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The Council of Trent defended the 'sacrament of penance', as one of the seven sacraments of Catholic faith. The theologians of the sixteenth century, however, were incapable of the full appreciation of the complex history of the sacrament available today.

They defended the sacrament - as Church discipline had administered it for many centuries - as an authentic expression of the Church's sacramental life.

During the twentieth century the sacrament became a far more frequent experience for Catholics. At the beginning of the century, only a few people took Communion at Mass. The liturgical renewal, initiated by Pope Pius X, fostered more frequent Communion.

The sodalities of men, women and young people which became an important part of parish life in the mid twentieth century had as their principal objective the promoting of monthly Communion.

Under the influence of lingering overtones of Jansenism, however, most took it for granted that they should 'go to confession' before receiving Communion, even though they were conscious of no serious problem in their moral life.

As the reception of Communion became more frequent, people approached the sacrament of reconciliation more frequently. They were encouraged to avail themselves of the sacrament as a source of grace, even though they were not conscious of any serious sins.

To appreciate the place of the sacrament in the lives of these people, we must recall the impersonalised style of the Church's liturgy at that time - a matter which was one of the first concerns of the Second Vatican Council. For many people, in the mid twentieth century, their confession was the most personalised experience they had of involvement in the Church's sacramental life.

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Copyright © John Thornhill - Questions Catholics Ask in a Time of Change. For more, see The Emmaus Series


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