Lack Not Loss

Rock offers a summary of some of this Lent’s efforts to promote the Sacrament of Penance.

Any initiative by a bishop, given the resources at hand, and the authority over parish pastors (arm-twisting, if necessary) is going to make a ripple of some kind in the calm waters of moral self-satisfaction.

Ultimately, if human beings (and the Holy Spirit) are to be involved, the long-term emphasis probably needs to come on the parish level, preferably headed by the parish pastor and renewed by his successors.

Don’t misread me: I think these Lenten initiatives are great. If nothing else, they give people an alternate to their Saturday afternoon gardening time and hoops-watch to experience the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.

I knew I landed in the right parish back in 2008 when in my second week of service, the students asked me to provide accompaniment to a Wednesday night form II–in the middle of July. The students had also recruited four confessors–our two parish priests, plus an ISU grad student from overseas and a retired priest living in out parish. What a great experience for us and our thirty-some penitents.

Earlier this week, one of my staff colleagues and I were discussing the challenges of adding an Advent reconciliation for religious ed kids and their families to our schedule later this year. The December holy day falls on a Wednesday in 2010. The middle week of Christmas is usually dedicated to a parent-guided Advent program of some kind–most of our student catechists are deep into finals week. A december 1 reconciliation would wipe out a whole month of classroom catechesis. In essence, the kids would break from before Thanksgiving to mid-January. My suggestion was placing a Wednesday reconciliation in late October. The boss gave his thumbs up to that innovation–he’s told me that he far prefers the sacraments to meetings.

I would have to concur.

You readers know I’m deeply skeptical of the notion of a loss of a sense of sin among the laity. The implication is that in ages past, Catholic lay people were fully aware of the tendency to self-justify. They were more into self-denial than outright denial, one might quip. Bullfluff, I say. The human condition is avoidance of self-examination, and the world of fifty or a hundred years ago doesn’t look significantly less sinful than today’s. And one only has to look at bishops scurrying to the protective robes of the legal system to recognize that a lack of a sense of sin has pervaded their numbers, too.

People devoted to Penance form I will continue to line up on Saturday afternoons, probably one of the worst days and times of the modern week. One might even remark it’s a miracle the practice of the sacrament hasn’t fallen off further, given the atrocious planning and promotion in most all parishes.

My parish offers a mid-week form I, and we get almost as many penitents as on Saturdays. We also offer the oft-vilified “or by appointment” option. I never got the criticism of this. Other sacraments like infant baptism and marriage are offered by appointment, too. Sick people don’t wait for a particular given time each week to be anointed, either. A good priest is always available by appointment to anoint people on short notice, or to schedule the sacrament before a major surgery. Me, I’d be concerned if a parish didn’t offer reconciliation by appointment. Usually that’s the whiff of a priest who prefers meetings to sacraments.

Still, as much as I think my parish is on the right track, reconciliation is up there in my long-range visioning. I could see us offering a year-round mid-week form I, maybe replaced once a month with form II, for those who would prefer a little more liturgy with their sacrament of healing.

So I’m curious, outside of Lent, what would you suggest your parish pastor initiate on this front?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy, Parish Life, Rite of Penance. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Lack Not Loss

  1. Liam says:

    “I never get criticism of this.”


    I’ve only known “by appointment” to be vilified when it’s the only way to get access to the sacrament (and I am not talking about mission parishes here); in other words, when a community will not offer regular hours in addition to appointment. And I’ve not only been in such communities, but also encountered them in my travels. Anyway, that’s the whiff of a parish staff that treats penitents like parasites on the priest’s time; it’s a form of clericalism. I would think you would get that, of all people.

    The parishes around me are fairly busy on Saturday afternoons with confession. Confession often goes past the stated hours; it’s a rare Saturday when it’s easy to pop in and out, as it were.

    Of course, another way to do it is to offer confession on Sunday mornings too, if you have more than one priest on staff; it’s licit (which I used to think was not the case but have been persuaded otherwise) and if one is of the schedule-it-when-it’s-easiest-for-the-people, then scheduling it for times when people are at the church for Mass is the rather obvious solution.

