One of the themes of Holy Week is reconciliation, and one of the best ways we can enter into the mystery of this sacred time is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation—returning to God with our whole hearts and receiving the grace of forgiveness. In the lead up to Holy Week this year, some local parish communities are offering opportunities for people to come together to prepare their hearts and to approach the sacrament more prayerfully.

As St Paul observes, God is ‘reconciling the world to himself’ in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19), with the mystery of his death and resurrection playing a decisive role in this work of reconciliation (Ephesians 2:16). Though we were far from God, Christ brings us close once again.

Although the sacrament of Reconciliation requires humility, the willingness to acknowledge our sins, Pope Francis reminds us that God is always at the heart of the sacrament:

It is not so much about our sins as about his forgiveness. Our sins are present but the forgiveness of God is always at the heart of our confession. Think about it: if our sins were at the heart of the sacrament, almost everything would depend on us, on our repentance, our efforts, our resolves. Far from it. The sacrament is about God, who liberates us and puts us back on our feet.

As they approach Holy Week, the parishes of Keysborough and Noble Park, and of Holy Trinity, East Bentleigh, have thought creatively about how they might help people return, in humility and trust, to the God who embraces them with forgiveness and mercy.

Keysborough and Noble Park

Fr Brian Collins is Parish Priest at Resurrection Parish, Keysborough, and St Anthony’s, Noble Park, and like many priests, he keeps very busy. When he had an assistant priest, things were a bit easier, but managing two parishes by himself since 2014 has forced him to think outside of the box. ‘We’ve had to think a bit creatively, and one of those things has been the penitential service,’ he says.

A penitential service is an invitation to come together as a community, undergo an examination of conscience, and express contrition. Although this particular event does not include the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Fr Brian sees it as an important tool for forming people in it. He wants people to come to a deeper appreciation of what the sacrament can do for them, and of the sense of freedom that God’s forgiveness brings.

‘When someone comes in burdened and then leaves feeling 10-foot tall, you can’t beat that,’ he says.

The penitential services are an opportunity to direct people towards the sacrament and help them feel comfortable with examinations of conscience.

To his surprise, the penitential services held at both parishes have drawn over 200 people, with parishioners even coming from neighbouring communities to take part. ‘It’s a big commitment for people to come out. They see it as part of their ritual for Holy Week celebrations,’ he explains. ‘They come saying it’s lovely to stop in the busyness of Holy Week. They want to, and are feeling really nourished by it.’

The services includes reflective music, an examen and prayers of healing, and Fr Brian says it’s nice to see so many people stop and spend so much time in prayer. ‘The last song is always really strong in volume,’ he says. ‘Everyone joins in!

Holy Trinity Parish

Donrita Reefman is Pastoral Coordinator for Holy Trinity Parish, Bentleigh East, an amalgamation of three communities: St Peter’s, East Bentleigh; St Paul’s, Bentleigh; and St Catherine’s, Moorabbin. Donita began in her role just two weeks out from Holy Week in 2021 and hit the ground running. Since then, both she and Parish Priest Fr Raju Jacob MST have worked hard to minister to the needs of three very different communities.

This Lent, one of the ways they did that was through a unique celebration of the Second Rite of Reconciliation. Because of its communal nature, the Second Rite is different from the way people normally participate in the sacrament. Often with multiple priests, the community gathers to pray, worship, examine themselves and, when they’re ready, see a priest in a quiet part of the room.

The focus of their recent celebration was the parable of the Prodigal Son. The rite was offered at each of the different communities, drawing a good number of people. Each time, at the front of the church, a large copy of Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son was displayed.

‘The speaker drew attention to the painting and how it represents a spiritual homecoming,’ Donita explains. At the heart of the message was ‘the God who always takes the initiative’.

With dimmed lighting and gentle music, different parts of the painting would be projected onto the screen for people to see closely, and the speaker would reflect on the meaning of each part in more detail. At the end of each short reflection, those gathered would respond with the refrain, ‘Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.’

Donrita says it was a lovely opportunity for people to focus on ‘God as a loving Father who welcomes us back’.