Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Make Confessionals Prominent, Again

June 1st, 2015, Promulgated by Bernie
Confessional in Vatican

Confessional in Vatican

Go into any European Catholic church with a couple of hundred years of life under its belt and you find yourself in a sacred space usually filled with dark furniture. Pews –a relatively recent addition– yes, but most strikingly you will see confessionals: lots of confessionals. They march up alongside the side aisle walls of the church. In the larger churches they can also be found attached to the nave columns or piers.

There are so many of them that it is easy to unwittingly pause too near one that is being used. In Italy, while pausing to admire a church’s architecture, I have been “ahem-ed” by a priest hearing a confession. Confessionals are all over the place.

In contrast, think of our churches here in the U.S., especially our modern ones. Where are the confessionals? You will look long and hard to find the ones at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester.

The post Vatican II trend has been toward “reconciliation rooms” that are nondescript and almost hidden –if not actually hidden. Often, there is no permanent confessional, merely a portable screen with a chair on one side for the priest and a kneeler on the other side for the penitent. It is put away between confession hours –usually only 30 minutes a week; make an appointment during “off hours”. Most often, however, the confessional is not easily noticeable. Clearly the message is Confession is not important.

The architecture of our modern churches has dropped confession from the three biggies: Eucharist, Baptism, and Confession. (Confirmation was lost centuries ago.)

IMG_9027While in Poland recently, I took notice of the number of confessionals in the older churches. I also observed that they were being used every day at almost any time. Not all of them all the time, but in the larger churches at least, one was operational with a priest and penitent. In others, a priest’s stole draped on the front railing indicated it was often open for business.

The Faith is still strong in Poland although liberals would probably quarrel with the quality of that Faith. The Faith has, in fact, been weakening even there ever since the fall of communism, the enemy of Polish culture. Still, is there a relation between the number of confessionals in a church and the strength of the Faith in that community?

Of course, we don’t have the priests to man more than one Confessional in a church. But, shouldn’t that one Confessional be really present in the church? And, shouldn’t it be an admirable piece of art?

IMG_8917A theological argument could be made for the edification of the Sacrament of Confession through artistic expression and prominent location of the Confessional in a church. First, confession should have a public element to it as sin is a separation from the community of Faith, from the Church, as well as a fracturing of my personal relationship with God. Reunion or reconciliation with the community should therefore be public –have a visible liturgical presence– accomplished in a public place and not squirreled away in a private “office”. The public element also invites reflection for those who see it happening: “Am I so perfect that I don’t need Confession as so many others seem to?” “We are all sinners, in need of forgiveness.” “Why do I struggle with guilt when forgiveness is so available?”

Second, Confession is a monumental Sacrament, an incredibly merciful action of Christ through His Church that should be celebrated in an appropriately grand manner and not “hushed up”. All the angels in heaven rejoice at the return of a sinner. Shouldn’t our confessionals aesthetically express that thought?

Make the confessionals visible and impressive once again and I think we will see an increase in the numbers of people taking advantage of the Sacrament.

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13 Responses to “Make Confessionals Prominent, Again”

  1. Diane Harris says:

    Magnificent, and well-needed post, Bernie. I particularly like at St. Thomas the Apostle how we have confession available before and after Mass (not during, of course)and how many people go regularly, especially the children, as we can see from the line along the side wall. It takes care of the problem of trying to squeeze an unknown number of penitents into a fixed time on a Saturday afternoon, since the priest also stays after Mass as long as people are lined up for confession. It takes care of the impression also that “we don’t need confessionals any more because we don’t sin any more!” Hah! Start with “I assert I don’t have any sins” as the first sin to confess! Thanks, Bernie.

  2. emmagrays says:

    Thank you, Bernie, for posting on a subject that has bothered me for some time. The pervasive attitude seems to be that going to Confession maybe once a year is sufficient,
    thus making the small number of confessionals available acceptable.
    When I was growing up, we all went to Confession once a month. I was raised to believe that even minor sins needed to be confessed and forgiven.
    And, as I understand it, and I hope I’m totally incorrect, children now make their First Communion prior to First Penance?

  3. Ben Anderson says:

    And, as I understand it, and I hope I’m totally incorrect, children now make their First Communion prior to First Penance?

    that *was* the case… until Bishop Matano just recently fixed it.

  4. emmagrays says:

    Thank you, Ben, for the new information.
    May God Bless Bishop Matano as he continues “fixing” DOR.

