Monday, August 09, 2010

Fr Z. on Priests hearing Confessions (or not)

Friday week ago, I turned up for confession at the Cathedral, to find a line up of about 20 people (all but two of them male). I was astounded. Not only that, but while I was waiting, another ten turned up. It was like St Francis' Elizabeth Street in rush hour. And the people were of all ages and all walks of life. On one side of me in the line up was a young bloke in workboots, and on the other side was a bloke of about my age in a suit.

Don't tell me that people don't want to go to confession. But as I have said before, people who want to go to confession are greatly aided when priests:

1) Make confession available more often than just for half an hour on Saturday morning
2) Make sure that the confessional is manned at the time advertised
3) Take steps to ensure that the sacrament can be received anonymously

On top of that, here is a reflection from Fr Z on the matter:
My ASK FATHER entry ("Quaeritur") from a lay person asking about the lack of confession times, prompted not only lots of comments, but also emails, from lay people and from priests.

Here is a note I received from a priest reader (my emphases and comments):

That’s an issue [lack of scheduled confession times] I’m dealing with here in my new assignment. The previous pastor had Confessions scheduled at 5 PM, with Mass at 5:30 PM. Oh, and Confessions "by appointment", of course. The parishioners tell me that he was rarely, if ever, actually in or near the confessional at 5, and was usually busy getting things ready for Mass at 5:15. One of the first changes I made, by the way, was to move Saturday confessions to 4 – 5 PM, and I will be there every time it’s scheduled.
In addition, appointments are still welcomed.

I’m sure the official reason for the limited availability was lack of demand for the sacrament, but I don’t think that was the only reason.

Yesterday, a parishioner told me that they hadn’t heard any homilies calling something a sin throughout the previous pastor’s tenure in this parish. Why weren’t parishioners making use of the sacrament? They don’t believe that sin exists any more. Why don’t they believe that sin exists any more? Father wasn’t preaching on it. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

[QUAERITUR:] How do we as priests fix this problem?

First, preach on sin and the necessity of Confession. Sin exists, and it is a serious matter that is being ignored in our culture. If we don’t preach on it, the parishioners won’t hear it.

Second, make Confession times convenient for your parishioners, publicize them as widely as possible, and be there. Even if you spend the hour praying and doing spiritual reading, the parishioners need to be sure you’ll be in the Confessional when they come. If you’re not there when they show up, they may not be as persistent as the reader above. They might come back a second time. Maybe, but it’s more likely that they won’t even bother. If you don’t make Confession a priority, they won’t either.

This is a problem which puts the souls of our parishioners at risk. We as priests need to do everything we can to eliminate this problem.

My priest correspondent has hit the nail directly on its little flat button.

And this tale he tells is not rare.

I was once in a parish where the pastor clearly had contempt for confessions (and for priests who wanted to receive them). They were scheduled for one half hour before the Saturday evening Mass. The priest who was to say the Mass was to hear confessions. But, he demanded that the priest be in the sacristy 15 minutes before Mass. That cut the time in half. Furthermore, he not only had me in residence, but invited in an old friend to say the Saturday Mass every third week. That meant that I would have the chance to hear confessions for 15 minutes every three weeks. There were always lines at my confessional. People would beg me to hear longer when I got out to go to the sacristy. Once I did hear longer, until about 5 minutes before Mass. The pastor screamed at me – literally screamed – in the sacristy, in front of lay people, using vocabulary that verged on violating the 1st Commandment as well. Not only a control freak, but a sign of his hatred for the confessional (and for me). This is the situation for many a younger priest under the eyes of aging-hippie pastors. This is the state of affairs of lay people as well. I am often amazed that so many people are still as faithful as they are, given what we priests have done to them for so many years.

By contrast, I know a priest in his 80’s who hears confessions before every daily morning Mass and before all Masses on Sundays. And when there is a visiting priest to help with Sunday Masses, he hears confessions during Mass (which is both licit and laudable) up to the Offertory.

If priests are reading this – and you are – consider well your own salvation in attending to the confessions of the faithful.


At Monday, August 09, 2010 8:30:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

You'll recall Neuhaus' Law: "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be prohibited."

I would add my own corollary: "Whatever is not preached is not believed."

