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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Penitential Rite & Forgiveness at Mass

MARK:

I’m having a difficult time understanding the Penitential Rite at Mass.

If we have gone to confession and confessed our sins, why are we supposed to call them to mind at Mass?

Aren’t we forgiven and isn’t that an invitation from the Evil One for us to continue to dwell upon our sins?

Didn’t the Psalmist say that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103)?

FATHER JOE:

Catholics do not believe in the notion of “once saved, always saved.” We return to Confession again and again to have sins forgiven. Similarly, the Mass forgives sins, although we are generally asked to refrain from taking Holy Communion if we are in a state of mortal sin. The Penitential Rite does indeed have a type of absolution and we often speak of it as forgiving small slights or venial sins. The movement of the liturgy parallels the outreach of John the Baptist and later Christ and his apostles. The pattern established is a simple but important one: REPENT and BELIEVE.

At the beginning of Mass we want to spiritually prepare ourselves. Unlike Confession, where we acknowledge particular acts of personal sin; at the beginning of Mass, we reflect upon our general sinfulness and continuing need for conversion. Sins may be forgiven, but sometimes the bad habits, selfishness and weakness of the flesh causes us to sin again. In any case, we are not yet the Christians we are supposed to be. The Mass is a powerful instrument in our transformation ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. Further, while the absolution of Confession forgives sins, we still owe God penance to appease for the temporal punishment due to sin. The Mass possesses infinite graces to assist in this regard.

It is the true that the devil would have us deny the Lord’s mercy. We should not doubt the power of the priest’s absolution and the truth that sins are forgiven in Christ. However, we could also sin by presumption, supposing that we no longer needed divine mercy and grace. We are called to be counted among the saints. But the truth be told, most who walk the earth are still sinners who struggle daily with the world, the flesh and the devil.

As for the psalms, remember that they were written long before the coming of Christ and his redemptive work. They could offer a limited foreshadowing or anticipation of what was to come, but that is all.

Psalm 106:4-5: “Remember me, LORD, as you favor your people; come to me with your saving help, That I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, rejoice in the joy of your people, and glory with your heritage.”

The forgiveness and salvation often beseeched by the Hebrews was more connected to the nation than individuals. If God looked with favor upon you, it was interpreted through prosperity, land and children. Jesus brings a different kind of mercy. He is the Messiah who conquers the devil, sin and death— not the Romans. He tells us to pursue the imperishable treasure of heaven. The New Jerusalem or New Zion is not the political state of Israel, but the kingdom of God— a kingdom that breaks into the world first through the person of Jesus and later through the Church.

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