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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: New Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei

by Catherine Frakas 27 Jun 2002

New Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei QUESTION from A. Basto on May 4, 2002 Last week, the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II issued by motu proprio an Apostolic Letter called Misericordia Dei, on the Sacrament of Penance.
The Motu Proprio deals with very important questions, especially with regard to the abuse of the practice known as Gereral Absolution.
But one thing that impressed me in the Motu Proprio was a rule about the proper place of confessions. It states:
b) confessionals are regulated by the norms issued by the respective Episcopal Conferences, who shall ensure that confessionals are located in an open area and have a fixed grille, so as to permit the faithful and confessors themselves who may wish to make use of them to do so freely.
In the Church where I presently attend Mass, there are several old style confessionals, with the grille. However, the priests prefer to hear confessions in the benches in the garden in front of the Abbey.
When you arrive there before Sunday Mass, there are always two or three priests in diferent benches, waiting for the faithful to approach. Everybody knows that that place is being used for confessions, and therefore people keep distance, so as to safeguard the privacy of the person making the confession.
But the problem is that we, the faithful, are forced to sit in the garden bench face to face with the confessor and state the sins.
I go to the sacrament of confession regularly, but always with great difficulty. That's part of my personality. The problem is that my shyness is increased by the fact that I know that other faithful are observing me while I am confessing, and, in a special way, because the priest is facing me.
When I was younger, I once failed to make a complete confession, simply because I couldn't stand facing the priest. So, my shyness, and the inadequacy of confessing face to face, once led me to commit one more mortal sin. Of course, I later had to come back and confess everything, including the fact that I had ommited sins in a previous confession.
And that is not everything. If I decide to receive the Sacrament not in the Abbey where I attend Mass, but in the parish Church near my home, the problem will remain. In the parish Church, there are no confessionals with fixed grille, and the priest hears confessions in his working office. He closes the door, sits at his chair behind the table. I sit facing him and confession follows. For me, the problem remains, since I am face to face with the confessor.
What I would like is to go to an old stlyle confessional, kneel down, and confess my sins, with the priest being on the other side of the grille. I wouldn't be facing the priest and the priest wouldn't be facing me. If possible, I would remain anonymous.
It seems now, with this new Motu Proprio, that I have the right to confess only behind the grille. What should be done to ascertain that right and make it effective?
Last question - and you may choose not to answer this last question since it has nothing to do with Liturgy - The Vatican Website presents the Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei in its official Latin version and also in seven other languages, including English. Why is it that in the official Latin version the Holy Father speaks using the Royal/Pontifical We (first person of the plural, traditionaly used by Popes), and in the vernacular translations, the Roman Pontiff is portraied as speaking in the first person of the singular (the republican I)? I feel that if the Holy Father preferred to issue the official latin version of the Motu Proprio using the plural, he should be translated in the plural.
Thank you.
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on May 10, 2002 Dear Mr. Basto,
I think that the solution to this problem is the same as most other liturgical abuses. Talk with your pastor. Unfortunately, as is the case with other abuses, the pastor usually has already made a firm decision to be disobedient, so talking with them is not always productive. Still it is good that they know that the people want a grille.
About shyness: Yes, this is difficult to overcome, especially for those who do not go confession regularly or haven't been going at all and are just starting to go regularly. But really, to those who are afraid, I say there is no reason to be afraid, the priest is there to HELP you, not yell at you. It is very unlikely that your sins are sins that the priest hasn't heard a hundred times already, and usually, if it is a good priest, he will try to make it as easy as possible to have a good, complete confession without shame. Priests understand sinners since they themselves have sinned.
If it is not possible to go to a priest anonymously, and shame is a serious problem, then maybe it would be helpful simply to not make eye contact with the priest. He will understand what you are doing and will not think that you are trying to be rude. Remember that what you tell him will never leave him, it is safe with him, and he knows and understands that ALL are sinners.
For the language question: My idea about this is that they English translation is meant to be more simple. I do not know what if any the official reason for this is, so I guess that the translation is intended to be more of a study edition, and since the subject of the verb is indeed singular, then it is translated as such. Those who are knowledgeable enough to read the Latin would also know that it is a singular Pope who is the subject of the plural verb. Maybe not all that read the English will understand this, so in an effort to lesson confusion they change the verb. Just my guess.
Mr. Slavek
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