    My preference remains a standing monthly Form II and standing hours for Form I at least once if not twice a week, and priests making time opportunistically to turn the light on (as it were) when people are in the church and the priest might make better use of their time by offering them the sacrament than going to a meeting he really doesn’t need to be part of.

    • Tim says:

      That is good to hear that your parish is busy with individual confessions on Saturdays. But from my experience with regularly scheduled Saturday confessions, I have noticed it is always the same people who come back every Saturday. Now either, they are busy the rest of the week racking up sins or possibly if not probably a tad on the scrupulous side. My guess it is the latter. So numbers alone don’t tell the story necessariy.

      • Liam says:

        I would say about 1/3 appear to be very regulars.

        And the scrupulous need the regular attentions of a confessor; as I understand it, breaking scrupulosity is not achieved by avoiding the confessional (any more than sick people being advised to stay away from doctors), but by submitting to the confessor’s direction rather than one’s own anxieties. It’s a difficult spiritual pathology.

        And auriculur confession is not only useful (let alone necessary) for serious sin; that mindset is one of lingering Catholic minimalism. So-called “devotional confession” can be a very rewarding and enriching spiritual experience – distinct from spiritual direction or counseling, to be absolutely clear, but it is a sacramental encounter with God, and those are never to be sniffed at.

        I don’t actually go to my registered parish for confession because it’s a 30-mile round trip, and parking on Saturday afternoons can be worse than a pain. I would go if it were offered on Sunday mornings or other times when I am at the church for other meetings. So I go to the parishes nearer where I live, and have over the years developed a sense of their strengths and weaknesses in that regard.

  2. Todd says:

    I recall seeing a wash of criticism several years back on “appointments,” Amy’s old blog among others, if I recall.

    It wouldn’t surprise me that a few lazy clergy prefer not to bother with regularly scheduled hours, but I think a more apt (and accurate) criticism is the lack of a Saturday session (or other designated time) not the notion that a priest might schedule form I. Or criticize the guy for being inaccessible, even by appointment. I’m sure that happens, too.

    Except for retreats, I’m pretty much dependent on reconciliation by appointment, given the nature of my work and the inappropriateness of having a supervisor as my confessor.

  3. I think we should honor our Jewish roots and restore Yom Kippur to pride of place on the liturgical calendar to examine and repent our human condition(s).

  4. Jonathan says:

    The best example I have seen for providing options for confession is the Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa. Confession is available starting about 20 minutes before all Masses (Sunday and daily). Additionally, it is available from 3:00-4:30 on Saturdays. For the Cathedral itself, it means about 20 short times and one long time during which the Sacrament is offered.

    I realize that this can’t be duplicated at every parish, but it can serve as a good model or a kind of ideal.

  5. Tony says:

    I would suggest that our parish priest coordinate with the other priests in the area to offer the sacrament at different time that would be convenient for people.

    I’d also suggest a centralized schedule listing times, days and the type of facility (either good ol’ confessionals, or those “living room” things like in your picture).

  6. crystal says:

    I would have been more likely to go to confession if it had been offered before or after church on Sunday, when I was laready there, as I couldn’t drive. I wonder also if the style would have made a difference – at my church it took place in a small room with two chairs facing each other, which made me feel sort of shy/embarrassed.

    • Liam says:

      What, no screen/grille at all? Oh dear. Face to face is an option, but both penitent and confessor (yes) have the right to opt for the screen/grille.

  7. crystal says:

    Nope, no screen or grill … a very modern suburban church …. made me long for one of those priest-in-a-box versions :)

    • Harry says:

      As for feeling shy or embarrased, I expressed by uneasiness of confessing before a priest whom I knew well to a priest whom I knew well.

      His reply: “Do you really think your sins are that interesting?”

      In other words, get off that high horse, and approach the sacrament with a bit more humility.

      • Liam says:

        That should go without saying. In the Roman rite, anonymity, however, *must* be provided if either the penitent or confessor so desire; both must consent for face-to-face. Forcing that consent by eliminating the choice is a form of spiritual violence. Not pastoral in the least.

        Anonymity is far from always always about shame or embarrassment or pride. It’s very commonly about focus; penitents who are caretaker-types will be tempted merely by dint of their natural personality to monitor a confessor’s face and body language (caretaker types tend to be careful observers of others, and become reactive to others), and thereby lose focus.

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