So far we have discussed the first two precepts of the Church, the first being the obligation to attend Mass on every Sunday of the year and to attend Mass on all holy days of obligation as well as the second precept of confessing our sins at least once a year. We must remember that these are not mere rules for the sake of rules but are truly meant for the spiritual welfare and salvation of the faithful. The precepts were formulated with the salvation of souls in mind.
It would be difficult to say that worshiping God as a community once a week is a tremendous burden or somehow detrimental in some way. Yes, the way Mass is celebrated in some parishes can seem burdensome and even be scandalous, but in most cases a more reverent Mass can be found in a neighboring parish. If for example, a priest uses leavened bread and grape juice at Mass, or if he changes the Eucharistic Prayer, or if he changes the words of institution, or if he changes the readings to suit his own tastes, or if he has the congregation do ‘the wave’ to call down the Holy Spirit, or if he allows laypeople to preach or to fulfill another role reserved for priests and deacons, or if he reads his Christmas cards instead of preaching, or if he sounds more like a politician than a priest, or if he regularly does not show up to offer Sunday Mass without getting another priest to cover for him (excepting for cases of sudden illness), or whatever detracts from worthily worshiping God, then such abuses absolutely need to be reported to the bishop. Catholics have a right to the sacraments. Yet Catholics have been putting up with aberrant and unworthy liturgies for many decades. Some people have endeavored to persevere while others have simply left. But what if the laity had reported such abuses and demanded more reverent Masses? What if the bishops had been more proactive?
If the Mass itself is being abused by priests, it stands to reason that the sacrament of confession would suffer a similar fate. Priests who do not use the right formula of absolution, who try to tell the penitent that their sins are not sins (except when the penitent is truly mistaken), who tell the penitent to substitute one serious sin for another, who give general absolution without impending peril, etc. are doing no one any favors. If the priest does not use the right formula for absolution – ‘God, the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and poured out the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen’ – substantially changing it, especially the part ‘I absolve you from your sins,’ it is possible that the absolution is invalid and the sins remain. If he says minor deviations from the formula, such as saying ‘I absolve you of your sins’ it is likely a valid absolution. The same can be said of the first portions of the formula of absolution: minor changes or omissions probably do not invalidate the forgiveness of sins. Whether the alterations to the formula are invalidating or not, why would a priest leave any room for doubting on the part of the faithful? Likewise, if the full extent of the mortal sins known to the penitent are not confessed, either because they deliberately withhold them or do not confess them because the priest insists they are not sins, then it is likely that the confession is invalid and the sins remain. Why would a penitent not want to be forgiven? Does human respect trump respect for God? Why would a priest endanger the souls of the faithful by telling them not to confess serious sins? Who benefits from doubtful, dubious, or invalid sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession? No man, woman, or child benefits in any way from invalid or dubious sacraments.
There is no doubt, however, who benefits from valid sacraments. Those who receive the sacraments worthily receive graces from God, graces that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Jesus said “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:54-55) and “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23) for a reason. He instituted the sacraments for the same reason He was born, suffered, died, and rose from the dead.