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When was the Last Time You Went to Confession? Part1

Believe it or not, in the 1950’s American Catholics went to confession much more frequently and received Holy Communion much less frequently.  A couple of factors brought this about.  First, the Church had a midnight fast.  To receive Holy Communion, the person could not eat or even drink water after 12:00 o’clock.  Because of this regulation, many people, especially at the later Sunday masses, did not receive Communion.  Therefore, if a person felt unworthy of Holy Communion, they would attend a later mass where many did not receive.  They would also know that they needed to go to confession.

For many decades, the American Catholics were known by their desire for frequent confession.  In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, many priests were needed as confessors in every parish.  Confessions were heard both Saturday afternoon and evening.  So many adults came at night, that children were told to go to confession on Saturday afternoon.  Even with many priests hearing confessions in all the parts of the Church, people had to wait in line to go to confession.  If a priest were popular, his line would be very long.

In these little teachings, I am trying to recall and hopefully regain, the wonderful gift of frequent confession that filled the American Catholic Church until the late 1960’s.  A gigantic cause of this devotion to frequent confession was the holy, religious sisters who taught in the Catholic schools.  Especially memorable for all of us was the monthly confession on Thursday before First Friday.  We would all close our eyes and put our heads down on the desk.  For the next 10 minutes, sister would read a list of questions that helped us examine our consciences.  Then, we would go to church, and confess our sins to the priests.  The next day, First Friday, would be the special children’s mass and Holy Communion.

A French priest, Fr. Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638) wrote a book in which he claimed to be following the moral teaching of St. Augustine, when in fact, the book was heretical.  (He was an excellent priest and died, not even imagining what would happen).  After his death, the Church fought against his harsh teachings for decades, however, these teachings took hold in people’s minds, resulting in Jansenism.  This heresy taught that God is so holy that he did not want us to receive Holy Communion often.  The Jansenists had their own crucifix.  Jesus’ arms were not outstretched, embracing everyone, but lifted straight up, as if he only embraced the perfect souls.

Because the Church’s efforts could not eradicate this heresy, Our Lord himself intervened.  He appeared to St. Margaret Mary (1647–1690) and asked for the First Friday devotion.

I will continue this series next week.  By knowing our history, we can reclaim the gift.

From a very holy priest.

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    Anthony Mullen
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