Q. Every Mass I attend begins with a penitential rite, which I take to be the forgiveness of sins for those who are there worshipping. And then, just before Communion, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Why, then, does the Church require Catholics to go to Confession? 

A. It is true, as you indicate, that several times throughout the Mass we indicate our unworthiness to participate in such a sacred act. However, none of these expressions of sinfulness and sorrow is equivalent to sacramental absolution, and they do not dispense us from the obligation of confessing grave sins before receiving holy Communion.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states clearly that “a member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet remitted directly through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual Confession” (Canon 988.1).

Grave, or “mortal,” sins are those involving serious matter, committed with knowledge of their gravity and the deliberate consent of the will. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Church’s official “guidebook” on liturgy, notes, “the priest calls upon the whole community to take part in the penitential act, which, after a brief pause for silence, it does by means of a formula of general Confession. The rite concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the sacrament of penance” (No. 51).

The penitential rite (as well as the reception of Communion and other acts of prayer and devotion) can, though, forgive venial sins. Strictly speaking, one is obliged to go to the sacrament of penance only for serious sins – although it is a certainly a good idea to confess regularly even for lesser sins and imperfections. In 2013, Pope Francis revealed that he himself goes to Confession every two weeks and considers it the best path to spiritual healing and health.

Q. What is the Catholic Church’s policy on having a Catholic marriage ceremony (not a Mass) at a reception venue rather than in a church? (My local pastor says that, even if it’s just a ceremony, it needs to be in a church.)

A. In answering your question, I am going to assume that both the bride and the groom are Catholic. (If, on the other hand, the marriage involved a Catholic and a Protestant, they would have the option to seek from the Catholic diocese a “dispensation from form,” which could allow a Protestant minister to officiate at the ceremony even in a non-church setting.)

For two Catholics, the Church’s Code of Canon Law notes that normally the wedding is to be held in a parish church, but it does allow the local bishop to “permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place” (Canon 1118.2).

But my experience has been that most dioceses in most situations are reluctant to give permission for a non-church wedding between two Catholics. The Church tries at a wedding to maintain a sense of the sacred; it views marriage as a sacrament, a commitment made in the eyes of God, with the couple seeking the Lord’s blessing on their lifelong union.

I am aware, though, that in 2018 the Archdiocese of Baltimore began allowing weddings in non-church settings (including outdoors) with a bit more frequency. (A June 2018 article in America magazine noted that, in Baltimore’s new policy, the preferred location for weddings was still the home parish of the bride or groom and that locations like bars and nightclubs were still off-limits.)

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.