Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The problem of confession - is it even available where you are?

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!

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...

10 comments:

christopher said...

Since I returned to the Church six years ago, I've been very surprised to find that 90% of confessions are scheduled for AFTER Mass. Usually, the only time you can find it before Mass is at the EF. Am I missing something here? Don't you want to Confess and then proceed to recieve the Eucharist worthily? I already know the answer ...

While I personally abhor the open or face to face confessions for the same reasons listed above, as much as we all may hate it, it's still not excusable to not confess when the opportunity is available. This "style" of reconciliation has been around since day one. I'm sure you're aware already that the Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox will make exceptions as the case demands, but their confessions are face to face and quite often with the priest's hand upon the penitent's shoulder or head. In the Eastern churches I've been to, confession is usually done quietly standing next to the altar or in the sacristy.

Terra said...

Totally agree on the after Mass thing Christopher - and actually its pretty common at EF masses in Australia too. I find it bizarre -for those with mortal sins, better after mass than never I guess, and presumably they refrained from receiving...(?!).

Or maybe those who received only have venial sins to confess. But we are encouraged to confess our venial sins before receiving, and immediately afterwards, surely the communion has wiped them out and we haven't generally had time to sin again! So I'm not sure how much benefit you are really getting sacramentally (though someone can correct me if I'm wrong on this)- though I guess there is still some spiritual direction that can be helpful.

On confessing face to face - depends whether its a mortal sin or only venial. If mortal, I agree, if it is the only option, you've just got to go. But otherwise it seems to me to be reasonable to defer...

christopher said...

"... surely the communion has wiped them out and we haven't generally had time to sin again!"
LOL Maybe not, but I've got to tell you, some of the things I see walking past the pews ...

Terra said...

Actually I realise thinking about it for a few moments more that given you can confess old sins as many times as you like provided you can work up fresh contrition for them, there is no technical problem with confession after mass.

Still, a time when your soul (scandal in the pews not withstanding!) should be in a pretty good state and you should be giving thanks for the sacrament you have just received in the eucharist seems odd to me to be getting back to the repentence round. I know there are some practical reasons for confession at this time (church availability, that sermon that induces a bit of contrition or sudden realisation, etc) but it still strikes me as a bit Jansenistic...

christopher said...

Somehting tells me though that the idea for confessions after Mass don't stem from Jansenistic tendencies ...

I also agree with your dislike for confession during Mass. Like most people, I tend to sit in the exact same place for every Mass, something that just happens and continues from the first time you go. At the EF when I go to at the Cathedral, the last row on the right is where I've come to be (at the Maronite Church I go to though, I'm always in the front row, figure that.) The confessions continue after the start of Mass and the line stretches into the church right behind me. It can get distracting sometimes, although I'll never complain as long as there's actually a church that is serious about the sacrament.

Terra said...

Jansenist in the novus ordo context, definitely not, a rather different problem at work here! In the EF context, hmmm, not so sure...

Jakob Sprenger said...

There's is a great place for those in Melbourne who prefer a traditional confession. It is made available by the wonderful Capuchins at St Anthony's in Hawthorn. They are great confessors and are available pretty much 24/7. Anonimity is paramount, just walk into the church itself; there may or may not be a priest in the confessional at the time, but there is a bell on the outside of the confessional box. Just push the buzzer and walk into the penitent's side and the "on-duty" confessor will be with you in around 5 minutes!!

Quasi Seminarian said...

Ah the mortal sin asap confession. Though I must say, a girl committing a mortal sin?

Anyway, I once wanted to go to confession and I ended up visiting a number of Churches in an area all because NONE of them was offering confession at the scheduled time. My siblings were not pleased that I took them "Church visiting". In the end I went to confession around a week later. I was not pleased.

If you advertise it, fulfil it.

Terra said...

Oh dear Quasi, I do worry about you sometimes - of course girls can commit mortal sins! In fact there is something of a biblical precedent pretty early on...

Joshua said...

Getting to confession in a provincial city means having to go on Saturday in the morning or in the evening; I do miss the centres in Melbourne, and in Perth, where confession is available daily.