Our Lenten Communal Penance Service is Tuesday, March 20, at 7:00 PM here at St. James. I was asked recently about why we even bother with a “communal” service when penitents still need to go to a priest privately to confess their sins and receive absolution. These services made more sense when the priest was allowed to give General Absolution but why go through all the bother of a communal service when you can just as easily go to private confession on Saturday afternoon?
Well, there are two things that we need to keep in mind;
1 ) Scripture shows us that most of the acts of healing and forgiveness recounted in the Gospel came to a person through a one-on-one encounter with Jesus, but…
2) We also need to keep in mind that human beings live in community and our actions affect others for good or for evil. So sin, even sin committed in private, is not a purely private matter. All of our actions have a communal dimension. That means our reconciliation after sin must somehow involve the community. The Communal Penance service provides that necessary link between the sin by the individual and the reconciliation of the sinner with God and the community of believers.
Most people usually don’t question the communal dimensions of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, or even Anointing of the Sick? Also many people seem to question the need for an instrument, a human mediator, in the Sacrament of Penance! Why? Because confessing one’s sins to another human being is difficult. It is often embarrassing. But that is part of the power of sacramental reconciliation. It makes one honest and humble before God through a human instrument – little chance for self-deception here!
A Communal Penance service tries to find that balance between the need for us to collectively seek God’s forgiveness as a people of faith and the need for a one-on-one encounter with Jesus in individual confession. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity as part of your preparation for Easter.