RP 12-14: Place, Time, Vestments

mary-the-penitent.jpgWith these three sections, we begin a close examination of part IV, “Celebration of the Sacrament of Penance,” and we commence with the “Place of Celebration.”

12. The locations for the ministration of the sacrament of penance and the place of the confessor are those prescribed by canon law.

Number 964 gives the prescription.

Regarding the “Time of Celebration,” the rite urges a mutual openness: the confessor’s publicized schedule and the laity taking advantage of this:

13. The reconciliation of penitents may be celebrated in all liturgical seasons and on any day. But it is right that the faithful be informed of the day and hours at which the priest is available for this ministry. They should be encouraged to approach the sacrament of penance at times when Mass is not being celebrated and preferably at the scheduled hours. [See SCR, Instr. EuchMyst, 25 May 1967, no. 35.]

Celebration is appropriate for Lent, with an eye to participation in the Paschal Mystery–not just “Easter duty,” but Triduum-focused.

Lent is the season most appropriate for celebrating the sacrament of penance. Already on Ash Wednesday the people of God hear the solemn invitation, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” It is therefore fitting to have several penitential services during Lent, so that all the faithful may have an opportunity to be reconciled with God and their neighbor and so be able to celebrate the paschal mystery in the Easter triduum with renewed hearts.

Notice the understanding in the rite; let’s repeat it:

It is therefore fitting to have several penitential services during Lent …

The wisdom in offering more than one liturgy–and the designation is broad: these could be sacramental or non-sacramental–has probably yet to be plumbed. I wonder if there was any experimentation going on in this regard prior to 1974.

Lastly for this post, the bishop decides on “Liturgical Vestments.”

14. With respect to liturgical vestments in the celebration of penance, the norms laid down by the local Ordinaries are to be followed.

The use of vestments, the connection with Lent and Triduum, and the limiting of the place of the sacrament to a church or oratory all seem to indicate the Church’s mind is that this sacrament is not a juridical-based effort from the start, but primarily a liturgical one.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to RP 12-14: Place, Time, Vestments

  1. Anne says:

    The new pastor at my former parish closed up the private reconciliation room and re opened the confessionals which have not been used in years.

  2. Darwin says:

    Following the link to the canon law stipulations:

    §2. The conference of bishops is to establish norms regarding the confessional; it is to take care, however, that there are always confessionals with a fixed grate between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely.

    §3. Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause.

    I suppose the format often found in modern churches (including our own, built eight years ago) with armchairs facing each other and a grate over to one side which one can go hide behind if one so desires (I generally do) is within the letter of this, but it does not exactly seem to be within the spirit.

  3. Liam says:


    A “fixed grille” is one whose grille plate cannot be lifted out of the way by the priest – in other words, its not a casement window, as it were.

    In older churches in Europe (including Rome) it is quite common to see the fixed grille attached to what looks like a predieu – rather than in a confessional box as such.

    What does not qualify under canon law* for is an arrangement where there is no grille, where the penitent is simply to choose between facing the confessor or sitting behind him, as it were.

  4. Re: vestments…

    I’m not aware of any specific norms set by the Archbishop here. So I wear an alb, or cassock and surplice, with a purple stole, and I wear a cope. As I recall, a cope is always an option for a more solemn celebration of the Office, and for celebration of other sacraments outside of Mass (and I wear a cope for baptisms and weddings), so since a penance service is, almost by definition, a more solemn celebration than weekend confessions, this seemed apt to me.

    Unfortunately, too many of my brother priests are so minimalistic, and I really don’t get it. After all, if you have a purple cope, it’s paid for, what good does it do anyone if you don’t use it? (Naturally, if you don’t have one, that’s another issue.) Also, I suspect a lot of my brother priests don’t value the “intangibles” here: the sign-value, if you will, of actually celebrating a worthy liturgy: we have a procession, albeit a short one (maybe a longer one in years to come), we light the candles, we sing some music, I chant the opening and closing prayers, we kneel for part of it; it’s a liturgy, for criminy’s sake! A lot of my brother priests have a “get it over with” mentality.

  5. Agreed, and in that sense I don’t think the arrangement we have (which is pretty standard, I think, these days) is dis-allowed by any stretch.

    It does seem to me (and this is a subjective interpretation) that the emphasis here (and lack of provision for any other way of doing things as a standard course) suggests that confession behind the grille should be the normal way of things (and adds to the symbolism of what’s going on) rather than the equal or lesser of two options.

    But then, while on the one hand I see the value of flexibility, on the other it seems to me that sameness can help build a ritual feel. Confession face to face and behind the grille feel very different to me, and so while I can see why people like the two different things, it strikes me that the variance/option in practice makes the ritual itself seem mutible rather than constant.

  6. FrMichael says:

    Darwin, how is the contemporary practice giving the penitent an option not within the spirit of the canon?

    Don’t know about most parishes, but my church is used most nights, so one Advent and one Lent Reconciliation service is all we schedule. However, we publicize all the neighboring parishes services as well, so that within a modest drive there are several Reconciliation liturgies available for our parishioners.

  7. Darwin says:

    Darwin, how is the contemporary practice giving the penitent an option not within the spirit of the canon?

    Well, my first pass thought was that stating that the confessional must have a grate and that confessions should never be held outside a confessional without a just cause suggested that confession through the grate is the way it _should_ be in some important sense.

    Looking it over again, perhaps I over-reacted. It might just as well mean that using the grate is important enough that it should never be denied as an option.

  8. About the “fixed grille” — my assumption, which I can’t back up by a specific citation at the moment, was that the grille wasn’t only for the penitent, but for the priest as well. Somewhere, I seem to recall something that said the priest could insist on hearing confessions through such a grille, which would make sense if he wanted to assure his reputation would be above reproach…

    Such as in these sad days.

  9. Liam says:

    Fr Martin

    Your memory is better than mine. I had forgotten this (I now recall having seen this before):


  10. FrMichael says:

    Thanks for the clarifications: if either the priest or the penitent want a grille (or some other means to have anonyminity), it needs to be provided.

    Some dioceses now have particular law mandating a barrier between priest and penitent in response to the Crisis: the face-to-face option is no longer possible unless both can be seen by other people.

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