For South Valley Catholics, Christmas preparations include more
than putting up a tree and buying gifts for friends and family.
Part of their preparation includes the sacrament of
For South Valley Catholics, Christmas preparations include more than putting up a tree and buying gifts for friends and family. Part of their preparation includes the sacrament of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is one of seven sacraments, which also include marriage and baptism, in the Catholic church. Parishioners go to a priest for confession, entering a small room called a confessional where they can sit in front of a priest or kneel behind a small partition, out of view of the priest. They tell the priest their shortcomings and failures as a symbol of turning to God and asking for forgiveness.
“It is not really a question of God forgiving us. God will always forgive us, but that is unilateral,” said Father Saju Joseph at St. Mary Catholic Church in Gilroy. “But reconciliation is bilateral. One person turns to another and says ‘I’m sorry,’ acknowledging the wrong they have done. Reconciliation is about continuing to build a relationship.”
Catholics can go to confession every week, but during Advent – the four weeks preceeding Christmas – and Lent – the 40 days and nights preceeding Easter – the church holds special reconciliation prayer services that include hyms, readings and individual confession, said Philip Flowers, the liturgy coordinator at St. Catherine’s Parish in Morgan Hill.
“It’s a good experience for people who feel like they’ve been away (from the faith) for a while and it’s time to come back,” he said. “We do this with the idea that if people have been estranged from church or God, or even from other people, this is the time to come to terms with that.”
Catholics participate in reconciliation throughout the year, but these special services are celebrations of the sacrament, just like married couples practice their committed relationship all year but celebrate on anniversaries, Joseph said. Advent is one of the times chosen to celebrate because Catholics are preparing for the birth of Christ and Christmas is a time for thinking about others.
“If we were preparing for a party, we know who to invite, what dessert to make and so on,” Joseph said. “This is preparing in a spiritual way; we are focusing on our relationship with God.”
A priest is not allowed to reveal what was said in confession, Joseph said. Even if someone confesses murder in the confessional, the priest can take no action and cannot testify against the person. American courts recognize this unique confidentiality. The priest offers a blessing but does not judge, Joseph said.
After confession, the priest gives the parishioner a penance to do.
“Penance is not about punishment. It’s a guideline for improving,” Joseph said. “It’s about keeping communication open with God.”
Finally, the parishioner says a special prayer called the Act of Contrition.
“The Act of Contrition is saying, ‘Lord, I’m sorry and I will do my best not to (sin) again,” Joseph said.
Act of Contrition
There are several versions of the Act of Contrition and many people forget exactly how it goes, so most churches post the prayer in the confessional or provide note cards with the prayer printed on them. The prayer goes:
“O my God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to sin and failing to do good, I have sinned against you and your Church. I firmly intend, with the help of your Son, to do penance and to sin no more.”
Confession and prayer
The times for regular confession and the special reconciliation prayer services in the South Valley are:
St. Mary Catholic Parish in Gilroy
11 1st St. in Gilroy
7pm Dec. 20
Weekly confession Saturdays 4 to 4:45pm
St. Catherine’s Parish in Morgan Hill
17400 Peak Ave. in Morgan Hill
7pm Dec. 13
Weekly confession Saturdays 4 to 5pm
St. Benedict Sacred Heart Catholic Church
680 College St. in Hollister
7pm Dec. 20
Weekly confession 3:30pm in English and 6pm in Spanish
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
7290 Airline Highway in Tres Pinos
5:30 to 6:30pm Dec. 23 (confession only)
9 to 10am Dec. 24 (confession only)
Weekly confession 4 to 4:30pm