Tag Archives: Priest


Quick relief

Let me tell you a story about Bishop Fulton Sheen. It well illustrates how delicately God, through this sacrament of confession , takes away from us the terrible burden of sins. Really it’s like having a tooth out with anaesthetic. Jesus took all the pain in his Passion. We just feel the relief.

Bishop Fulton Sheen was on a plane journey, and after a time the man next to him, seeing he was a priest, said, ‘You know, Father, I’ve got all sorts of troubles.’ Fulton Sheen said, ‘What are they now?’

The man started telling him all his woes, and after a time the Bishop said, ‘You know, from the way you’re talking you might be a lapsed Catholic.’ And the man said, ‘Well Father, I suppose you could call me that.’

Fulton Sheen said, ‘How long is it since you went to confession?’

‘About twenty years.’

‘Are you married?’


‘Are you living with your wife?’


‘Are you having an affair with another woman?’


‘Well, fasten your seat belt, and I’ll hear your confession.’

When he had been to confession the man said,

‘You know, Father, I reckon God wanted me to sit here, because I had a seat reserved on a previous plane but I missed my connection, and I had to ring my wife and say I was coming on the next plane. This seat I’m sitting on was the only empty seat left on the plane.’

God’s plans

Fulton Sheen said, ‘Does your wife go to the sacraments?’ and the man said, ‘No.’ ‘Is it long since she went?’ ‘About the same as me.’

So Fulton Sheen said, ‘When we get there you must introduce me.’

At LA Guardia airport, the man introduced Fulton Sheen to his wife and they found a secluded part of the airport and he heard her confession too.

Now that incident shows how confession defuses what could be an explosive emotional situation, the return of the prodigal son.

Confession makes the return of the sinner to God easier, because it concentrates the sinner’s attention and energy on the one essential element in the whole process of reconciliation: the movement of the will away from sin and towards God, in other words, a change of heart. This sacrament cuts out the frills. It keeps emotion in a duly subordinate place and enables the sinner to come straight to the point.

God respects our free will

God respects our free will. He does not force anyone. He does not force the sinner to come back. But confession makes it all relatively easy and unembarrassing.

It took God’s wisdom and love to invent this sacrament, which frees us so gently from our sins. I once knew a nurse who worked in a maternity hospital. She was a very gentle soul, and she once told me that women who’d had surgery would ask for her to take their stitches out. They knew no one could be more gentle. That’s how Jesus is with our souls when he comes to us in this sacrament. No one could be more gentle.

But he does more than just take away our sins. He also strengthens us against further temptation. For there are other graces we receive in this sacrament besides the forgiveness of sins…”

– Fr Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J.


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If we understand the divine dignity of priesthood, we shall comprehend more fully the infinite greatness of Mass.


St Ignatius, Martyr, says that the priesthood is the most sublime of all created dignities.


St Ephrem calls it an infinite dignity.


Cassian says that the priest of God is exalted above all earthly sovereignities and above all celestial heights. He is inferior to God alone.


Pope Innocent III says that the priest is placed between God and man; inferior to God, but superior to man.


St Denis calls the priest a divine man and the priesthood a divine dignity.


St Ephrem says that the gift of the sacerdotal dignity surpasses all understanding.


Hence, St John Chrysostom says that he who honours a priest honours Christ, and he who insults a priest insults Christ.


St Ambrose has called the priestly office a divine profession.


St Francis de Sales, after having given orders to a holy ecclesiastic, perceived that in going out he stopped at the door as if to give precedence to another. Being asked by the Saint why he stopped, he replied that God favoured him with the visible presence of his angel guardian, who before he had received the priesthood always remained on his right and preceded him, but now since the moment of ordination walked on his left and refused to go before him. It was in a holy contest with the Angel that he stopped at the door.


According to St Thomas, the dignity of the priesthood surpasses that of the angels.


St Gregory Nazianzen has said that the angels themselves venerate the priesthood.

All the Angels in Heaven cannot absolve from a single sin. The Angel Guardians procure for the souls committed to their care grace to have recourse to a priest, that he may absolve them.


St Francis of Assisi used to say: If I saw an angel and a priest, I would bend my knee first to the priest and then to the angel.


St Augustine says that to pardon a sinner is a greater work than to create Heaven and Earth. To pardon a single sin requires all the omnipotence of God.


St Alphonsus: The entire Church cannot give God as much honour, or obtain so many graces as a single priest by celebrating a single Mass. Thus, by the celebration of a single Mass, in which he offers Jesus Christ in sacrifice, a priest gives greater honour to the Lord than if all men, by dying for God, offered Him the sacrifice of their lives.


St Ignatius: Priests are the glory and the pillars of the Church, the doors and doorkeepers of Heaven.


