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.