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December 8 (Thursday): Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a holy day of obligation. Vigil Mass, Wednesday, Dec 7 at 7:30pm; Masses on Thursday Dec 8 at 6:30am, 9am (with School), Noon, 6:30pm and 8pm in Spanish. You can also see Mass schedule in calendar.
December 12 (Monday): In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we welcome the miraculous digital reproduction of the original tilma commissioned by St. John Paul II, for veneration in the church from Noon until evening Mass.
December 12 (Monday): Special bi-lingual Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and the unborn. Procession at 6:30, Mass at 7:30pm followed by reception in the cafeteria.
December 16 (Friday): School Christmas Pageant in church, 7pm
December 17 (Saturday): Simbang Gabi Mass and Reception, 7:30pm
December 19 (Monday): Parish Advent Penance Service, 7pm. Please join us for this special opportunity with eight priests to prepare for the coming of Christ.
December 23 (Friday): Diocesan Simbang Gabi Mass with Bishop Burbidge and Reception, 7pm.
December 24 (Saturday): Christmas Eve Masses at 4:30pm, 7pm (Spanish), 9:30pm and Midnight. Concerts will precede both the 9:30 and Midnight Masses 45 minutes before Masses begin.
December 25 (Sunday): Christmas Day Masses at 8am, 9:30, 11:15 and 1pm (Spanish). Please note, there is no 5pm Mass on Christmas Day.
January 19 (Thursday): The Deanery Mass Welcoming our new Bishop Michael Burbidge will be hosted at St. Bernadette, reception following.
Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
Did you know that in the earliest centuries of the Church the sacrament of reconciliation was, like the other sacraments, only allowed to be celebrated once in your lifetime? Yes, that’s right. Once.
It could be traumatic. The one who confessed their sins would have to do so publicly, before the entire assembly, confess and receive a penance from the confessor. Penances often lasted several years. You might have to sit in the dust for several years at the door of the church as people came and went to Mass, with ashes on your head.
You had only one shot at it. I imagine you would take it pretty seriously. Of course, guess until when everyone chose to wait to confess their sins? If you gambled it right, you could confess your sins with your dying breath, with all your wits about you, provided you had control over such variables. A risky game.
The heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries actually did sinners a favor. Church Councils, after much debate, decided to allow a second confession for those who had already confessed once, in the circumstance of a well-meaning person who had been misled to join a heretical sect, only realizing their mistake later. Mercy was extended finally for this, the only sin regarded as unforgiveable: apostacy.
The other thing that came to the aid of sinners was plague, strangely enough. Terrible waves of disease would sweep through continental Europe and not only the lay people would die. Over time the priests from Ireland populated the churches of Europe, because Ireland was not affected by plague. But in Ireland, the Church had developed differently from the Canonical Penance of the continent. Rather, they grew up in communities surrounding the monks and priests of the local church who often were responsible for not only the spiritual but social and economic life of society as well. What today we would call spiritual direction was common. And in the course of spiritual conversations, discerning the presence of God, the awareness of contrition and conversion developed into a practice of frequent confession that was confidential in nature.
Perhaps you have heard people say, “I don’t have to confess to a priest, I confess directly to God.” Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. But in the Tradition, the integrity of the Sacrament withstood the evolution of time. The vertical nature of confession to God is fulfilled by the alter Christus, Christ present in the priest through the sacrament of Holy Orders, but also the horizontal dimension of confession to the Church is also satisfied. You see, when we sin, it isn’t just between us and God at all; our sin damages each and every member of the Body of Christ whether we stop to realize it or not. Satisfaction, or forgiveness, must come from both dimensions in order for sin to be remitted: forgiven by God, forgiven by our brothers and sisters. Confession remains public, that is, out loud to a human representative of the Church, but done in such a safe way that absolute confidence demands it never need be known by anyone else.
I’m troubled that we seem to have few confessions at St. Bernadette, but people keep telling me that everyone is going to other churches for the sacrament. If that is true, we need to address the topic and figure out how we can better serve our parish in this way. This Advent we will have a parish Penance Service on Monday the 19th in the evening with guest priests, but I’m told that recently not too many people attend. At this point we won’t be able to add too much to the calendar, so please join us on the 19th.
There was something we tried last year at Saint Mary that was a little experimental, but hugely successful. Apparently people give up after they have been standing in line for too long for too many trips in a row, as people in front are seeking advice or counseling, or otherwise taking a long time. We tried a kind of “speed dating” approach: if you’re interested in coming, simply confessing sins, receiving penance and absolution quickly and with no discussion or direction this was for you. That night literally hundreds of people came, probably half of them not having been to confession for 20 or 30 years. Maybe we could try this, too.
Advent is often mistaken for a penitential season, like Lent. It is not. It is a time of preparing our hearts and homes for the coming of the Lord. If confessing sins is a necessary part of that process, then confession is a real part, but the focus isn’t on doing penance for penance’s sake, such as the fasting and almsgiving of Lent.
Simply because the sacrament became possible frequently, however, I don’t think it should become a form of maintenance. It must never become routine. Please, let’s realize the absolute gift that is the sacrament of reconciliation. If we don’t know God’s mercy in our lives we have no reason to be merciful people.
God bless you.
Father Don Rooney
Pastor, Saint Bernadette Catholic Church
Director, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Diocese of Arlington
7600 Old Keene Mill Road
Springfield, VA 22152
703-451-8576; mobile 703-309-8719