Confession during Mass
Answer: On March 9, 2011, the Congregation for the Clergy issued a document entitled, The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy, which addresses the whole issue of confession. This includes the theory, the practice, and such helpful things as an examination of conscience for priests. The congregation issued this document to “afford a number of simple, factual, and inspiring examples drawn from numerous ecclesial documents (cited throughout), which may eventually be directly consulted. This is not intended as an exercise in casuistry but one of daily hope and encouragement.” (Priest, #6)
The Church remains committed to the practice of frequent auricular confession. In fact, this practice is central to the spiritual renewal so sought after in Vatican II. This is not only true for the faithful, but also for the clergy. This is one of the reasons why the examination of conscience for priests is appended to the document.
Among other important points, this document clarifies the fact, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that the tendency after Vatican II to describe this practice as reconciliation, but not confession or penance, is not accurate. All three are involved with the practical use of the sacrament, and so all three terms are fittingly used for it. Confession is one of the principal, vital experiences of the mystery of divine grace, because perseverance in one’s initial conversion of heart must be constantly strengthened, and often renewed. Far from being a grim application of divine judgment, the celebration of this sacrament is an invitation to divine renewal. The judgment aspect is merely the background for the spiritual healing of grace, which forms the remedy for sin, or the support for the avoidance of venial sin. For this purpose, the document, in union with the constant teaching of the Church, recommends: “Frequent confession of venial sins and imperfections” (Priest, #50).
Since this sacrament is so important for daily perseverance in grace, it is a serious obligation for pastors to supply opportunities to celebrate it. It has become custom, in some places, to reduce the celebration of the sacrament of Penance to communal celebrations. Though these are good and emphasize the social nature of sin—provided they include private confessions—they cannot substitute for the personal encounter of private confession. In some of these celebrations, it has become customary, in some places, for priests to recommend the confession of only one sin. This is, of course, inadequate, according to the canons of the Council of Trent, still in force, that all remembered mortal sins must be confessed in number and kind.
It is, therefore, important that opportunities for private confession be offered as generously as possible, given the needs of the faithful and the priest. This includes offering them during Mass, even though after Vatican II, some taught that one should not celebrate two sacraments at the same time. John Paul II recommended this highly: “It is particularly recommended that, in places of worship, confessors be visibly present […] and that confessions be especially available even during Mass, in order to meet the needs of the faithful” (John Paul II, Misericordia Dei, 2002, 1b-2, Lc. 455). The Church even extends this to the concelebrated Mass. “In the event of a ‘concelebrated Mass, it is warmly recommended that some priests refrain from concelebrating so as to hear the confessions of the faithful” (Priest, #57).
Homily by non-ordained person
Question: I was traveling, and attended Sunday Mass in another diocese. The homily was given by a member of the parish staff. When I wrote the local bishop about this, he informed me that he has “given permission for the lay leaders, which include vowed religious, to reflect on the scriptures during the Sunday Eucharist occasionally.” I thought this was strictly forbidden by Canon 767.
Answer: The issue of the homily at Mass is an important one. It underlines the necessary relation between the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist. There are some people in the Church who consider this relationship to be accidental. This impression might have been created by the fact that the laity are permitted, in the ordinary form, to be lectors at Mass, and to participate in an action that is central to the celebration of Mass, something which does not take place in the extraordinary form. As the homily is, in a certain sense, the culmination of the liturgy of the Word, it could be construed by some that it does not matter who gives it as long as they are competent.
In fact, Vatican II is clear that there is an intense relationship between Word and Sacrament at the sacrament of all sacraments, the Mass. “The Eucharist appears as the source and the summit of all preaching of the gospel” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5). The explanation of the faith is central as a preparation to the actual carrying out of the action of the whole Church by which the paschal event is made present to the faithful. Both word and sacrament must be intimately connected, as are knowledge and love. As such, the homily is meant to bridge that gap, and stands at the culmination of the word, and the beginning of the action of love itself. In principle, only the ministers who directly participate in the act of transubstantiation—namely: bishop, priest or deacon—have the right and faculty to preach. This is made clear in the canon mentioned in the question which clearly states: “The most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself, and is reserved to a priest or deacon” (Canon 767).
Regarding the nature and content of homilies, the instruction, Inter Oecumenici, states: “By a homily, derived from the sacred text, is understood an explanation either of some aspects of the readings from holy scripture, or of another text from the Ordinary or Proper of the Mass of the day, taking into account the mystery which is being celebrated, and the particular needs of the hearers” (54). One should note that a homily does not have to be based on the readings of the day. In fact, with the advent of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, the prayers of the Roman liturgy would be excellent homily material. One could also use the life of one of the saints. Whatever the material is, though, it must be a clear bridge, in some way, between the truths of faith expressed in the readings, or prayers of the Mass, and the moral conversion supported and deepened by the presence of the faithful at the offertory, consecration and communion. Thus, a homily is reserved exclusively to the priest or deacon.
There may be other more general forms of preaching. As an exception, the laity are permitted, by the Code of Canon Law, to engage in these, even in Church. “The laity may be allowed to preach in a church or oratory if in certain circumstances it is necessary, or in particular cases it would be advantageous, according to the provisions of the Bishop’s Conference and without prejudice to canon 767, 1” (Canon 766). Preaching of this type could be conferences given at parish missions or retreats, for example. Teaching catechism in Church would not be an example of preaching.
The case which is mentioned in the question does not seem to be either preaching in general, or the specific preaching of the priest or deacon. Though non-ordained people can speak of matters during Mass, for example, give a financial report, or tell a vocation story, this is not preaching, either in general, or in particular. For a vowed religious to give homily is contrary to the intense union of word and sacrament. For a vowed religious to report on the Catholic school would not be inappropriate, as it would not be preaching. For a vowed religious or catechist to speak during a communion service would seem to be fine as this is not Mass.
This must be done prudently, and with no impression that they are giving a homily. As many people are unclear about these distinctions, an excellent way to do this would be to have the non-ordained people give the financial report, or tell the vocation story at another time than when the homily is given, after the reading of the gospel at Mass. After communion would be an excellent time to do this.