Liturgy Spots: Celebrating Scrutinies and Communal Reconciliation - 21st February, 2016

The Scrutinies

At Masses over the next three Sundays (the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent), many parishes will celebrate rituals called the "Scrutinies" with adults and older children who are preparing for initiation into the Church at Easter.

Some people feel uncomfortable with the word "scrutiny" so the term "rites of healing and strengthening" is sometimes used instead.

The ritual book says that the purpose of the scrutinies is to "heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect" and "to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life".

Every time the sacrament of baptism is celebrated, we are asked, "Do you renounce Satan… and all his works…and all his empty promises?" These are serious questions which need to be given careful consideration and not just answered automatically.  And that is what the elect, those preparing to be baptised at the Easter Vigil, spend much of Lent doing.

In the Scrutiny, the power of Jesus over all sin is proclaimed in a litany of intercession. A prayer is then said over the elect asking for their deliverance and strengthening. The celebrant, catechists, sponsors and other members of the community lay their hands on the heads of the elect in an ancient sign of forgiveness, healing and empowerment.

Because the entire community will renew its baptismal promises at Easter, we all take this opportunity to examine our way of life and ask ourselves whether we are truly living as Christ's disciples, as people of the Gospel.

Communal Reconciliation: The Second Rite

Most parishes schedule communal reconciliation during Lent. The official title of this liturgy is “Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution” or the Second Rite of the Sacrament of Penance.

The official ritual book encourages participation in this form of reconciliation which “shows more clearly the communal nature of penance”.

The second rite is a communal celebration from beginning to end, not a communal first part followed by private confession. After the introductory rites, the community listens to the word of God. The homily emphasises our need for repentance and the infinite mercy of God. During the examination of conscience, the assembly reflects together on where and how they have fallen short of their baptismal commitment to follow Christ.

The individual confession and absolution that follows is communal too. The priests stand at appropriate points around the worship space in such a way that penitents can be seen but not heard by others. Those who wish to confess their sins approach one of the confessors in full view of all present.

It is a moving experience to witness fellow Christians humbling themselves publicly by approaching a confessor for forgiveness. As they do, we pray for them, that they will know the fullness of God's grace and mercy.

While no restriction is placed on the individual's confession, good manners and common sense dictate that people limit the time they spend with confessors. More time for integral confession and spiritual guidance is available at the first rite.

After the confessions, the ceremony concludes with a proclamation of praise, a prayer of thanksgiving and a blessing.


Elizabeth Harrington