theology of Confession are due to the inadequacy of the theology of sin, which I suspect is grossly over-simplified.

    I was taught that, in effect, there is a bright red line marking the difference between venial and mortal sin, and the big idea is to stay on the side of venial sin. But in reality within the area of venial sin are a huge variety of sins of more or less complexity and of more or less seriousness. The problem of divorce and remarriage in particular elicits such questions. One of the bishops in the current synod said today that a couple who have been married for 50 years, but who were each married to someone else before that, presents a problem that cannot be solved by simply judging that they are in the state of mortal sin. He asked: Doesn’t their 50 years together “count for something”? I don’t think the current theology of sin, and, therefore, the current theology of Confession, are adequate to answer his question. The whole theological area needs deeper questioning.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #50:
      More accurately, the administration of sin might bear a careful discernment.

      I agree with you on the matter of divorce and remarriage. What is at stake here is not a rejection of Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but how the reality of broken marriage is handled as an administrative matter. It strikes me that divorce and remarriage is a nearly unforgiveable sin, and is treated more harshly than, say, murder.

      We do not insist that a penitent confessing murder await the resuscitation of the victim before receiving absolution. And yet we impose brutal and couterproductive sanctions on young adult (or teenage) mistakes. I can’t help but think there is a strain of misogyny or at least clericalist superiority in the canonical administration of marriage. How much of it is of Christ? Probably not most of it.

      I confess I’m unimpressed with Archbishop Dolan’s talking points. He may be projecting his own values. And confession, Mary, and the pope are indeed good values, especially for a cardinal. But these are often obstacles for believers. Less formula, Archbishop, and more meat, please.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #51:
        Pastoral theology develops and evolves but cannot be dogmatized and a good, holy pastoral theology is what is needed for many people divorced and remarried.
        But in terms of “and confession, Mary, and the pope are indeed good values, especially for a cardinal. But these are often obstacles for believers,” I cannot fathom these being issues for Roman Catholics properly catechized who understand the faith or for those who are not Catholic wanting to be Catholic. If these are in fact obstacles or remain obstacles, in the name of God and all that is holy, let them find the Christian communion, the multitudes of them, that do not have these as central to their teachings or let them remain in the communion they are now in. Why should the Catholic Church undermine her identity to please those who find the Church and her teachings to be an obstacle. There is free-will and decisions that we must all make in this life and breaking communion with the Church is one them as much as I dislike that happening from a pastoral point of view, but they not me have to live with the consequences, good or bad.

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #52:
        Agreed on your first point, especially if the administration of pastoral theology can be reformed.

        If you look to Cardinal Dolan’s remarks, you’ll find he was speaking of people we evangelize to become Catholic. I speak of “believers” as Christians who come to the Roman Church, or even catechumens who come to the experience of faith who are not fully catechized yet. I don’t think the Archbishop has thought through his remarks on this. Confession, Mary, and the pope are among the biggest obstacles to non-Catholics seeking to join us. Acknowledging that does not negate Church teaching in any way. Nor does it mean we are people-pleasers if we dissent from a cardinal’s interesting opinion.

        Education is not a panacea.

        Nor is the Roman administration of theology infallible.

      3. @Todd Flowerday – comment #55:
        What I am saying is that people leave or join the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons, some good, some not so good. If one becomes a Catholic simply because one has married a Catholic, that’s not a very good reason, although God’s grace can use it in wonderful ways sometimes. If one leaves the Church because of scandal, then I suspect one doesn’t really understand the nature of the paschal mystery and the “bad fish” in the net that is the Church which includes not only the laity but the clergy. If a believer from some other Christian communion can’t stomach what the Catholic Church teaches even in minor areas, more power to them, let them follow their conscience and free will. And finally, since when do we as Catholics boil everything down to infallible and fallible? That sounds rather minimalistic to me IMO as Bill says and which took me a long time to figure out IMO.

      4. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #60:
        You state: “…since when do we as Catholics boil everything down to infallible and fallible”

        How so? Interesting read of #53 post. Think you missed the point.

        Original post was about Dolan’s statement that pope, Mary, confession attract folks. Most citing experience here find his comment to be *bewildering* and not in step with lived experience. Given that lived experience, most commenters have gone on to state the opposite of Dolan and explain what typical inquirers bring to the table. That being said, you first three sentences above do *hit the mark* – but then you fall back on your usual hobbyhorse. Sorry, we are all *cafeteria catholics* in our own way.

