Scheduling Confessions

confessionIn my new parish, ninety minutes of time with the confessor are offered Saturdays. Then there is an hour of time between the end of individual confessions and the start of Mass. That gap works for a priest who is on duty for Mass, but probably less well for people who are looking to make one weekend visit to a church. It hasn’t discouraged parishioners here, as there always seem to be people waiting during that afternoon.

The frequent complaint here about the option for flexibility in time:

Some parishes excuse themselves from making adequate times for confessions by saying that anyone can “make an appointment” for confession times outside of the small weekly window of opportunity. But anyone who has spent time in or around a rectory can easily see the problem with this.

I’ve spent over thirty years in various places, and made several appointments over the years with clergy for whom I don’t work, so I don’t see any problem.

Meeting a priest at a time outside the scheduled church hours offers greater privacy from the community. Anonymity from a priest is a required option, and an experienced confessor knows how to handle this with either a “regular” he knows by voice (he doesn’t really pay attention) or someone he doesn’t know.

The sacrament isn’t without obstacles. Outside the Church, there is pressure here and there for criminals who have used absolution to give them the illusion of pardon for serial sexual sins. And even inside, there was that case of a conservative Catholic who invented sins and recorded them to “out” a disliked priest.

The best posture all around is trust. Trust that clergy know how to handle themselves. Trust that appointments are a valued addition to a regular schedule, even if one doesn’t utilize them. Trust that penitents are authentic.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Scheduling Confessions

  1. Liam says:

    Parishes/oratories with a single priest and no weekend assistance need to have schedules for confession that allow the priest a break to prepare properly for the celebration of Mass and/or a schedule on = a weekday evening.

    Parishes with more priests have the flexibility to schedule Masses closer to the beginning of Mass (there’s nothing wrong per se with continuing to hear confessions after Mass begins – I recall two instances in the past two years driving my elderly father to confession an hour before Saturday evening Mass began, only to have the confessor – who was NOT celebrating Mass – leave the reconciliation rooms promptly as Mass began even with several people waiting to have their confession heard, having waiting nearly an hour – this is a parish with a few priests).

    Then there are the places that have no schedule, only appointment. That flies in the face of the intent of Can. 986 §1. “All to whom the care of souls has been entrusted in virtue of some function are obliged to make provision so that the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them are heard when they reasonably seek to be heard and that they have the opportunity to approach individual confession *on days and at times established* for their convenience.” (emphasis added)

    • Liam says:

      PS: it’s interesting the note that this canon makes the convenience of the faithful a value in the offering of the sacrament. At a time when we are trying to make offer other sacraments with greater emphasis on the needs of the faithful, that aspect of this canon is something to build on rather than be stingy with.

  2. Todd says:

    Indeed. Stinginess might be more of an eastern phenomenon. Even in parishes without a resident priest, I’ve not known of a parish that didn’t schedule regularly.

    • Devin says:

      Most Eastern Catholics Churches I know didn’t schedule regularly. Same with the Greek Orthodox Church, but most OCA have scheduled times before or after Saturday evening vespers.

      • Liam says:

        I think by “eastern”, Todd meant Catholic churches in the Northeast USA.

        The eastern (Byzantine family of churches) practice for confession is different: no anonymity, it’s done in the church before an ikon, and IIRC there is a laying on of hands for blessing at the end. Of course, communion tends to be more strictly gated in the eastern churches: the ideal practice (more common for converts than cradle Orthodox, perhaps) is to attend the long vespers service on Saturday evening, confess, and fast from everything overnight, and receive communion in the morning, with priests typically not giving communion to those who they don’t personally know have done that or have reason to believe they’ve done that. Confession may also offered before the Divine Liturgy.

        At least so it’s been described to me by converts.

        I can’t speak to the practices of the Oriental Churches.

      • Devin says:

        Yep, geography would make more sense. Anyway, from my observations of the mystery of confession in the OCA, the priest covers the penitents head with a cloth while gazing at the icon. Since the confession icon is out in the open, there is a usually a person chanting the psalms to provide both meditation and privacy. Byzantine Catholicism in my home area uses a portable confession grill in the sanctuary.

        On the rare occasions I confess face to face in the Roman Church, I have experienced laying of the hands during the prayer of absolution. Given the child abuse scandal, I assumed that this practice would have completely died out.

        Orthodox Vespers in my area tends to run about 40 minutes, though there is an occasional “All Night Vigil” which combines Vespers, Matins and the First Hour, which is used on feasts such as the Dormition. It usually adds an hour, but I have been told that the services the local parishes use is an abbreviated service and monasteries and cathedrals will often use the “real deal” and sometimes every Saturday (the ideal practice you are referring too. FWIW, a local orthodox parish usually has 50-60 people in attendance on a normal Saturday vespers which is roughly half the congregation. A higher percentage of the vesper attendance is from converts (mainly Catholic). Also during the past lent, the OCA priest diplomatically remind people that confession was needed to receive communion during Pascha and implied that he knew who had not yet confessed.

  3. Devin says:

    Most of the priests I know are very generous with their time. That said, the Saturday late afternoon time slot seems to be a bureaucratic tradition that no one has really thought to change or found a good alternative. I know of a parish that offers confession 9AM on Saturdays and a parish in another diocese that had a 11:30AM time slot and these times were packed. I suspect this time would be most convenient for a lot of people, but with weddings it is not feasible for most parishes. Another local parish has Monday evening confessions which are well attended.

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