Friday, March 23, 2007

Lenten Penitential Service

As the Gregorian Schola Cantorum sang the Attende Domine, the Bishop, barefoot and in sackcloth and followed by his priests, entered the candle-lit Church. The veiled women and men dressed in their Sunday best followed the servers vested black cassocks and cottas as the procession made its way down the sanctuary. The Bishop, prostrated himself before the altar, rose and intoned the solemn Miserere and as the mournful chant ascended heavenward and filled the vault of the nave with its majestic sound, the faithful knelt to beg God for pardon and mercy.

Just kidding. Haha.... Not here, not in this lifetime =)

In order assist the faithful to fulfil the precept of Confession at least once a year and in order to help the faithful to obey the precept of receiving Holy Communion during Easter, the Catholic Church in the diocese of Penang organized Penitential Services, where priests will be available to hear individual Confessions.

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I attended the Penitential Service in the Church of the Risen Christ, a small, 1960's designed parish in Ayer Itam, about 10KM away from my parish. [There are plans to renovate the Church, including changing the facade to make it more trad. Yay! It is opposite the Anglican Christ Church, and is in the shadow of the Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple complex, one of the largest in South East Asia.]

There were 6 or seven priests in attendance, including His Lordship, Bishop Antony Selvanayagam of Penang, our own parish priest and his assistant and the administrator and assistant parish priest of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit.

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The turnout was quite good and there long lines began to form at the stations were the priests were. Of course, some priests were more popular than others =)

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Matthew, Mark's brother, told me this little gem. "The Bishop always gives one decade as penance, so if you commit only a little sin, then its not worth it. But if you have to confess many sins, then go to the Bishop for the one decade. Then its worth it." Mark, please take note and apply some corrective action.

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The following day, the penitential service was held at my parish, after the 6.00PM evening Mass. 11 priests made themselves available, including the Fathers of College General the rector, Fr. Edwin Paul, Fr. Gerard, His Grace Archbishop Emeritus Anthony Soter Fernandez, His Lordship, Bishop Antony of Penang, Fr. Paul Cheong, OFM Cap., Fr. Augustine Wong of the Church of the Risen Christ and the priests from the Cathedral.

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Despite the heavy downpour, the turnout was still good and long lines of people awaited their turn to be shriven.

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The 2 confessionals were insufficient, so stations were set up along the sanctuary and the side chapels. The Bishop took his traditional seat at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and requested a fan from me as I was rushing out for the blessing of the new shrine. Interesting.

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I'm glad that despite the overall reduction in the appreciation of the gravity of sin amongst Catholics in general, confessions before Mass are still well attended and the penitential services, which move around the parishes before Christmas and Easter, are very well attended as well.

Praise God!

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I'm just curious about the practice of Penitential Services in other parts of the world. In the old days, I use to remember that individual confessions were preceded by a para-liturgy where there would be a reading, a penitential psalm and a hymn. But now, we just get straight down to business. I'm not sure if these Penitential Services are restricted to Malaysia-Singapore. What is it like in your parish? Do you have Penitential Services? What's the structure like? Do drop me a comment and let me know.

5 comments:

Shellie said...

Mark's brother is hilarious! But... my children's first confession was Wednesday. First. They were with their CCD classes. They each only received three Hail Mary's from the retired priest. Our parish priest didn't give penances at all. Interesting. My first confession is coming up. Methinks I better practice a full rosary! :)

And I love the photos of your parish! I am going to have to get some photos up too...

M@rK said...

Some how or other, I can relate to him... maybe because he IS my brother, but also because I also used to think that way. In my time, I had a regular confessor who used to give 3 hail mary's, so I used to say those 3 hail mary's before I even went for confession, but that was back in the days when I was his age... Unfortunately, this saintly old confessor of mine passed on and my last confessor just returned to Indonesia...

Andrew said...

He now likes Fr. Ross, the Australian Air Force Chaplain. Perhaps the with his Aussie slang, Fr. can't understand what he's trying to confess. =)

You should encourage him to see Archbishop Soter or Bishop Antony for a good confession. Bishop Antony would be my confessor of choice cos he asks difficult questions.

The Hymn Selector said...

Thanks for the pics. I wonder why people sit while confessing though instead of kneeling.

Andrew said...

In the confessionals, there is the option of kneeling. But I guess in the makeshift arrangements for the Penitential Service, there's just not enough kneelers to go around. Some folk folks are just old and shaky too.

That reminds me to bring up the question of proper responses during confession. I must raise it up with the catechism teachers. I realise that some young people don't know how to cross themselves at the absolution and the Act of Contrition is often mangled terribly. Archbishop Soter normally just says "Repeat after me....".