Sins of Ignorance and Weakness, Part 4
In light of what he has described, Blessed Newman observes that the task of priests is to help the faithful to recognize the many instances of lack of faith, of superstition and carnal notions, and calling on them to repentance and perfect obedience to God.
It is a work that is above the clergy whom he nonetheless encourages: “we are bound to serve God with a perfect heart; an exalted work, a work for which our sins disable us.”
Newman insists on the need for repeated forgiveness.
“We attempt great things with the certainty of failing, and yet the necessity of attempting; and so while we attempt, need continual forgiveness for the failure of the attempt.”
It would be some years before Newman first hears the confession of a penitent, and even more years before, as a Catholic priest, he administers the sacrament of Confession regularly. This is the ordinary means of grace by which God forgives Christians their sins. The catechism teaches that “Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church.” (n 1497)
But Newman does not know this yet and he asks his parishioners to turn to the “Great Sacrifice” of Christ by which men’s sins are expiated. He urges his listeners to daily private prayer, as well as to the public services of the Church, not only once a week but whenever possible, since Christ promised to be present ‘where two or three are gathered in his name.’
He reminds his fellow Christians to attend the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:
The Body and Blood of Christ give power and efficacy to our daily faith and repentance….. Christ died once, long since: by communicating in His Sacrament, you renew the Lord’s death; you bring into the midst of you that Sacrifice which took away the sins of the world; you appropriate the benefit of it, while you eat it under the elements of bread and wine.
He tells them that just as our bodies need food, our souls need this hidden grace; and urges on them to “look upon the consecrated elements as necessary, under God’s blessing, to your continual sanctification; approach them as the salvation of your souls.”
Newman tells the unrepentant sinner in the congregation that the Holy Eucharist is the “ordinary means of his salvation.” When received in the Catholic fold he would understand the need for sacramental absolution for grave sin before communicating with the Body and Blood of Christ.
We, who have the benefit of the Catholic Church’s teaching, should explain to family and friends this doctrine while at the same time reminding them, like Newman, to approach the Great atoning Sacrifice of the Mass with confidence and awe on the appointed days.