St Alphonsus: were the Redeemer to descend into a Church and sit in a confessional, and a priest to sit in another confessional, Jesus would say over each penitent: “Ego te absolvo.” The priest would likewise say over each of his penitents: “Ego te absolvo”, and the penitents of each would be equally absolved. Thus, the sacerdotal dignity is the most noble of all the dignities in this world.


St Ambrose says that it transcends all the dignities of kings, of emperors, and of angels. The dignity of the priest far exceeds that of kings as the value of gold surpasses that of lead.


St Cyprian said that all who had the true spirit of God were, when compelled to take the Order of priesthood, seized with fear and trembling.


St Epiphanius writes that he found no one willing to be ordained a priest, so fearful were they of so divine a dignity.


St Gregory Nazianzen says, in his ‘Life of St Cyprian’ that, when the Saint heard that his bishop intended to ordain him a priest, he, through humility, concealed himself. It is related in the life of St Fulgentius that he too fled away and hid himself.


St Ambrose, as he himself attests, resisted for a long time before he consented to be ordained.


St Francis of Assisi never consented to be ordained.


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• For the celebration of Holy Mass the priest needs two Sacred Vessels – the PATEN and the CHALICE. The Paten is a small plate of gold or gilded silver, on which is placed the HOST. The Chalice, also made of precious metal, contains the WINE. The Host is made of pure wheat flour and is baked between two irons. The Wine is unadulterated juice of the grape naturally fermented. In preparation for Mass the priest places on the cup of the Chalice a small linen cloth. It is used to wipe the Chalice before the Wine is put into it, and wipe it again after Communion. This cloth is called the PURIFICATOR.

• Over the Purificator the priest places the Paten, on the top of which he puts the PALL – a small square of stiff linen which prevents dust or other impurities from falling into the Chalice during Mass.

• Completely covering the Chalice is the CHALICE VEIL. It is a square of silk, fashioned of the same material and having the same colour as the vestments the priest wears. On the Veil is placed the BURSE in which is carried the CORPORAL. The Corporal is a Linen Cloth, approximately a foot square, that serves as a small tablecloth on which the Sacred Vessels rest during the Mass.

• The CIBORIUM is a vessel made of precious metal. It is usually larger than the Chalice and is covered with a lid. In it are kept the Sacred Hosts reserved for Holy Communion.

• For Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament the MONSTRANCE is used. It is made of precious metal and is designed to hold the Blessed Sacrament in public view for adoration and to be raised in blessing the Faithful. It contains the LUNETTE, a crescent-shaped device of gold or silver used for holding the Host in an upright position.”
– Brepols, 1952


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• “The ALTAR STONE is the main part of the altar. It may be the whole table of the altar or a stone placed in the centre of the table. In either case it must be consecrated by a Bishop. It is marked with five carved crosses, and should generally contain the relics of several Martyrs. The relics of one Martyr are sufficient for validity of consecration.

• The altar table should be covered with three ALTAR CLOTHS properly blessed. These should be made of linen, and the uppermost cloth should hang down on either side almost to the floor.

• In the centre of the altar table stands the TABERNACLE, an appropriate shrine in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. It should be wholly lined in the interior with white silk or gilded plating.

• The TABERNACLE KEY should be gilded and should be on a ribbon or chain. It is exclusively in charge of the priest, who has a grave obligation of keeping it safe from profane hands.

• A CROSS bearing a conspicuous FIGURE OF JESUS CRUCIFIED is placed in the middle of the altar between the candlesticks.

• On the main altar are placed six large candlesticks, between which the Crucifix has a prominent position. On the other altars at least two candlesticks should be placed. The CANDLES used during Mass are of beeswax.

• On the altar are three ALTAR CARDS – one in front of the tabernacle, and one at each side of the altar. Inscribed on these cards are some of the prayers said by the priest during Mass.

• The MISSAL (Mass-book) contains the text of the various Masses. During Mass it rests on the MISSAL-STAND.

• Near the altar on a small table (CREDENCE table) are placed the CRUETS containing wine and water, and also a bowl and SMALL TOWEL for the washing of the priest’s fingers at the LAVABO.

• On the step of the altar is kept the ALTAR-BELL. It is to be rung during Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to call the attention of those present to the more inportant parts of these services.

• Before the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved there burns continually day and night at least one SANCTUARY LAMP, for which olive oil or beeswax is used.” (Slight changes have been made since, but the essence applies as always.)
– Brepols, 1952


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“… I must try to explain something that is basic to the understanding of our Catholic faith, namely, that it is Christ himself who is the chief operator in each of the sacraments. Although it is the priest who says ‘I baptise you’ or ‘I absolve you’ or ‘This is my body’ it is Our Lord himself who effects the sacramental change that takes place.

