Friday, 16 December 2011

Services of Reconciliation

Yesterday I held two 'reconciliation services' in the parish; one in the morning at our smaller centre, where some twenty (more senior) people came and another in the evening in the main church. I had asked two other priests to help, and they kindly came. The participants? Ten. From a Sunday Mass attendance of between 250 and 350.
I have read so often that the reason people do not come to confession is that the priests are failing in their duty to preach about it, or make opportunities. In this parish, I offer an hour and a half every week (distributed through the three churches) (when I sit alone saying my breviary), and a conveniently timed 'reconciliation service' during Advent and Lent. And I do preach about it. Occasionally very directly.
In the past, I have been told that it is 'forbidden' to hear confessions during Mass. I know that this advice is false.
I should add that the times are calculated to be easy and available, and that the opportunity in the main church coincides with the hour's exposition of the Blessed Sacrament that happens daily.
I know excellent priests who hear confessions before every Mass; these tend to be city-centre parishes, and this would simply not work here.
So, I would be interested to know whether anyone has tried the experiment of having visiting priests hearing confessions during Sunday Mass a couple of times a year.
Or, frankly, I would be grateful for any advice at all.
I am very depressed about this. My parishioners clearly think that they are saints. Some may be, but most, I suspect, are no more saintly than I am. Well, perhaps a little bit more.


Ian said...

In the Oxford Oratory there are confessions available several times a day, for 10 minutes before each Mass. They seem to be very popular, as there is often a longish queue. I suppose this wouldn't be possible in a church with only one priest, but it shows, I think, that when people regularly see others going to confession they feel moved to do so themselves. Having confessions available during Sunday Mass is an excellent idea. Perhaps, also, people will feel more comfortable making confessions to a visiting priest(at least at first, when they are unaccustomed to confession), as it is less embarrassing to tell one's sins to a stranger! (I speak as a convert, whose first few confessions were very much eased by the fact that I did not know the priest.)

Anonymous said...

In my parish I make confessions available, once a month, after all Sunday Masses. It's very popular and, I think, feeds the other times (like Rec Services) in terms of promoting regular availability and celebration of the sacrament.

FatherTF said...

A pastoral strategy that is possible in a one-man parish is to hear confessions after Mass (or other devotions). You can't easily hear confessions before Mass because if the queue grows, you end up having to cut it short and go to prepare for Mass. But hearing confessions after Mass - particularly if you stride off to the confessional in cassock and biretta - can encourage some people to stay.

Anonymous said...

I see from the Catholic Herald that the Bishop of Shrewsbury is hearing confessions in his cathedral before Christmas. Why don't more of his peers do the same pour encourager les autres?

Dicken said...

Perhaps your bishop could write a Pastoral Letter encouraging the practice.
If one priest is preaching "regular Confession" and brothers aren't it easy for lay people to take the easier option.

Aaron S-C said...

Re: it being 'forbidden' to hear confessions during Mass: this does sound like nonsense. The past two times that I have been to a Juventutem High Mass (Old Rite) at St Patrick's Soho confessions have been heard during Mass (up to the point of the first epiclesis bell if I remember correctly). I think it's a very good idea to have confessions heard during Mass (I don't think it would work with the New Rite because there are hardly any of those long, contemplative pauses for prayer) and Adoration particularly (Fr Ray does this sometimes/ on request).

As regards people not turning up for Reconciliation: I think it's endemic. I have seen much the same from my experience at St Mary Magdalen and St Pancras (both excellent priests that offer confession times generously). I do think that confession time after each Mass is a very good thing (Fr Ray does this and I think it works).

Personally speaking I think it relates to bad catechesis; a loss of sense to sin; and surely a lack of belief and/ or devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Real Presence (surely if people were convicted that this is indeed the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ...people might take to heart the need for (bi)weekly re-conversion to Christ and being in a state of grace before Communion.)

I also think a lack of confession attendance relates to poor devotion to the Blessed Sacrament: talking in Church ten minutes before with one's neighbour which I frequently see; a brief glance over at the Blessed Sacrament and a nod as one enters Church...too often one feels as though Church is either part social gathering to meet with friends for some; and/or too mechanical... we need to recover a sense of the liturgy as sacred, God's 'salvific work' entrusted to the Church.

I think we need to think of Confession less as mechanical (one goes when one has committed a mortal sin, maybe murdered somebody, and needs absolution); and we need instead to consider confession as the Church's process of reconversion to God... re-orientating ourselves...we need to think of confession as a means and channel of God's grace which is really and truly efficacious (it's not just about us doing something but God does something to us and frees us from the burden of sin and loss of proper orientation so that we are free to respond generously - and morally - to Him once again.)

It probably wouldn't be a bad thing to reprint sections of the Catechism on Newsletters...or verses from the Missal.

