Where do ‘single Catholics’ fit?/ Is annual confession mandated?

Q. Where do single people “rank” within the Catholic Church? Many times we are asked to pray for those who are married or who have followed a calling to the religious life — but how many times has anyone in any parish been asked to pray for those who are single?

Are we singles shut out, are we to be ignored until we follow one of the other life paths? What if the single person truly believes that his or her calling is to be single? Who is asked to pray for the single person who steps up whenever someone else’s children need care, for the single person who is expected to care for ailing or aging family members because he or she “has no other obligations?” (Zionsville, Indiana)

By Fr. Kenneth Doyle

A. I couldn’t agree more with your eloquent plea. I feel strongly that some are called to the single state as a true vocation — a deliberate choice made to give them more time to serve both God and other people. Traditionally the church has identified three vocations: holy orders, marriage and consecrated life; but lately I find increasing references to the notion of the “single vocation.”

The website of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, for example, says this: “Life as a single person can be a vocation from God. … Single women and men usually have more freedom than those in other vocations. … The vocation to the single life is a gift to the church!”

And the Archdiocese of Melbourne in Australia explains that “they may be a carpenter, office worker, scientist, dentist, train driver, who has a fulfilling personal relationship with Jesus which they feel able to live out more fully if they are not tied to other relationships.”

Like you, I believe that those who have responded to this noble calling deserve regular mention in the public prayers of the church.

Q. Could a person go to daily Mass and receive Communion without having gone to confession in four years? (Batesville, Indiana)

A woman goes to confession in darkness. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

A. The answer, technically, is yes. If the person had committed no serious (mortal) sins over that four-year period, he or she could go to Mass and receive Communion every day. Strictly speaking, the obligation of annual confession applies only to those in serious sin.

The church’s Code of Canon Law reads this way: “After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year” (Canon 989). (Canon 916 explains that anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not receive the Eucharist without first having gone to confession.)

But is it a good idea for Catholics to stay away from confession for four years, even if they have no mortal sins to confess? Of course not. Over and over, spiritual writers encourage the faithful to use the sacrament of penance regularly, perhaps even monthly, as a path not only to pardon, but to spiritual progress and inner peace.

Canon 988.2 says, “It is recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins,” and the introduction to the church’s rite of penance says, “Frequent and careful celebration of this sacrament is also very useful as a remedy for venial sins. This is not a mere ritual repetition or psychological exercise, but a serious striving to perfect the grace of baptism so that … his (Christ’s) life may be seen in us ever more clearly” (No. 7b).

Shortly after he was elected pope, at a weekly audience in November 2013, Pope Francis revealed that he himself receives the sacrament of penance every two weeks and considers it to be the best path to spiritual healing and health. “We all need this,” the pope said.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news and information service.

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