From a reader…
One of our wonderful [traditional order/institute] priests this Sunday mentioned – prior to his sermon – that he was surprised that so many of us were not correctly following the ritual of Confession.
He said that many begin with “Bless me, Father for I have sinned…” and then just go right into listing their sins. He said if we are asking for a blessing then we should stop and wait for him to bless us and then to proceed.
He said if you simply say, “Forgive me, Father…” and then go on that would be fine. But he said don’t ask for a blessing and not wait for it. [O! the HUMANITY!]
He actually seemed to be perturbed by this.
I have never ever heard that I should wait to be blessed and then proceed with my confession. I asked a couple of other parishioners and they had never heard of it either. [For good reason.]
Of course that may simply underscore Father’s admonition – that we need some catechesis.
Should we wait for a blessing before continuing with our confession?
Hmmmm… perhaps Father is young.
I see two scenarios…
I can picture it now.
The penitent literally wants a blessing before beginning and says “Bless me, Father!” and then stops, waiting for the blessing. Meanwhile, the inflexible priest, ordained now all of a couple months, grits his teeth on the other side of the grate and does … nothing. They remain there in the dark, in obstinate silence, each unwilling to blink. Minutes pass. A quarter hour. A half hour. The line, outside, knows exactly what’s going on. Someone leans forward to the next guy ahead and says, “I’ll bet she asked for a blessing.” The other penitents, nearby, sag a little and look at the floor shaking their heads in commiseration. A confessional Mexican standoff!
The penitent kneels down and says, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been four….”
“HEY! WAIT” says the priest, “Stop!”
“…weeks since my last confession. These are my….”
“NO! Wait a minute! You asked for a blessing and, by God, you are going to get one whether…”
“… sins. I lied three times. I kicked my dog twice. In a fit of picque I stabbed my…”
“Benedictio Dei omnipotenti, Patris et …. HEY HANG ON! SHHHHH!…. I’m trying to…”
“… husband in the left shoulder with a carving knife. I’m really sorry about that too. I was aiming for the right…”
“Would you STOP IT? I trying to give you the damn blessing you wa…”
“… because there was this big spider, see? The last time one of those critters bite him it was, like, all anti… anti… antipathetic – is that the word? – shock and all the swelling and choking. So, I.. I guess I did a bad…”
“…Patris… PATRIS!…. ET FILII….”
“…thing. Maybe that wasn’t a mortal sin. Father? What do you think?”
“…. DESCENDAT … no…. SPIRITUS… grrrrrr….”
“Father? Are you okay?”
I have several reactions to this.
First, Father should zip it when it comes to this.
We all agree that we should understand what we are doing as Catholics, especially important things like going to confession. We should be careful, think about what we do and say when, for example, we genuflect on entering pews, make the sign of the Cross, say our prayers… ask for a blessing….
“Sheesh”, as we say.
I suspect that most people say, “Bless me, Father…”, as something they learned as a child from Sr. Mary Opportuna back at St. Fidelia’s School back in Blackduck. I’d do a poll on this, but my poll plug in is STILL BROKEN and my guy is ignoring me. In anglophone regions, I think most people will say “Bless me” or “Forgive me”. Either way of beginning is fine.
In “Bless me” Mode: Think about it. You are about to make a confession. You ask for the priest’s blessing to help you to do well and to keep off the Enemy of the soul. Later on, after you have confessed your sins, you explicitly ask for penance and absolution along the lines of, “For these and all the sins I cannot now remember, I ask a penance and absolution.” So, you wind up saying “forgive me” in some way. Right?
In “Forgive me” Mode: Think about it. You are about to make your confession. You make your confession and get absolution. You say “forgive me” in some way … again.
If the penitent has gotten into the confessional, isn’t it the usual expectation that she is there to be forgiven?
There’s nothing wrong with asking for a blessing. At the same time… you Blessing Wait-ers don’t have to wait for it either. Father can give you a blessing as you move ahead into saying how long it has been since your last confession.
How about some give and take, here?
Yet another scenario….
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been four….”
[On the other side of the screen, Father silently raises his hand, gives a blessing, and keeps listening.]
“…weeks since my last confession. These are my….”
[Or, if there is a pause, Father says, “God bless you as you make your confession.]
Not as bloggable, I guess. But it does save time.
Father doesn’t have to go through the whole, “Benedictio Dei omnipotentis… descendat super te…” while you wait.
ASIDE: I would be curious to know if this same priest starts the Formula of Absolution while the penitents are still reciting their Act of Contrition. After all, if we are being literalists, we are not to delay absolution once the penitent has expressed adequate sorrow. The classic Act of Contrition said in most places starts with an expression of attrition, which is sufficient, if not as perfect as contrition. Hence, he should start the absolution during the Act of Contrition.
Orrrrrr …. he can wait for the penitent to finish. Either way.
As I was ranting… a penitent says, “Bless me, Father…” and I bless him, pause or not. What’s the big deal?
Understand. There should be a good, solid routine for making a confession, so that it is orderly and comfortable. This is especially important for children (and Father too, apparently).
However, while we are being orderly, we don’t have to be rigid or force people into only one groove.
If they want to say “Bless me” or “Forgive me” at the beginning, so what?
If they wait for the blessing… or not… big deal.
If at the end they say, “For these and all my sins, etc.”, as I do, or if, as some people from some ethnic backgrounds or formation say “My Jesus, mercy” to indicate that they are done confessing, or if they say, “That’s it, Father!”, you go forward.
As a matter of fact… at the beginning of a confession you don’t have to be in either “Bless me” or “Forgive me” Mode. You can just start bluntly by saying, “It has been [X] since my last confession.”
The essentials are:
- how long it has been since your last confession
- (your state in life is really helpful)
- all your mortal sins in kind and number with any important circumstances (like spiders)
- an adequate expression of sorrow
- an expression of intention of amendment of life
So, you priests out there who would surely rail against sloppy, or non-traditional “McPenance”, but who nevertheless demand that penitents be just so, as if this were Burger King, please do us all a favor and unclench.
I am not for confessional anarchy. However, pull out the cork and let some pressure out. Going to confession is hard enough for most people.
Finally, everyone, review my
And, having examined your conscience…
GO TO CONFESSION!
If Father sighs heavily when you say “Bless me, Father!”, just smile and get on with it without waiting in obstinate silence.