Today’s Ash Wednesday, the formal beginning of Lent. If the Roman Catholic Church was serious about reform and really intent on cleaning up clergy abuse, they’d take full advantage of this season to put on a big penitential show. Prelates in the Vatican would conduct the most solemn services in simple garb. The entire Church would be called to self-examination and criticism and so forth. There would be special liturgies, and the pope would lead the confession of sins with admitting his own inadequacies and role in the cover-up. They wouldn’t even have to whip themselves, though it’d be a great touch.
Not ever gonna happen, of course, though I’d bet wafers to waffles that it would work. The sheeple would gratefully gobble it up. And who knows? Maybe the enthusiasm of the laity would be so great that the pope could actually mandate real changes.
Instead, it’s the same old thing. The more than a month-long festival of feeling bad begins with a priest placing blessed ashes on the layperson’s forehead. While this has the advantage of showing just who the hardcore culties are out on the street, it’s totally non-Biblical. Here’s what Jesus had to say:
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:16-18)
And speaking of totally pagan, for those still foolishly clinging to the Roman system, here once again Gleaners Chapel presents the Catholic Confessional Easter Duty Cheat-Sheet, with time-honored, Church-approved ways of cutting time and trouble in the big dark box. They’re theologian-tested and apostolically-approved!
One of the primary means that the Catholic Church maintains its power over sinners is by means of the sacrament of Penance. But it is a total scam, as the complicated, artificial rules listed below clearly show. But ever since annual Confession and Holy Communion was made obligatory on all Catholics in 1216, sinners of all stripes have willingly, resentfully, or otherwise dutifully lined up in a yearly ritual to tell the man in black their evil doings. (Booths, by the way, were a late invention, intended to prevent the confessor from soliciting sex in the confessional – however, the privacy may make verbal seduction easier.)
Penitents are supposed to make an critical and unsparing self-examination of all their sins since the last go-round, and try to work up a cleansing lather of genuine sorrow. And of course, they are to do afterwards whatever their confessor tells them to do as penance and sin no more… or at least, not until they’ve taken Holy Communion. Otherwise, they’ll be worse off than before.
It’s generally a drag, a spiritual chore like going to the dentist, only even more humiliating than when the assistant asks why you haven’t been flossing.
Well, cheer up, sinners! I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the so-called Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’m happy to tell you there are a number of absolutely legal shortcuts you can use to make it less of a burden. Yes, with the magic of Roman Catholicism, you too can enjoy both this world AND the next!
What they never taught in parochial school
Confession has evolved greatly over the centuries. Penance started off hard and long — confessions were made in front of the entire congregation, and the punishments were also public and often lasted years, sometimes decades. Usually they involved sitting outside the church begging for prayers from those permitted to participate. But thanks to generations of tireless rationalization by theologians, apologists, and moralists, it’s gotten remarkably easy. Why? Partly because they wanted to make it as effortless as possible for all humans (or at least their rich patrons) to be saved, and partially because the theologians just couldn’t resist creating exceptions, and conditions, and fine shades of meaning, so that ultimately, there’s no telling what good and evil is anymore. Maybe that is the mercy of God in action.
Confessors are instructed not to tell or even ask penitents certain things, for fear they will sin even worse. (Women used to learn about forbidden practices like oral or anal sex from their confessors quizzing them in detail about it.) Priests are also taught that moral certainty is not nearly so clear-cut as the Baltimore Catechism would have you believe. After all, the priests may claim God gave them the keys to unlock Heaven, but not necessarily the wisdom to go with it, so they have devised ways to make this impossible chore tolerable. With that in mind, then, here’s your unofficial but legit “cheat sheet” to make “the odious sacrament” as painless as possible.
Making Confession easy
- If you think it’s a sin, it’s a sin; if you don’t, or don’t know if it is, it isn’t. Simple as that. The priest must take YOUR word for it. However, deliberately not knowing is a big no-no, so be sure to have your rationalization for why your persistent crude sexual harassment of the lunch lady was just having fun fully worked out. (Note: for confession only as this may not work as well in civil court, nor that of public opinion.)
- Genuine contrition, so difficult to achieve, is not necessary. In fact, it renders sacramental confession unnecessary. But to be forgiven in Confession, just showing up and telling your misdeeds is considered sorrow enough for most sins. As for certain mortal sins from which you have profited, many can be “paid off” by donating some of the illicit proceeds to the Church. For example, it is enough to be forgiven for theft by returning only 20% of the profits. Of course, since it may be dangerous to return the college funds to those orphans you cheated, it’s perfectly acceptable (and ever so convenient) for you to donate a small portion of them to the local Catholic church instead.
- Nowadays, the official Catholic policy is NOT to refuse absolution for any reason in the confessional no matter what they say outside it for fear of sending the penitent away in mortal despair. Priests are required to give penitents the benefit of the doubt in all cases. So pay no attention to those judgmental prigs who look down on you for cannibalism; just tell the priest how really, really hungry you were, and that you didn’t know it was a sin, and all will be well.
- Only mortal sins have to be confessed. Venial sins won’t send you to Hell no matter how many thousands you accumulate, and they can all be wiped away with just a few drops of holy water. So you don’t have to mention being mean to your sister, indulging in a chocolate treat or three which you gave up for Lent, or even masturbating every hour on the hour! What a relief. 🙄
- Due to secrecy and to avoid scandal, only the lightest penances may be given for anything, and these can be refused or negotiated. Yes, you can haggle over absolution! Willingness to say just one Our Father or Hail Mary is sufficient. But wait – there’s more, especially for clergy! Since a priest hurriedly going to Confession just before Mass might give rise to scandal, a priest can therefore bugger an altar boy in the sacristy and then immediately say Mass undisturbed by conscience, as long as the priest merely intends to confess it sooner or later, knowing that even then, he cannot be subjected to an onerous penance. There are a number of cases where this has actually happened.
- You can do your Easter duty for two years by going to Confession and Communion twice in one season. Do it once at the beginning, and once at the end, and you’re covered for twice the time.
- Finally, don’t forget indulgences. Confession may save your sorry ass from Hell, but it will still get roasted in Purgatory, unless you get an indulgence to take care of it. You’ll need one and only one plenary or full indulgence for each and every mortal sin committed during each go around. They’re easily acquired these days, but you can only get them while in a state of grace, so it’s best to do it ASAP after Confession along with your penance. (By the way, the years listed for limited indulgences – say, “10 years for a Hail Mary” – does not refer to time taken off from Purgatory, but the spiritual benefit of doing the activity for that period of time. So, “10 years” means “10 years of prayer and fasting” because even the Catholic Church does not pretend to know how much actual grace these practices are worth.)
Not everyone is required to perform the Easter duty. Prostitution, for instance, is recognized by theologians as a lesser evil than rape or incest, so Catholic hookers are not only tolerated in society, but they are exempt from the duty of yearly Confession. (Professional courtesy from one class of whores to another, no doubt.) 😈
Finally, relax. Remember that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, it doesn’t make your sin any worse if you do it intending to confess it anyway. So don’t let premature guilt spoil your fun! 😛
Happy absolution all! Hope this helps!
May God forgive all your sins, and grant you peace and chocolate bunnies all your days. But you know, you’ve already been forgiven of all your sins by Christ dying for you. All you really need to do is to freely accept that grace from your Savior. No priest or magic cookie required.
Posts on Holy Week and Easter:
- What Bread and Which Wine?
- Why the Empty Tomb?
- Close Encounters of the Resurrected Kind
- The Strangeness of the Risen Christ
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