January 29, 2010, WORCESTER, MA -- Faced with a continuing decline in the number of Roman Catholics who go to confession regularly, Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester, issued today a Pastoral Letter on the Sacrament of Penance. In it he provided a brief summary of the church’s teaching on the need for the sacrament and called for Catholics in the Diocese of Worcester to partake in the sacrament, particularly during the upcoming season of Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17.
In order to make the Sacrament of Penance, also known as Confession, more readily available, the bishop has asked all parishes to participate in a Lenten initiative called Come Home to God’s Mercy. This will include offering the sacrament throughout the diocese in every parish on Tuesday evenings from 7 pm to 8:30 pm in addition to their current schedules, frequent preaching on the sacrament, as well as focused education in Catholic schools, religious education programs, and adult faith formation settings. Special flyers for bulletins, articles in The Catholic Free Press, and other forms of media will be used to develop greater awareness and a deeper understanding of the sacrament.
In addressing the value of confession, the bishop wrote, “it is impossible to live the Christian life without the help of God’s grace, and that grace is made available to us every time we receive the Sacrament of Penance. Our Catholic faith teaches us that the sacraments of the Church are privileged ways of receiving the grace that enables us to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Bishop McManus noted that in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, “the importance and necessity of receiving the Sacrament of Penance were sometimes minimized or, sad to say, even denied.” For instance, some Catholics have come to believe that the Penitential Rite at the beginning of the Mass would provide “sacramental absolution” of sins. This is not true, the bishop points out, especially if one has committed a grave or mortal sin.
The bishop’s pastoral briefly touches upon the nature of sin, noting that it distances oneself from God, and that “conversion, that is the continual turning away from sin and under God’s grace turning back to God, is essential to the Christian life.” The goal of his pastoral and Lenten initiative is to encourage Catholics to return to regular use of the Sacrament in support of that continuing conversion.
The complete pastoral is being issued today in The Catholic Free Press and has been sent to pastors. The Pastoral Letter on Penance can also be downloaded by clicking on the name.