Papal Message on the Sacrament of Penance

«To the Extent That the Sense of Sin Is Lost, Feelings of Guilt Increase»

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 25, 2009 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s letter sent by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on the occasion of Italy’s 60th National Liturgical Week, being held in Barletta with the theme: «Celebrate Mercy: ‘Let Yourselves Be Reconciled With God.'»

The letter is addressed to Bishop Felice de Molfetta of Cerignola-Ascoli Satriano, president of Italy’s Center of Liturgical Action.

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Most Revered Excellency:
On the occasion of the 60th National Liturgical Week, which will be held in Barletta this Aug. 24-28, I am happy to give you, the collaborators of the Center of Liturgical Activity (CLA), the relators and all the participants, the cordial greeting of the Supreme Pontiff, who desires the serene and fruitful development of the meeting and assures all of a special remembrance in prayer.
He expresses appreciation for the commitment over these decades, in constant adherence to the doctrine and indications of the conciliar constitution «Sacrosanctum Concilium» (SC), and in wise obedience to the episcopate and the Holy See in proposing the mystery of the faith, which is given to man in the Church when celebrated (cf. SC, 6-7). At the same time, he invites CLA to continue on this path with the same fidelity and spirit, helping to spread — among laborers of the Lord’s vineyard — new courage and new perseverance.
Over these 60 years, the liturgical weeks have given bishops, priests, consecrated persons, experts, diocesan directors, and faithful who love the liturgy, precious opportunities to reflect more profoundly, always from the perspective of ecclesial service, that is, that of making the community grow in the spirit and life of the liturgy. It has been possible to grow closer to its center (Easter, the Eucharist), and its articulation (the sacraments, Word of God, Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgical Year), and its relation to life, culture, art and music. Thanks to the uninterrupted succession of the weeks and the work of those who programmed them and implemented them, the Church in Italy, especially in those dioceses in which they have been held, has reaped great benefit, growing in zeal for the «full and active participation by all the people […] for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit» (SC, 14).

The theme of the 60th Week, «Celebrate Mercy: ‘Let Yourselves Be Reconciled With God'» (2 Corinthians 5:20), is rooted in this line, calling attention to the sacrament of penance or reconciliation — a particularly opportune choice given both its importance and pertinence — 35 years after the new Rite of Penance came into force for the Church in Italy, and in happy coincidence with the Year for Priests. The objective of your meeting consists in understanding the whole penitential process of Christian life, in which the sacrament is integrated as an intense moment, always in an ecclesial context. It will be interesting to verify if, beyond the change in the rite, an adequate theological, spiritual and pastoral mentality has been formed.
In this connection, in a message sent to the participants in the recent 20th course on the Internal Forum, promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Supreme Pontiff stated: «These days, the correct formation of believers’ consciences is without a doubt one of the pastoral priorities because, unfortunately, as I have reaffirmed on other occasions, to the extent that the sense of sin is lost, feelings of guilt increase which people seek to eliminate by recourse to inadequate palliative remedies. The many invaluable spiritual and pastoral tools that contribute to the formation of consciences should be increasingly developed» (Benedict XVI, March 12, 2009).

And he adds: «Like all the sacraments, the sacrament of Penance too requires catechesis beforehand and a mystagogical catechesis for a deeper knowledge of the sacrament: ‘per ritus et preces.’ … Catechesis should be combined with a wise use of preaching, which has had different forms in the Church’s history according to the mentality and pastoral needs of the faithful» (ibid.).

Along with an adequate formation of the moral conscience, maturity of life and celebration of the sacrament, it is necessary to foster in the faithful the experience of spiritual support. Precisely for this reason, the Pope continued to note, today «wise and holy ‘spiritual teachers'» are needed, exhorting priests to keep «ever alive within them the knowledge that they must be worthy ‘ministers’ of divine mercy and responsible educators of consciences,» inspired in the example of the Cure d’Ars, St. John Vianney, of whom precisely this year we observe the 150th anniversary of his death (cf. ibid.).
His Holiness invokes the heavenly intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, so that the 60th liturgy week may contribute to foster a new start and renewal in the celebration of mercy and in the meaningful experience of divine pardon and, being grateful for the service given to the Church by the Center of Liturgical Activity, imparts to Your Excellency, to the archbishop of Trani-Barletta-Bisceglie and Nazareth, and to the rest of the bishops and priests present, to the relators and to all the participants a heartfelt special apostolic blessing.
For my part, I assure you of remembrance in prayer and take advantage of the opportunity to confirm my affection in the Lord.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone,
Secretary of State
 [Translation by ZENIT]

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