  5. christian says:

    Thanks for posting this Bernie. I agree with the article that confessionals should be part of the visible architecture of the church body. I have been pleased when seeing beautifully designed confessionals that fit with the architectural style of the church.

    Regarding confessionals: I have heard various Catholics (from various parishes) say over the years, that they feel more comfortable with confessing their sins in a confessional rather than face to face or behind a screen on a kneeler, in a reconciliation room or other area.

    I have heard complaints from these Catholics that the confessionals were removed from their church, because so-called progressives deemed face to face confession a more rewarding experience. They state that they do not want to go to face to face confession or walk into a room to approach a kneeler where the priest confessor is able to see who is entering the room. It’s obvious that they want anonymity when going to confession.

    They insist this new progressive way of face of confession was forced upon them without having a confessional available as an alternative. I have gone to confession in a confessional, on a kneeler, and face to face. From my earliest years, I have been accustomed to the confessional for confession, and the confidentiality, individuality, with anonymity it provided, so I clearly can see these people’s point.

    In addition to seeing confessionals removed, I have seen existing confessionals in various churches, some very beautifully designed to fit the architecture of the church, used for storage purposes rather than for confession. In one church, toilet facilities were installed in the confessional.

    So Catholic prelates wonder why there aren’t more people going to confession these days, and wonder why more people aren’t going to confession more often.

    I think the accommodations for confession is in good part responsible for the lower numbers of people going to confession, in addition to the hours and times it is provided. (It would be helpful if the DoR would list churches who still have confessionals, and use them as confessionals, as well as the days and hours confession is available).

    I think the article you posted Bernie, conveys the necessity for confessionals, notable in the church body, preferably beautifully designed to fit the architecture of the church -And might I add, USED FOR THE PURPOSE OF CONFESSION.

  6. christian says:

    correction -line 11 of my posted comments: “They insist this new progressive way of face to face confession was forced upon them without having a confessional available as an alternative.”

  7. annonymouse says:

    Christian – I think you have a good point. I think that the impression that our society has done away with sin, and our Church has largely de-stressed it both have a lot to do with the lower numbers of people going to confession. And when was the last time you heard the term “mortal sin” preached in a homily?

  8. Hopefull says:

    Another problem is dropping the term Church Militant for those still on earth (not in heaven as Church Triumphant, nor in Purgatory as Church Suffering). Now we are called “The Pilgrim Church.” Huh? We’re just here to get the ticket punched? Not to fight for the Kingdom of God?

  9. Jim says:

    Speaking of frequent confession, Fr. Antinarelli hears confessions five days a week at Our Lady of Victory/ St. Joseph Church: on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 11:30 am until 11:55 am, just before the daily Mass at 12:10. It’s nice to know that you don’t always have to wait until Saturday afternoon to go to confession.

  10. christian says:

    annonymouse-I am in the midst of answering your question and will have to post it later, when I have more time. It is a very good question.

    I agree with all those who posted comments.

    One observation I have made -when going to normal confession (not listed as a special day for the Diocese or parish), there are significantly more people in attendance in parishes which use confessionals for confession.

    When will the DoR and other dioceses get into their head that there are many people who do not want to go to face to face confession, or on a portable kneeler in a backroom of a church.
    I have found myself in a minority of one or with one to two others, in face to face confession or a portable kneeler confession, but have found myself in a considerable line of people when confessionals within the church body were used for confession.

  11. Jim says:

    Christian, By the way, OLofV/St.Joseph’s only has the traditional confessional boxes in the back of the church. No face to face….just a darkened box….all annonymous…

  12. Mary-Kathleen says:

    Confessions are permitted during the celebration of Holy Mass.

    See Church document “The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy” released by the Congregation For the Clergy on 9 March 2011:

    #56. “It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present…and that confessions be especially available even during Mass, in order to meet the needs of the faithful.”

  13. annonymouse says:

    Mary-Kathleen, there is a somewhat different meaning/emphasis in Misericordia Dei, which the Prefect quotes (or perhaps it is two different translators adding different emphasis, I don’t know) but in any event, confessions are to be especially available before Mass and “even during Mass if there are other priests available.”

    St. John Paul’s words are presented as follows on the Vatican’s website:

    Local Ordinaries, and parish priests and rectors of churches and shrines, should periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertized times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available before Masses, and even during Mass if there are other priests available, in order to meet the needs of the faithful. (Misericordia Dei 2)

    While normatively not forbidden, it is certainly best that confessions be heard outside of Mass, as the liturgy demands the full and active participation of the faithful. This, I think, discusses it well:

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