Holy Saturday Confessions

Pope Francis hears confession during a penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 28. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (March 31, 2014)

Some parishes offer a confessor’s time. Others do not. Sometimes the reasons for either are good. Or well-intentioned.

For the record, a celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is not forbidden on Holy Saturday. I can’t honestly recall a parish where I’ve served that didn’t offer it–except for the one without a resident priest. You can check the 1988 reference here; we discussed it almost four years ago.

I will say that people leaving their observance of the sacrament to the very last day before Easter might create an opportunity for fatigue in a one-priest parish. Holy Saturday isn’t primarily about your confession. It’s about someone else’s baptism. If a priest were to choose to focus on the Easter Vigil, a critic would be hard-pressed to suggest laziness is present. If a priest were to choose to hear confessions during Triduum, I would think a hearty “thank you, Father” is in order before ending the celebration of the sacrament.

Another myth about Penance: there is nothing in the rite about confessing how long it has been since your last confession. There is a moment for the confessor to welcome the penitent. Immediately after this, a reading from Scripture follows. Then a confession of sins. No one week, one month, one year, or whenever.

I’ve noticed Pope Francis (for a Jesuit) has a more liturgical approach to the sacrament–tales of him suggesting that penitents be welcomed, not grilled. Welcome on this Saturday, and other days. And not be embarrassed about confessing how long it’s been.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Holy Saturday Confessions

  1. Liam says:

    And Todd, as you no doubt must be aware, countless websites present the typical form of the sacrament as relatively untouched since the early 1970s. And one may well find these cribbed from and put into or outside confessionals. It’s been decades since I’ve encountered the actual post-conciliar form of the rite (perhaps last in college – at a university parish run by … Dominicans, who, like Benedictines, tend to be among the most earnest in allowing their liturgical-sacramental praxis to be ruddered by the ritual books unlike some other orders….).

    Sometimes, the issues are even more basic. Hey, in the past year, I had to gently question a veteran priest about his form of absolution that he’d been using for a couple of years before I felt I had the energy to devote to probing it *after* my confession was completed. (The form he used was, according to all the sources I’ve read, invalid and not even close.) [I am not a write-a-letter-to-the-bishop kind of guy unless a priest is acting recklessly and bad faith or malice – in that situation, appeals to the priest himself have already dead-ended.] At the end of my next confession, I was surprised to have him thank me for my trouble (I suspect he had consulted and confirmed the matter). The point being: Had he actually been following the ritual book, none of that would have needed to have happened.

    This does raise a larger question: it would appear that Form I has failed to be received so far. What can we learn from that failure? If it were re-launched, are there lessons to apply in a revised promulgation of it?

  2. Mike says:

    From the 1962 Roma Catholic Daily Missal under “METHOD OF CONFESSING”:

    “Let your confession be plain, entire, and prudent; neither obscuring your faults, nor concealing anything willfully, nor saying what would be prejudicial to a third person. Being on your knees, say first, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” Then proceed: “Since my last confession (mention the time) I accuse myself of ….” Having finished the declaration of your sins, add “For these and all other sins that have escaped my memory, I am heartily sorry, humbly ask pardon of God and penance and absolution of you, Father.”

    I have never, never heard that you are not to tell how long it’s been since your last confession. The priest needs to know this in order to ascertain the gravity of the confession. If someone has not confessed in over a year, for example, and they mention one or two sins, they are obviously not prepared for confession with a good examination of conscience. They could be a saint, but it’s unlikely. Telling how long it’s been since the last confession is a way for the priest to gauge the person’s spiritual state. To leave it out would be kind of ridiculous, and I would warn anyone about trying to sway people from doing it. You’re afraid they might have their feelings hurt? They are going to confession, where they admit they are sinners, and are trying to obtain absolution for the good of their souls because they have offended God’s law. They should already have a contrite heart. Hurt feelings? Give me a break.

    Also, of course you can thank the priest. Just as you thank anyone else, for doing their job. I don’t think hearing confession is some kind of onerous task, where the go out of their way to help someone. It’s their job.

