New York’s All Day Confession

The three downstate New York dioceses are promoting all-day confession today. They seem to have scaled back from the 24-hour effort last year. But I don’t think individual clergy were each committed to a full round-the-clock stint themselves.

The youth video contest is featured on the New York archdiocesan web site. It’s a novel idea that will attract a lot of interest. Father Kieran Harrington of Brooklyn on last year’s priest video:

That was very well received but we decided this time it would be much better to have young people tell the story. As a priest, people expect me to talk about confession, but it’s a different thing when it’s your neighbor’s kid who is talking about how it affects their life.

Interesting that in checking the main pages of the three dioceses, both the All-Day Confession and iConfess are promoted on Rockville Centre’s site. Brooklyn has just the video contest. And New York has neither. I’m sure the full details are there somewhere at the archdiocese–just not on the main page nor on their list of press releases.

The Church is going to need a game plan beyond gimmicks if it hopes to revive a sacrament it believes has wrongly been discarded. I wouldn’t discount an emphasis on liturgical or communal solutions. People in many places would turn out in droves for form III, and I’m not entirely sure it was viewed or experienced as an event of cheap grace. Is the institution itself looking for a cheap, all-or-nothing solution? Promotion is undoubtedly a good first step–I hope there’s some substance to back it up.

I’ve blogged on this before, but I don’t think the institution is prepared if any significant portion of penitents returned for form I. Our parish had its usual two celebrations of form II this Lent. My task is to recruit confessors. We had five at one and six at the other, but we’re fortunate for a small city of two parishes: we have two retired priests in town, a willing pastor at another parish in the county, plus a university graduate student who is a priest from Africa.

Still, the first liturgy with parish faith formation kids went nearly two hours, and the one with six confessors lasted almost as long.

Do the numbers for your parish. Even granting a quickie confession at three minutes, it would take a pastor an hour to absolve twenty sinners. Lots of guys are going solo in parishes of a thousand families, so if everybody was utilizing the sacrament, that’s about a hundred hours right there. How often is confession recommended? Twice a year? That’s a solid four hours a week. Once a month? That’s sixty to seventy encounters a day. We provide two hours, scheduled, in our reconciliation chapel. I know others make appointments with our clergy, too. It’s not uncommon for me to walk through the church and see the chapel open, or a priest talking with a student in a back pew or near the tabernacle.

I suspect the institution would be happy with a slow trickle of an increase. It makes them feel good about the Faithful Remnant, and there remain plenty of slackers to excoriate.

One pastor I worked for once said that a person needs sacramental penance as often as she or he needs a dentist appointment. That’s still a good one-tenth of a working week. If I were a priest, I’d consider that well worth my time. But I know not all confessors think so. What about yours?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to New York’s All Day Confession

  1. David D. says:

    Getting souls back to the confessional after many months or even years away is one thing while getting them to return on a regular basis is quite another. Perhaps form II is useful for the former but in some ways may undermine the latter by treating confession as a seasonal or special observance.

    While these are hardly original ideas, I can’t help but point out what I think are two obvious and related problems: availability and emphasis. In a deanery of 5 parishes and 20 Sunday masses, a single opportunity for confession from 3:30 to 4:00 on Saturday at all 5 churches just doesn’t cut it. Especially in densely populated deaneries, I always thought it would make sense for each parish to offer confession on at least one day other than Saturday with the deanery wide schedule of confessions posted in the various church bulletins. Limited availability can only reinforce what seems to be viewed as an optional or even unnecessary sacrament. Moreover, as much as possible, confessions should be heard before, if not during and after mass. A line of penitents before mass along with regular reminders on both the need and benefits of sacramental confession go a lot further than any program devised in chancery office ever will.

  2. Todd says:

    In the old days, confessions were heard on Saturdays. Mass was celebrated on Sundays. If form II has an identity problem in being taken seriously, I have to say the recent calls for penance before, during, and after Mass might contribute even more to the notion of the sacrament as a throwaway to the modern convenience of one-stop shopping.

    My parish offers reconciliation on a weeknight during the school year, plus a form II during the summer. So I think your idea of deanery coordination has much merit.

    • David D. says:

      Rather than cheapening the sacrament, confession immediately before mass can be seen as expressing the connection between the two sacraments in the life of grace. All of the other sacraments are or can be linked to the mass. Moreover, I don’t see habituation as a problem, at least not initially. For many of us, Sunday mass attendance began as an obligation and became something more only after it had become a matter of routine.

  3. Liam says:

    If the parish is blessed to have enough priestly staff to offer confession on Sundays, I say bring it on, without quibbling or trying to make a moral equivalency between that and Form III as formerly practiced.

    And I heartily endorse a deanery-organized approach here. I would also encourage Form II on at least a monthly basis.

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    The days of long confessional lines that were common when I was a kid are long gone. There might be the “Christmas and Easter” lines, but they will be exceptions rather than the rule. The Church needs to revisit the idea of forgiveness of sins and, if auricular confession is actually emphasized in the future, it should become a special communal activity rather than what it currently is touted as being.

    There is a persuasive theological argument for the Eucharist being a primary sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. In the Mass we frequently ask for forgiveness: in the Penitential Rite, the Gloria, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lamb of God. At the very heart of the Eucharist, Jesus is quoted as saying at the Last Supper: “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 20:28)

    Eminent theologians have argued that these words from Matthew’s gospel were included in the Eucharistic Prayer by the early Church to remind us that when we celebrate the Eucharist with sincerity, our sins are forgiven:

    “For Matthew, ‘the forgiveness of sins was a primary purpose of the Eucharist.” (Eugene LaVerdiere, S.S.S., The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, The Liturgical Press, pg 66, 1996)

    “The doctrine of the remission of sins conferred by the Eucharist has had a long and varied history of use and neglect in the Church. Granted that the forgiveness of sins is not the chief object of the Eucharist … Christ made the forgiveness of sins an essential dimension of it.” (John Quinn, S.J., Worship, vol 42. No. 5, 1968)

    The Council of Trent (1545-1563) made the following statement which sounds quite foreign to today’s Catholic ears: “-– the holy Council teaches that this (Mass) is truly propitiatory and has this effect that if, contrite and penitent, with sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence, we draw draw nigh to God, ‘we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid”. (Heb 4:16) For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the grace and gift of penitence, and pardons even the gravest crimes and sins.” (Cited in W. Bausch, A New Look at the Sacraments, Twenty-Third Publications, pg 157, 1977)

    Catholicism has a rich history of Eucharistic theology that supports an approach different from the emphasis on the necessity of confession to a priest for one’s sins to be forgiven.

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