Question Corner
With Father Kenneth Doyle

Q: Why, if we truly are children of a loving Father, does the Catholic Church push so much guilt on us? I have been faithful to my spouse. I've tried my best to raise my children in the Catholic faith. I'm honest and hardworking. I go to Mass and receive Communion every Sunday, unless illness prevents me. I support my parish and I respect people of all races, colors and religions. Why is it, then, that in the Mass we have prayers of guilt and repentance? How many times a day do I have to say "I'm sorry," and why am I "unworthy" to receive Communion? (Covington, Ga.)

A: The stock answer to this question has two elements. First, it's the reminder that God is perfect and we are not (Prv 24:16: Though the just fall seven times, they rise again) and that we are forever in need of God's forgiveness and strength.

It would then be pointed out that the Eucharist is a prize of infinite value — standing, as it does, that Jesus died and rose for us and now offers himself to us in intimate friendship — and that we should never consider ourselves worthy of such surpassing generosity.

But your question is well-reasoned, deeply felt and deserves further comment. I'm wondering whether your dismay has been triggered by the revised language of the Confiteor in the new translation of the Roman Missal.

If so, I can understand your concern, and a brief history lesson might help. An ancient Christian document called the "Didache" noted that the early Christians gathered for Eucharist on the Lord's Day "after first confessing their sins."

For centuries, the Confiteor was the private prayer of the priest and the servers. It was recited at the foot of the altar as Mass began. With the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, when language moved to the vernacular and the Confiteor was extended to the assembly, its wording was softened to reflect a contemporary spirituality.

It sought to balance a healthy self-regard with a proper humility in the face of human weakness.

Perhaps the latest English version of the Confiteor tips the balance too far back in the direction of self-flagellation. I sometimes wonder, as I look out at a Sunday congregation, how many of them are really guilty of "most grievous fault."

I prefer the wording of other options for the penitential rite, especially the one that highlights that God sent Jesus "to heal the contrite of heart." It asks for the Lord's promised mercy.

As for the protestation of our unworthiness just before Communion, those words reflect the faith of the centurion (in the eighth chapter of Matthew) who has complete trust in Christ's power to save his dying servant.

Though we understand that the gift of the Eucharist exceeds our merits, we count on its healing power as we receive it.