The Hidden Curriculum

It is the key to unleashing the New Evangelization. It is essential to carrying out the Gospel mission.  What is the key? It is the confessional. You might have expected me to say the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. That is true.

But I would posit that priests already carry out this part of their ministry with great faithfulness and devotion. My own parish has four Sunday Masses, daily Mass Monday through Saturday, and numerous other special Masses throughout the year. And they come. People show up at every Mass.

But we are sinners. As much as we do not wish to do it, we fall back into sin—often. And so the net result is that many people are approaching the Eucharist while carrying the baggage of sin, perhaps even mortal sin.

That is a problem. Receiving Our Lord while in a state of serious sin only adds mortal sin on top of mortal sin. One cannot advance in holiness this way. Without holiness, we cannot be a people on mission.

In his papal address on the Sacrament of Reconciliation in March of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that, “The New Evangelization draws its lifeblood from the holiness of the children of the Church, from the daily journey of personal and community conversion in order to be ever more closely conformed to Christ.”

Because personal holiness depends upon the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI went on to say that the new evangelization begins in the confessional.

While most parishes are incredibly accommodating in providing opportunities for Mass attendance, many are abysmal—tragically so—when it comes to providing opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession.

Some may say that nobody shows up for the scheduled opportunity—those fleeting fifteen minutes before Sunday Mass.

But this is what the one with venial sin thinks: I don’t want to bother my priest before Mass because it’s just a venial sin, and he’s so busy right before Mass, and I would guess there are others far more sinful who need these few minutes more than I do.

This is what the one with mortal sin thinks: If I go to Confession right now, then my parents (wife, children, husband, friends) will know that I have mortal sin that I need to deal with. Who wants to open that can of worms? I’ll just go another time.

But there is no other time. That’s it. Sunday before Mass—if you can find the priest. And expect a whirlwind Confession because the priest is bound to have his mind on Mass and his eye on his watch.

Every parish should have one night a week set aside for confessions. The parishioners need to know that their shepherd is there, waiting. The people need to be reminded (often) that a merciful Lord is waiting for them. During Advent and Lent, the opportunities for Confession should be even more generous, highlighted by every means of communication.

Here is what will happen in the parish:

People will become holy. People will be on mission. The New Evangelization will come to your parish. The faithful will begin to discern vocations to religious life.

Here is what will happen in individuals:

They will be healed of mortal sin and lose their attachment to it. Then they will begin to address chronic sin. Jealousy. Gossip. Gluttony. Bitterness and unforgiving spirits. Laziness. Then they will become stronger, more accustomed to walking in grace.

When I was a teacher, we used to talk about the hidden curriculum. By hidden curriculum, we meant those things students learned that we did not set out to teach. Youngsters figure out what is important and what isn’t important. They learn which corners can be cut and what the teacher really cares about. Sometimes, to our dismay, we realize that the students jettisoned things that are really important because we inadvertently fostered problems and created issues we never meant to foster or create.

That is the situation right now. When the scheduled confessions are right before Sunday Mass or at a time when most people are unavailable, we are teaching our parishioners that Confession is a last-minute sacrament, a kind of triage-only sacrament, a rarely-needed sacrament, a practically-unnecessary sacrament.

While we do not believe any of these things, it is the hidden curriculum—the catechesis we did not intend to teach.

Reality check.

Some of the holiest people have availed themselves of the Sacrament of Confession weekly. If even two people in every parish decided they wanted to emulate that kind of holiness, the current confessional schedule would not be sufficient.

If evangelization depends on holiness, we need to throw open the doors on every confessional. We need to say, “Come soon; come often.” Let them know that Jesus Christ is waiting just for them.

Holiness and Gospel mission. The first opens the door for the second.

Catholic by Grace
By Denise Bossert
Denise Bossert is a national Catholic writer and columnist.