'Nuff said.

At Monday, August 09, 2010 9:18:00 pm , Anonymous Pax said...

An accurate picture of the reality facing the laity and their priests. It is good to see the tide is beginning to turn .The sacrament is hated by those who dislike the call to humility that it entails.Pride was and remains at the core of sin.

At Tuesday, August 10, 2010 12:07:00 am , Anonymous joyfulpapist said...

One of the things that has always bothered me is the 'say one Hail Mary and one Glory Be' type of penance. We need to take the temporal consequences of sin seriously. A penance that involved real sacrifice on my part would not only be more in keeping with the seriousness of anything that stands between me and the sainthood I am called to, it would also help me to remember to avoid the next occasion of sin.

At Tuesday, August 10, 2010 1:14:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

I often go to the Opus Dei parish here in Melbourne for confessions precisely because of the "Spiritual Direction" dimension you mention. Note that in the story, Fr Z. says there were always lineups for his confessional - not surprising, really! The Faithful respond to faithful priests faithfully administering the sacrament!

At Tuesday, August 10, 2010 1:47:00 am , Anonymous Gareth said...

Unbelievable David,

The orthodox priest that I met at University that I refer to above is the current parish priest of Star of the Sea.

I am not a member of Opus Dei, more of a 'friend' but acknowledge from my experience that their priets spiritual direction in regards to Confession or basic catch-up is often outstanding.

If only some Diocesian priests were as well trained in this important area.

At Tuesday, August 10, 2010 5:59:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

Said with, dare I say it, pride, Pax.

At Tuesday, August 10, 2010 8:53:00 pm , Anonymous Gareth said...

Not much point to that comment either.

At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 12:20:00 am , Anonymous Gareth said...

Do you guys have anything constructive to say about the sacrament of penance?

At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 12:33:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

Sort of Gareth: We must be careful about making sweeping generalisations about pride in others lest they are born out of our own lack of humility.

At Wednesday, August 11, 2010 11:19:00 pm , Anonymous Fr. J. said...

The sacrament is called the Sacrament of Penance, not the Sacrament of Spiritual Direction. People go to confession to have their sins forgiven.
The Priest may well include words of encouragement or direction but this cannot go on too long otherwise it would take forever for the priest to hear the confessions of the other people waiting.What compounds this is the fact that most people come during the last 5 to 10 minutes of confession time after the priest has been sitting alone for the previous 50 minutes. The late comers, imbibed in the best consumerist behaviour, expect to be 'served' with scant regard for a Church full of people waiting for Mass. Then the priest, & it has happened to me, gets abused for not being 'orthodox' for having to apologise to the late comers that he needs at least 5 minutes to get vested and prepare himself to celebrate Holy Mass.
The second problem that arises is that people fall into the trap of confession as simply free therapy - unloading complaints about lots of other people in their lives, rather than having properly examined their souls and confessing the sins they have committed.

I think Fr. Z. (as an aside I'm really unclear what sort of non-virtual pastoral work he does in between his looking forward to the arrival of the delivery truck, the birds on the bird feeder and his cooking - he seems only ever to write about saying Mass in the little chapel on his estate apart from the trips he has to other cities or coutries) should reflect a little more on the question as to the realities that priests face in offering confession - not that I'm excusing lazy priests who don't want to hear & don't offer decent confession time or use the 'make an appointment' excuse.

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:47:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...


At Thursday, August 12, 2010 6:47:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Was it?

At Thursday, August 12, 2010 11:20:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Just a nitpick. Most of the poeple who go to confession at a "confession centre" church don't go there for any other purpose. (That's one of the factors that supports anonymity, incidentally.) Thus they will have no idea what - if anything - is preached and taught about the sacrament of penance in that church. So, as good as such preaching and teaching may be, it has nothing to do with establishing the church as a confession centre.

Some of the requirements are more prosaic. The church needs to be conveniently accessible - so city centre and inner-suburb churches are favoured. It needs to offer confession at convenient times - at [i]all[/i] convenient times, e.g. a CBD church might offer confession at lunchtime, five days a week, and for a couple of hours on Saturday. And this is obviously going to be easier if there is more than one priest attached to the church, so churches attached to monastic communities often fill the role.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home