    • Hi Mike. Thanks for commenting and Happy Easter. That 1962 method was reformed after Vatican II and much of that quote is not in the rite. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this method is outright wrong; many people found it fruitful for centuries. But it is a personal addition to the Penance liturgy. It is of the same category as a priest changing or adding something to the Mass–like inclusive language–a well-intentioned thing oft-criticized by some Catholics.

      Speaking for myself, I would like to see more Catholics experience the grace of the sacrament. If getting the shame out of the way so contrition can rule, I’m all for it. If you are a priest, you have the experience to comment on hearing confessions as being non-onerous or a job. It’s not really a job, in the sense of a priest being a judge or jury on a sinner. It’s ministry: getting out of the way so sacramental grace can be fruitful.

    • Liam says:

      The time since last confession is not ritual information, nor is it imperative information – yet it remains relevant information that doesn’t need to be specified in the ritual because it’s not ritual but factual context that is brought out within the ritual. Actually, the longer the time span, the more likely that a priest is less likely to engage you in a way the triggers shame in your but rather to overtly encourage you.

      • To a point I would agree. I think it *can* be relevant. It might also be more important information for a spiritual director. To me, it speaks more to the juridical than the liturgical or spiritual aspect of the sacrament. The “Bless me, Father …” start suggests a person is approaching as a legal petitioner. Liturgy in the Roman Rite consistently begins with the presider greeting the people, followed by a signation, then some ritual exchange. I have had confessors (priests from outside my parish or in monasteries) begin with casual conversation that shifts into a more prayerful mode. That seems satisfactory to me.

        My own sense is that yours, Mike’s, and my subjective experiences aside, the Rite of Penance is in significant disuse. It might be that its reforms failed to catch the imagination of the laity, but I suspect that it was and is the case the old forms and failed to bear much fruit. Should we go backwards? I doubt it. I could be wrong on that point, but I think something with more gravitas than 24-hour confessions are needed.

        I know a lot of inactive Catholics. Some people still fear confession. Some distrust clergy. They don’t perceive the ministry of Christ; just a church procedure controlled by males. They don’t want to chit-chat; they are seeking mercy. My own sense is that sticking to the liturgy is generally best. And the side discussions are perhaps better for a penitent with a relationship with a regular confessor.

      • Liam says:


        While it’s true that a penitent beginning that way could be adopting such an approach, I would strongly hesitate assuming that’s a dominant approach. Instead, the simplest explanation is likely that “Bless me, Father” is more reliable as *ritual* because it’s so easy to remember and repeat yet also signal something more ritual than daily conversation (Hi, Father). The inertia of ritual form is powerful when what is proposed to supplant it is not as quick and ready to remember. That would perhaps indicate a failure of the newer form, and the older form supplying the legs. (Btw, I don’t say that as a knock on the newer form. I remember it being rolled out, and welcomed it as an adolescent. But after one bad confessor experience at a vulnerable time of my young adulthood (I can identify*), I too stayed away a long time from it, and by the time I returned what I remembered more vividly and durably had bits of the older form in it.

        * Yet, I benefitted from a mother who was conversant in the experience of Bad Confessors and whose wisdom about that, shared with her children, sowed seeds of perspective in me so that allowed me eventually not to let a confessor define my experience. Nothing in her experience, however, prepared me for the bad psychic mojo of communal penance services that were twisted by the combination of a desire for both creativity and efficiency (yes, I have personally been subjected to (1) being allowed to confess only one sin – btw, no more than one sin, in case you’re wondering people in the pews, and (2) confessing by scripted piece of paper thrown into a fire; these may seem legendary but I certainly got to feel like I was a parasite on the valuable time of the priests and other ministers). I’ve encountered oddities in both forms of the sacramental ritual, but at least with a single priest I can have an emotion honestly earned and directed, rather than the amorphousness of committee-committed crimes, which in my long experience of them are much harder to deal with in psychic honesty and directness than one-on-one situations).

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