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When Anne Froelich, RCIA coordinator at St. Matthew Parish in Allouez, explains the sacrament to catechumens and candidates, she understands that telling one’s sins to a priest can be somewhat frightening. That is because they are unfamiliar with the reasoning behind it.
“I always tell them that we are all broken and need healing and this allows God’s healing touch to be with us,” she explained. “Just like in human relationships, we feel broken and seek reconciliation with one another in so many different ways. God is loving and forgiving and we are so precious to him.”
In addition to explaining the meaning behind the sacrament, Froelich, who has five candidates this year, also provides a reconciliation service before Easter to give the opportunity for candidates and catechumens to talk with the parish priest about the sacrament and to ask for God’s special blessing.
Because catechumens receive baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, they do not participate in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation until after Easter. However, the candidates, who have been baptized, will participate in the sacrament of reconciliation before the Easter Vigil.
“This reconciliation service helps them all to feel that it is not a frightening thing and that they are not merely confessing to another person, but they are building a deeper relationship with God,” said Froelich. “This can be such a comforting, healing presence in a person’s life.”
With a team of four to assist her, Froelich uses “Journey of Faith” by Liguorian Publications, copies of “Catholic Update” by American Catholic and sacramental materials written by Servant of Mary Sr. Sandra DeGidio.
“I have always had the team share personal experiences of the sacrament of reconciliation, which is helpful,” she said. “I think they are more understanding of reconciliation with the interactions from my team than with any other method. We also spend time going through what it is like going into the room, going face-to-face or behind the curtain. I find it very rewarding to share my faith journey and walk with them on theirs — it is such a gift.”
In Rosemary Baloun’s seven years as RCIA coordinator at Resurrection Parish in Allouez, no one has said they were frightened of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
“There is always more discussion around the Eucharist than reconciliation,” she said. “For example, they don’t understand why they can’t receive the Eucharist because they did it in their Lutheran background.”
To prepare the participants to receive the sacrament, Baloun uses “The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to Catholicism,” a video on reconciliation by Fr. Michael Himes (Franciscan Media).
“He does an excellent presentation and explanation of the sacrament along with ‘The Journey of Faith’ and ‘Catholic Faith Handbook’ (St. Mary’s Press),'” she said. “These are all great resources and it varies each year as I meet the needs of each group in a way that brings understanding for them.”
In addition, Sheila De Luca, pastoral associate and family life director at Resurrection, presents a session introducing the sacraments to the group. In the introduction, she explains how each of the sacraments came from Jesus.
“Jesus gave us many examples of forgiveness in the Bible,” said Baloun. “Then I share the history of reconciliation so they have an understanding of how we arrived at confessing with a priest. We then talk about the rites and walk through them in detail. This, along with the video from Fr. Michael brings great understanding to them. Our candidates then celebrate the sacrament at our retreat and I have never had a situation where they didn’t celebrate.”
Utilizing information from the USCCA (U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults), RCIA director Debra Brandt of Four Parish Catholic Family (St. Anthony, Tigerton; St. Mary, Marion; Holy Family-St. William, Wittenberg; and St. Mary, Leopolis) prepares catechumens and candidates for the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
“We use the section on reconciliation and other resources as they pertain to it, along with the Catholic witness of the laity present in the meetings,” she said. “The witness of the effects of the sacrament is very powerful to their own understanding in the effects that will be brought to their own lives. We also use a good guide to the sacrament, so they know what to expect in the confessional.”
While she is unsure how many return to the sacrament after receiving it for the first time, Brandt admits that most are frightened until it is explained to them.
“We cover this quite extensively and try to incorporate the parish priest into one of our sessions,” she said. “After they have heard it once, they need the time to first grasp it. The second time, they need to bring it into their daily life and finally come back with their innermost questions about it, so they can internalize it and embrace its grace that flows from it.”
While frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation is encouraged, Brandt assumes that the new members probably receive it once or twice a year.
“From what our parish priest says, there are not many frequenting the sacrament on a regular basis, and this is quite sad, since we are all called to this so we can be cleansed and lead holier lives within our community,” she said. “To think that we, who are sinners, do not see the need or fail to see our failings, only tells me that we need to get back to our roots and learn more about this wonderfully glorious God of ours.”