I've been intending to write on confession for some time, and I've had more than a bit of lobbying to do so, so I want to draw your attention to an interesting discussion going on over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia.
We all know that this sacrament has suffered a terrible decline in recent years, at a huge cost to souls.
The problems with confession today
But I don't think the solution is as simple as a few sermons encouraging people to utilise the sacrament. First, the biggest gap I've found from talking to people who I've been trying to get to go back to confession is that they simply don't know what to confess - the result of a lack of proper catechesis of the last several decades. And I don't think traditionalists are exempt here - the current generation growing up in traditional parishes now, or new converts who are properly instructed are the lucky ones; most of us have had to play catch up!
But even more fundamentally, all the sermons and catechesis in the world will be of no avail if confession either isn't readily available, or when you do go, the priest does things that undermine the sacrament. Such as failing to use the correct words of absolution or give a penance (and these things are more do happen all too often, as I can attest both from my own experience and from the anecdotes posted on blogs every time someone writes on this subject), let alone the many things that he can do (or not do) that discourage people from returning but which don't go to validity.
There are also some problems with the 'confession of devotion' or confession of venial sins that one regularly encounters these days, and were written on very nicely by Mulier Fortis (currently up in the Cannonballs for a few awards including Best Under-appreciated Blog!) late last year.
But let's start with basics: availability!
The very first and most important point about confession is that it has to be actually available! Ten minutes before mass, or on demand is just not good enough in my view. David Schultz explains why:
"On Saturday I turned up at a suburban church in Melbourne at 9:50am where the Sacrament of Reconciliation was advertised at 9:30am. I found the church deserted except for one parishioner who informed me that Father had returned to the presbytery as there was no one waiting for confession at 9:30am. He said that I was welcome to go and knock on the presbytery door and request the sacrament.
I declined the invitation for the simple reason that I had wished to make an “anonymous” confession, which is my right. [You are not alone in this David! It doesn't matter how trivial one's sins are, for some reason there is something very difficult psychologically about sharing them in confession even with someone you know or have to see face-to-face, even when they actually already know what they are!] I usually go to confession either at the Cathedral or at St Mary’s Star of the Sea in West Melbourne. Both places use the traditional confessional box, and are also very reliable in terms of the priest being available in the box at the advertised time. I don’t go to my parish priest for confession precisely because they don’t use a confessional box and “anonymous” confession is not possible. Call me funny, but don’t call me non-Catholic. I just don’t like making face to face confessions to priests with whom I have personal or working relationships.[And actually some priests will admit to having the same issue!] I hope you can understand why."
David's suggestions are:
"1) Confession could be made anonymously? (ie. that the confessional box with grill or veil is used.)[Yes! Ban reconciliation rooms and such like things. Also, the priest needs to be in the confessional booth and wait for people to come (take your breviary in!), not only come if there is a person waiting...]
2) that the priest can be relied upon to be there at least for the next hour following the advertised time?[This is just a personal thing, but I really hate the traddie idea of confession during Mass. By the time you get to the start of mass surely you should already be prepared to celebrate the sacred mysteries!]
3) if the Confession were offered regularly and more often than just on Saturday mornings after mass? [Saturdays work for some - but not for many. And really, there needs to be confession available within a geographical area somewhere each day so that mortal sins can be confessed asap!]
Anyway, do go and read and participate in the discussion over there. And I'd be particularly interested in hearing any views from the traddie perspective here...