      5. @Bill deHaas – comment #61:
        Well, I haven’t detected bewilderment about the Cardinal’s personal experience from commenters here, how odd that any of us would be bewildered by anyone’s experience whether they have had those same ones or not–seems rather parochial to me if they are bewildered not to mention myopic. BTY, IYO how many will be drawn to the Church by the fanon? 😉

      6. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #62:
        Is it Dolan’s personal experience or rather the way he chose to speak about this? As one commenter noted – doesn’t appear that Dolan has much pastoral experience with RCIA?

        You really do need to read comments 6 through 19, then 21 and more. All posit that Dolan’s three words are *obstacles* rather than *attractions*.

        Speaking of *bewildered*, *parochial*, and *myopic*. Did you even read the comments? Our faith and our church are *communal* – not some type of Randian individualistic experience.

        Fanon – add it to Dolan’s list. When you are focused on *SPUI* you really do need to get a life. *SPUI – society for the preservation of useless information*.

        Noticing B16’s undergarments falls into the category of TMI.

    2. @Ann Olivier – comment #50:

      Ann: He asked: Doesn’t their 50 years together “count for something”? I don’t think the current theology of sin, and, therefore, the current theology of Confession, are adequate to answer his question. The whole theological area needs deeper questioning.

      One of the most frustrating aspects of Catholicism in my view is the “Jenga-like” perspective of some Catholics towards moral theology. For some, the practical application of the doctrines and corollaries of moral theology, and especially sexual moral theology, resemble the way in which some persons play the popular stacking blocks game. A Jenga player loses the game when he or she topples the tower by removing the lynchpin block which holds together the entire structure. Yet, in some versions of the game a player earns more points if he or she successfully removes a more “challenging” block without toppling the tower. Certainly, the choice to remove a more precariously placed block involves great risk but also the possibility of great reward. Some players might still choose to play it safe and forfeit possible reward simply because the prospect of loss cannot be easily accepted.

      Jenga is a silly game. Practical moral theology involves real people who weep and sorrow. Even so, the intransigence of not a few Catholics to holistically evaluate situations such as divorce and remarriage betrays not merely dogmatism. I am convinced that many Catholics, clergy and lay alike, do not wish to confront the great complexities of human morality which resides behind questions of annulment. A similar reluctance lurks behind some Catholics’ reluctance to consider the possibility that homosexuality is constitutive and not a choice or environmentally predicated. In both cases, some consider it better to force almost all situations into an idealized structure which theoretically cannot topple. An admittance that human experience admits great subjectivity threatens the false security of moral fundamentalism. This false security in turn hampers the ability of some Catholics to pick up the blocks of complex moral crises when crises inevitably arrive.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #54:
        Jordan – just want to say that your comment here is excellent – well written; excellent use of a story/analogy that makes a very insightful analysis in a few sentences. Can think of a number of moral theology profs who might borrow this comment. thanks.

  34. Interesting:
    – Mary…..there was a movement to name her co-redeemer, etc. at the turn of the 20th century. This movement was considered and rejected by the council fathers as too extreme, non-scriptural, etc. Instead, the council fathers wisely ressourced the place of Mary in the theology economy. (the issue is not Mary – it is how some want to inflate her almost to making her the fourth person of the Trinity – it flies in the face of a primary VII goal – ecumenism)
    – confession…..note his choice of *word* for this sacrament already skews the understanding. VII and sacramental theologians have been trying to re-define pastorally the meaning and pastoral practice of this sacrament which has a history that has constantly changed and developed. (you might want to read Origen 13’s article on this and what Crdl Bernardin said at the 1980 Synod….Dolan appears to name one particular historical expression of this sacrament which can be an obstacle to VII goal of ecumenism, pastoral approaches, etc.?)
    – pope….it goes without saying that the council fathers significantly changed their approach to defining *church* by starting with *mystery* and *people of God* – only then did they begin to define pope, institution, offices, ministries. Again, their approach supported the primary goal of ecumenism, speaking to the *times*, and acknowledging that some of the recent and current ways of acting around the label or even office of *pope* were negative pastorally and ecumenically. (see Vaticn I)

    In response to a very dated, narrow, and defensive statement – “…let them find the Christian communion, the multitudes of them, that do not have these as central to their teachings or let them remain in the communion they are now in. Why should the Catholic Church undermine her identity to please those who find the Church and her teachings to be an obstacle’

    Identity – your *opinion based* definitions and feelings are not necessarily the *identity* of the church and don’t seem to express what the church is completely. (Yep, IMO, big church rather than little church and IMO that was the goal of the council fathers)

    Just saying!

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