By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Q: While I know that only confession will reconcile me with God, I am confused about the terminology used in my parish. (We are a rural parish and have very few opportunities for confession, but there is always the chance to make a private appointment for confession.)
Any scheduled confessions are now announced as reconciliation, and I am not clear as to what to expect when I go. Sometimes there is a reconciliation service followed by confessions; other times there are only confessions.
Does the church no longer recognize a difference between the reconciliation service (which was to prepare us for confession) and the sacrament of confession (which is private). In other words, is there still a sacrament of confession or is it now called the sacrament of reconciliation? (Courtland, Virginia)
A: Generally, the sacrament of penance can be called confession or reconciliation, and the three terms are used interchangeably. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1423-24) lists several names by which the same sacrament can be designated.
These include: the sacrament of conversion, the sacrament of penance, the sacrament of confession, the sacrament of forgiveness and the sacrament of reconciliation.
The catechism notes that "the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament" (No. 1424).
Sometimes parishes offer reconciliation services that include prayers and scriptural readings on forgiveness, as well as a homily on the same topic. It would be good for a local church to mention in advance what the format will be for the sacrament -- in particular so that parishioners can know how much time to allow.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.