An innovation in the program of the next World Youth Day: the pope administering the sacrament of forgiveness. With the Son of God who “went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins”
by Sandro Magister
World Youth Day is not an invention of Benedict XVI, but of his predecessor.
Pope Joseph Ratzinger, however, has introduced two very significant innovations.
The first was in Cologne, in the summer of 2005. At the culmination of the nighttime vigil, Pope Benedict knelt before the consecrated host. At length, and in silence. With hundreds of thousands of young people touched by this act of adoration.
Since then, with Pope Benedict, silent Eucharistic adoration has become a constant not only of the World Youth Days, but also of other mass gatherings, for example the vigil in Hyde Park in London, on September 18, 2010.
The second innovation will be introduced in Madrid, , in the Jardines del Buen Retiro. At the 26th World Youth Day, which will be held in the Spanish capital, the pope will administer the sacrament of confession in public, for one hour before celebrating the Mass in the cathedral.
To be precise, the confessions have been part of the program of the World Youth Days ever since the one held in Rome in 2000, when the Circus Maximus became for many hours the largest open-air confessional in memory.
But until now, the pope had never dedicated himself to hearing the confessions of young people in person, during a World Youth Day.
John Paul II used to spend a few hours in a confessional in the basilica of Saint Peter once a year, on Wednesday of Holy Week.
Benedict XVI has repeated this action only two times, until now: in two penitential celebrations with the young people of the diocese of Rome, in the basilica of Saint Peter, on the Thursday before Palm Sunday, March 29, 2007 and March 13, 2008.
But that the sacrament of confession is at the center of his pastoral care is beyond doubt.
He has spoken of it many times. Above all to priests. For the Year for Priests he held between 2009 and 2010, he proposed as a model the Curé d’Ars, a saint who spent more than ten hours in the confessional every day, with penitents who flocked to him, a humble rural pastor, from all over France.
To cite just two references, Benedict XVI dedicated entirely to the sacrament of confession the speech he gave on March 11, 2010 at the Apostolic Penitentiary:
And most recently, he began the homily for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul this year, which coincided with the sixtieth anniversary of his priestly ordination, by talking precisely about the sacrament of forgiveness:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends’ (cf. Jn 15:15). Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice. According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. ‘No longer servants, but friends’: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way. He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me – with his authority – to be able to speak, in his name (‘I’ forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: ‘No longer servants, but friends.’ He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. ‘You are no longer servants, but friends:’ these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one’s own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.” […]
The intensity with which Benedict XVI is promoting a rebirth of confession has not yet been matched with a sensible implementation of his appeals, on the part of bishops and priests.
The topic has also be largely ignored by the media.
Will Benedict XVI’s public gesture in Madrid hearing the confessions of several young people during the World Youth Day, call attention back to this crucial deficit in Christian practice today?