St Augustine (354-430) had to argue with some people who said that baptisms done by heretics were not valid. The saint replied that they did not understand how the sacraments work. ‘When Peter baptises’, he said, ‘it is Christ who baptises. When Paul baptises, it is Christ who baptises. When Judas baptises, it is Christ who baptises.’

So you can have Our Lord in one confessional, and any priest you like in the next one, even one leading a bad life or who’s even lost the faith. The advice they give to the penitent would of course be different, but the effect in the penitent’s soul when they say, “And now I absolve you from your sins’ would be the same in each case. Why? Because in each case it would be Our Lord himself acting on their souls.

If the efficacy of the sacraments depended on the holiness of the priest, we could be caught up in a turmoil of anxiety and rash judging. As it is, we look beyond the actual priest, who anyhow is a sinner like ourselves and himself needs to go to confession. We look to Christ. Whoever the priest may be, when we hear those comforting words, ‘I absolve you’, it is Jesus who has touched our souls.

The wounds left in us by sin, by original sin and by our own sins, go very deep. No psychologist can know just where they are or how deep they go. Only God knows. And in this sacrament he touches those wounds with his healing hands.


I once knew a woman whose husband was a psychiatrist. He wasn’t a Catholic, but she told me he’d once said to her that if every religion had confession most psychiatrists would be out of a job.

Our stomach is made for food. It needs food. If it’s empty – well, we all know how wretched we feel. So too, our soul is made for God. We have a void in us that only God can fill. When we were baptised, he entered our soul. If we drive him out by serious sin, we soon feel the wretched emptiness.

We may distract ourselves and try to forget our hunger for God. We may seek to comfort our souls with creatures. But they cannot quell our hunger. Only God can. It’s like when men at sea, dying of thirst, try to forget their thirst by drinking seawater; it only makes matters worse. Fresh water is what they need, and our souls need God. ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you,’ as St Augustine said, when he’d turned away from his sins and found God.

So when people come to me in trouble, I always first try to find out how they stand with God. Are they trying to live close to him? And if they’re Catholics, what about their sacramental life? This is the first thing to check up on. It’s the same if my car slows down and stops. The first thing I ask myself is ‘Have I run out of petrol?’ If there’s petrol in the tank, then it must be something else.

Our soul’s dependence on God is the central thing in our nature. It’s our soul’s most insistent need. A man may be as clever as you like, but if he’s estranged from God his heart will not be at peace…”
– Fr Hugh S. Thwaites


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To help those of you who have not been to confession for a long time, or those of you who do not have English as your first language, here is a form of words to use when going to confession.

• PRIEST AND PARISHIONER – ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

• PARISHIONER – ‘Bless me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was (? time) ago and these are my sins…. For these and all the sins I cannot now remember I am truly sorry.’

• The PRIEST will now say a few words of encouragement to help you in the Christian life.

• The PRIEST will also give you a simple PENANCE for you to do afterwards, which may be one of our well known prayers.

• The PRIEST will say the words of ABSOLUTION and you will be invited to say your Act of Contrition (prayer of sorrow) as follows:

• PARISHIONER – ‘O my God, because you are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you, and by the help of your grace I will not sin again.’

• The PRIEST will say a few words to end the ceremony and then you respond:
• PARISHIONER – ‘Thank you Father.’

• The PARISHIONER leaves and does the PENANCE.”
– Courtesy of St Saviour’s


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“My children, we can never understand God’s goodness to us in instituting this great Sacrament of Penance.

If someone said to the poor damned souls, who are in hell so long: ‘We will place a priest at the gate of hell. Those who will go to confession can then leave’, do you think that there would be one left? The most guilty would not shrink from telling their sins, not even from telling them before everyone. How soon would hell be a desert, and how quickly heaven would be filled! Well, we do have the time and the means denied to these poor damned souls.

My children, the moment our soul contracts a stain, we should act like a person who possesses a beautiful globe of crystal, which he guards most carefully. If it gets a little dust, he passes a sponge over it immediately, and behold, the globe is clear and brilliant again!

It is grand to think that we have a sacrament which cures the wounds of our soul! But we must receive it with the proper dispositions, otherwise new wounds are added to the old.

What would you think of a man covered with wounds, who acted in the following manner. He is advised to go to the hospital and consult the physician. He goes, and the doctor cures him by means of certain remedies. But imagine him now taking up a knife and inflicting deep wounds upon himself, till he reduces himself to a worse condition than formerly. Well, this is what you do frequently, when, on leaving the confessional, you fall back into the same sins. Some people profane the sacrament by failing in sincerity. They have hidden mortal sins for ten years, twenty years. They are always in torment; their sin is always before them. They intend to tell it every time, and every time they put it off. It is a hell.

When you have made a good confession, you have chained up the demon. The sins we conceal will all re-appear. To get rid of our sins we must confess them fully.”
– Blessed Cure d’Ars


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