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Father Fernando Millán Romeral is the Prior General of the Ordo Fratrum Beatissimae Virginis Mariae de Monte Carmelo, better known as the Carmelites. He is an expert on reconciliation, both in its sacramental form and its theological context, and was a professor of sacramental theology. He is also involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and has published half dozen books and numerous articles, mostly in his native Spanish. He was elected superior of the order in September 2007, and was the Lay Centre’s guest presider and presenter this evening.
The Carmelites ‘boast’ 17 Saints, 45 Blessed, and over 100 others whose causes have been started and are classed as Venerable or Servants of God. Some of the most well known include St. John of the Cross, and Doctors of the Church St. Therésè of Liseux and St. Teresa of Avila. Carmelite spirituality is one of the most widely practiced and deeply respected in the Church. Unlike so many religious orders which owe their charism and founding to the vision of a saintly founder, the Carmelites have their origin with a community of pilgrim-penitents who lived as hermits near the “spring of Elijah” on Mount Carmel, in Palestine near the end of the 12th century. Their charism is fraternity, service, and contemplation.
Father Fernando’s comments during and after dinner focused on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the need for its renewal in the life of the church. Just the name itself, he said, is one indicator of the challenges facing the sacrament. Four different variations are common, each with their own emphasis and champions: Reconciliation, Penance, Confession, and the sacrament of Forgiveness. Though the theology of Vatican II documents clearly prefers Reconciliation, post-Conciliar texts such as the Code of Canon Law use other names. Pope John Paul II was always careful to use the four terms equitably so as not to give favor for one over the other.
One of the first aspects to know with regard to the sacrament is that in response to the call of Sacrosanctum Concilium for the renewal of the liturgy and the revision of the sacramental texts, the work on the sacrament of Reconciliation took the longest. When it was finally completed, in 1984, the most common response was, “well, what changed”? With some exceptions, this sacrament is celebrated in essentially the same form as it was before the revisions (numbers of penitents notwithstanding). Perhaps this indicates that the real renewal of the sacrament has yet to take place.
In anticipation of that renewal, the Carmelite General made several observations. It is a sacrament, therefore it is a liturgy, and should always be celebrated as a liturgy – in community. It should always be celebrated with the Liturgy of the Word. The current Form II – Communal celebration with individual absolution – is really the normative form, the others being exceptions as necessary (either completely individual, or completely communal).
Even in Rome, though, it is hard to change the momentum. The prior general told us of how, in his first year as bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI intended to have the sacrament celebrated according to Form II in St. Peters; he ‘was not allowed’ (“Perhaps this is not the best way to say it, but basically, that is what happened!”). The logistics of the normative form were too overwhelming in a culture where you can still find (very beautiful) 18th century wooden confessionals scattered throughout the papal basilicas for penitents to confess their sins to waiting priests in a variety of languages – in some places even while the Eucharist is being celebrated.