On Liturgy and confession

12 August 1973
Theme: Worship, Tradition, Pastoral care, Discipline   Place: London Parish   Period: 1971-1975   Genre: Sermon

In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

The holy, the divine liturgy is a feast of divine love and of mutual concern and charity. God has spread a table for us, and to spread the table has become one of us, shared with us all our tragic human predicaments, and accepted, He, the Lord of the Glo­ry, to be in the form of a servant, to be humiliated and abased, to accept death and the death on the Cross, a humiliating, punitive death reserved for criminals. This table He spread at the cost of His life, because the life of Christ is for us the outpouring of incarnate divine love. And we gather here also in the name of the God of love and in the name of love. From the beginning to the end of the li­turgy, one after the other succeed litanies in which again and again, in new con­texts, with renewed depth of feeling, with an increasing awareness of the signifi­cance of the crucified and sacrificial love of God, we pray for one another, for all conditions of men, for all human needs, for all situations, gathering into a sequence of prayers the living and the dead, the saints and the sinners, our hopes and our despairs, everything which is human held in a love which is beyond the hu­man because we offer equally, with the same deep concern, with the same broken-heartedness prayers for enemies and for suffering friends. The liturgy should be in all respects a feast of human love filled with divine charity understood as concrete personal thoughtful charity for one another; and it should indeed blossom out in every action of life, within the church and outside. Having caught fire with love in church we should walk in life aglow with light and love divine, aflame with true human charity and love.

And against this background I wish to say a few words which may sound sad, because we wish the liturgy to be a feast without a cloud, and yet, it can be a feast without a cloud only when concern, charity is made manifest: I have asked more than once people never to come to confession in the morning before a service because it is not the right time, not only because if there is only one priest, all those who have come to share in the feast must wait and wait, at times at the cost of their being not present here until the end of the service, but mainly be­cause the celebrating priest is not in a position, when he is taken away from the Holy Table, to pray for all those, who insistently and rightfully ask us to pray for them in the context of Christ’s Crucifixion and of His Resurrection, in the context of the sacrificial and crucified love of God and of the victory of love over indifference and hatred, and what is perhaps at times more cruel, forgetfulness.

And today, because so many of you have been careless, totally thoughtless concerning the prayers of the priests, one of our priests was deprived, from the beginning to the end, in participating in the holy liturgy; all he was able to do was to receive communion, communion indeed this time to the sacrificial Christ Who forgets everything in order to seek out, to save, to heal, to bring back the lost sheep. Is that a manifestation of human concern and of charity? Is that something which is possible, permissible, acceptable in the context of the holy liturgy which is a meeting of all face to face with God Himself. Where is forgetfulness of self? Where is concern of the other? On the part of the sacrificed priest indeed.

But this is not only to defend the prayers of the priest, his right to pray for you and to take part also, like any other Christian, in the divine liturgy: it is also directed towards each of those who come to confession. A confession is a meeting face to face with God, a confession should be prepared and made as though it was the confession which we will bring to God before our last hour and before our death, before we stand before God. Such confession cannot be made hastily with the awareness that time is running short. Yes, life is running short, time is running short, death is coming upon each of us, and judgement and this dread and glorious meeting with the Living God. But we must prepare carefully, come to con­fession thoughtfully, not simply assuming that, having confessed our sins, pou­red out our soul before God we will be in peace.

There are things to be done at times between confession and the reception of communion. There are relationships that must be put right, forgiveness to be asked, a preparation in prayers and brokenheartedness to be made. When do you ex­pect time will be found when your confession takes place in the course of the liturgy which has nothing to do with it, just before you receive communion? What if the priest, as is his duty, tells you that he cannot give you absolution unless you make your peace, unless you overcome hatred, unless you start a new life? Think of it, come on a Saturday evening, after the service there is time for confession; between the confession and communion there is time for thought, for a renewed appraisal of one’s life in the light of divine forgiveness and divine mercy and divine love. There is time to go to those whom we have wronged to ask for forgiveness, there is time to prepare oneself in a new way to meeting Christ, not a judge, but as the Saviour.

All this is part of the mystery of the Church’s life, all that is part of true concern for one’s own salvation. And beyond this own salvation, for the cross, and the life, and the blood, and the death of Christ, that it should not have been spilled in vain because we, indifferently, thoughtlessly behave in the face of the crucified Son of God. Remember that charity to God is inseparable from concern, charity for one another. Remember that the feast of the holy litur­gy is a mystery of love and that love mist be accomplished, fulfilled in every detail, in the silence which we keep so that others may pray peacefully, in a de­cency of behaviour, in the concern for one another, including the celebrating priest, and only then shall it become love capable of pouring out of this church into the world to bring a new dimension of concern, of depth, of love and of sacrifice into a world that is cold, indifferent and greedy. This is the message of the Liturgy for us. Let us receive it and let us fulfil it so that God may rejoice that He has lived, that He has died and that we have received from Him abundance of life through His death and understanding in the ways of love through His example and teaching. Amen.

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