From a reader…
When I went to confession the priest asked me to watch a certain movie for my penance. I have done a search for it but what I found (trailers) seems contrary to the faith, very progressive/liberal ideas. Am I bound to do this penance? Thank you for your help.
In my judgment, no, even though that really could be “penance”, in more ways than one.
Priests must give penances to penitents and penitents are obliged to fulfill penances themselves (can. 981). However, the penance should be clear, reasonable and doable in a reasonable period of time.
It should be clear: “Think a nice though about someone,” isn’t clear. How do you know when you have done it?
It should be reasonable: “Rebuild with your own hands old St. Ugthred’s Church, which has been abandoned since 1923.” Most people can’t do that.
It should be doable in a reasonable time frame: “Say the rosary for 100 days… Travel to the Shrine of Our Lady at La Vang, Vietnam… Next Easter Sunday (months away) do… Obtain and watch this questionable movie which I like and watch it….”
Getting and watching a movie isn’t commensurate with, say, saying a chaplet of the rosary or reading a specific Scripture passage for a few minutes. For one thing, unless it is free, he has asked you to spend money. Next, you may not have the means to watch it. Also, are you supposed to watch it without blinking? What if you have to make supper for your children and, therefore, must needs interrupt the movie? What it you don’t want your children to see it, but can’t stay up late to watch it alone?
Look. A priest can give whatever penances he can get away with, I guess. If the penance is too onerous or impossible, or too vague, you can, as a penitent, ask for a something clear and doable.
In my opinion it is – in general – a bad idea to propose (and that is what assigning a penance is, a proposal which the priest is obliged to propose) something that the penitent cannot do easily and in a short period.
In the counsel part of a sacramental confession a priest might usefully advise someone to seek therapy, or to attend AA, or to join Weight Watchers, watch a movie, or to frequent meetings of Liturgical Ad-Libbers Anonymous (LALA). Those suggestions or counsels, not good penances.
Fathers… especially you NEW priests being ordained in this season… assign something the penitent can complete before leaving the church. Thus, short prayers are good penances.
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