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The weepers, the hearers, the standers, and the kneelers…… March 15, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, episcopate, General Catholic, Holy suffering, Interior Life, Lent, Papa, Sacraments, sanctity, Society, Tradition, Virtue.
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There is no question that one of the biggest, most negative changes to sweep the Church since Vatican II has been the near complete loss of a corporate conception of sin on the part of almost the entire Church.  So many souls today have either been taught, or come to feel, that sin is something they essentially never commit, that mortal sin is all but impossible, and that pretty much everyone goes to Heaven?  “I mean, it’s not like I’ve killed anyone, is it?”  As if that were the sole criteria, and, yes, you may have, if you got angry and wished death or serious harm on someone, you may be guilty of murder in your heart.  Our Blessed Lord said that even calling someone a blockhead with evil intent was akin to killing them, or desiring to do so.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  Prior to Vatican II, there was a much more proper focus on sin, with Confession a regular part of virtually every faithful Catholic’s life, and regular sermons and catechesis stressing our fallen, sinful natures, entirely dependent on sanctifying Grace for salvation.  Confession lines were long, penances were real (not one Our Father, or “think about how what you did was wrong”), and souls were generally sanctified in the process.

But way back in the way back, in the early Church, the focus on sin was much, much more severe. In continuing to read through Jurgen’s Faith of the Early Fathers, one thing that is very clear is that the early Church took post-baptismal sin, or relapse, very, very seriously.  Bear in mind that at this point, most Catholics were still converts, adult converts, and that many had promised to forsake sin as a very serious conversion of heart when entering the Church.  By the time of the Council of Nicea in AD 325, there were prolongued preparatory periods of catachumens seeking baptism in place, to prove their interest in the Church was more than just a passing fancy.  And if they happened to lapse back into serious sin, the penances were amazingly harsh.

First, there were four classes of penitent, generally.  They were thus:

  1. The “weepers,” people who had committed such grave sins as adultery or heresy were required to spend years outside the church every Sunday, literally in sack-cloth and ashes, forbidden by the porters to enter and begging the faithful to pray for them.
  2. The “hearers,” people who had either committed lesser sins or who had already spent years as weepers, who were confined to the vestibule and forced to leave Mass with the catachumens after the Mass of the Catachumens (the Liturgy of the Word in the Novus Ordo) were over.  People often spent years as hearers for a single grievous sin!
  3. The “kneelers,” who also may have spent time as weepers and/or hearers.  These were allowed in the nave but had to kneel throughout the Mass of the catachumens while the other faithful stood (that was the practice back then).  Some had to prostrate themselves flat on the ground for the duration.
  4. The “standers,” who st0od with the faithful, and could remain throughout Mass, but could not receive the Blessed Sacrament.

Amazing, isn’t it!  Who earned these punishments?  Well, for one, those who fell away during the persecutions!  Canon 11 of the Council of Nicea stated that those who apostasized, or burned some incense for the emperor during the persecution of Licnius, for instance, without compulsion of confiscation of proprety or grave danger to their bodies, had to spend 3 years as hearers and seven as kneelers!  For apostasy during a heavy persecution!  Yikes! I think I’m glad the Church isn’t quite so severe anymore!  But it shows how gravely they took sin!  Because sin is the very, very worst thing in the universe!  It is the only thing that cuts us off from God and denies us that salvific Grace!

Pope Francis, while still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, had some sterling words about repentance, words that I pray will lead our new Pope to demand of the episcopate a truly great re-emphasis on repentance in general and the Sacrament of Confession in particular.  And some enforcement mechanisms to regularize Confession practices throughout the Church – like at least an hour of Confession in every parish, every day, every year!

Little by little we get used to hearing and seeing, through the media, the black chronicle of contemporary society, presented almost with perverse enjoyment and we also get used to touching it and hearing it around us and in our own flesh,” he wrote. “The drama is in the street, in the neighborhood, in our home, and, why not, in our heart.”

Rend your hearts, not your garments, artificial penance without guarantees for the future,” he continued. “Rend your hearts, not your garments, formal and fulfilled fast which continues to keep us satisfied. Rend your hearts, not your garments, superficial and egoistic prayer which does not reach the depth of our life to allow it to be touched by God

Rend your hearts to say with the Psalmist: “we have sinned.” “Sin is the wound of the soul: Oh poor wounded one, recognize your Physician! Show him the wounds of your guilt. And given that our secret thoughts are not hidden from Him, make him hear the groan of your heart. Move Him to compassion with your tears, with your insistence. Importune Him! May He hear your sighs, make your pain reach Him so that, in the end, He can say to you: The Lord has forgiven your sin” (Saint Gregory the Great).

This is the reality of our human condition. This is the truth that can bring us closer to genuine reconciliation with God and with men. It is not about discrediting self-esteem but about penetrating the depth of our hearts and of assuming the mystery of suffering and pain which has bound us for centuries, thousands of years, always.

This Pope, he is intriguing me.  He has spoken with some true force.  He really believes what he says. I am beginning to wonder what we have here.  We shall see.  The only thing that could have really tied this together, for me, was specific mention of the need to receive Sacramental Confession, regularly.  I read the entire talk, and that was absent.  But the emphasis on repentance, prayer, and penance was very, very marked.  Much better than I’ve read from pretty much any American prelate of the last 40 years.

Dominus vobiscum!