I also think it's shocking and deeply concerning that some Priests insist upon face-to-face Confession; what next(?) Joint couples confession? It's not just about anonymity but about the sense of...the Priest should be hidden, just as God is hidden; and the Priests pronouncements should be authoritative as are God's...anonymity protects the proper rights and dignity of penitents (it's not an AA round circle confession); and also it retains the authority of the Priest (who is not a give warm, helpful advice).

We shouldn't make excuses for people not attending Confession either (it's just a part of the national character; we're not a confessing people; people may feel uncomfortable confessing their sins; ladies may prefer confessing to another lady...).

Confession should be seen as a prelude to reception of Holy Communion (a good confession made once a week to ensure proper disposition towards the Mass and Communion) and not a sort of once a year thing. I also think that Priests shouldn't be creative with their penance (convoluted suggestions and prayers: a decade of the Rosary or one Hail Mary said reverently is better than 'going home and thinking about one's faith...)

Anyway: sorry Fr. Quite a long old rant here. A

Richard Duncan said...

Paragraph 76 of Redemptionis Sacramentum makes it quite clear that the hearing of confessions during mass is legitimate. At the Birmingham Oratory, our experience is that the number of penitents increases during the homily, though whether this is because the celebrant has moved them to repentence, or is less than totally engaging, is difficult to say!

Ttony said...

I have been wondering for a while about whether in post 1970 E&W Catholicsm Confession has been marginalised as part of "change". Confession used to be what you did either on Saturday lunchtime or Saturday evening and every priest in the parish (happy days!) was on duty.

"They" wanted to change people's attitude towards the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the practice of Confession, as had been familiar for at least three generations, disappeared.

Has the sacramental nature, the value, of Confession been downplayed? Is there something about it not being one of Baptism or Communion that has contributed to such a downplaying?

I was in London yesterday and on Victoria St with a bit of time and decided to go to Confession at the Cathedral. At 11.00, half an hour before Confessions began, I was sixteenth in line. The queue went way past thirty by 11.30.

Anonymous said...

In my part of the world,which may be known to you, we have Confessions after all Masses on the first Sunday of the month and people use it very well, thank God. We've had our Advent Penitential Service and once again we've had Mums ans Dads and their children. Fr never misses an opportunity to encourage us to confess regularly and I know he has a particular devotion to St John Vianney.

MC Man said...

I think face to face confession in a modern style confessional would inhibit some people as would having your Parish priest hear your confession rather than a visiting priest.I know this should not matter but for some this could be a big problem.Maybe priests could experiment by swapping parishes for confession to see if it made any difference to numbers attending.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't dream of going to confession during Mass. I can see if you have a large cathedral, one priest could be celebrating mass with one congregation, and several other people could be waiting for confession with another priest, but otherwise, I think it's a very stupid idea. The Mass should be celebrated from the Greeting right the way through to the dismissal, if possible.

Secondly; in our church Confession is before Mass Saturday lunchtime and Saturday dinnertime. I really genuinely cannot get to church at those times on a regular basis any more. Usually I forget because I am working on a Saturday, and then my family have dinner at dinnertime together. Confessions should be on different days during the week and at different times; the fewer opportunities, the more drop outs. Confession after mass would be a good proposal, although many people would find it a bit 'cart before horse', and need winning over.

Thirdly, consider this: our church has a Monday evening Reconciliation Service in Advent and another in Holy week, and the church is completely packed. This might be because it is not a 'confession' service, but a 'sacrament of healing the sick' service. Anybody can receive the sacrament of anointing just by approaching for it (quite useful for 'hidden' illnesses, such as depression). It includes an examination of conscience, act of contrition and sign of peace; also hymns and readings and prayers, and the children preparing for first communion have a special part to play in the Advent service.

Figulus said...

Let me put in a plug for confession after mass. Even if it is "cart before the horse", it sure beats "cart without the horse". Having confession before mass is nice too, but less convenient, since the line inevitably gets longer the closer to mass you get, with schedules being arranged and re-arranged the way they are.

Father Away said...

Dear Father, I understand your sentiments exactly. I always found those biannual services a real flop. I don't find the second rite of reconciliation a pastoral success at all. As one priest said, people are going to confession and we make them sit through half a Mass, and not the better half! Instead I always arranged a parish swap with a friend twice a year. We advertised it before hand, said each other's Sunday Masses, sat in the confessionals after each Mass and were both amazed at how many came - including regular parishioners who listened to our confession sermons month after month, but waited till a visiting priest came to confess.God bless you for caring enough to persevere! Don't give up !

berenike said...

Nonono, no more pastoral letters! please! No, make them stooooooooop!

"A pastoral letter is a form of torture inflicted by the ecclesiastical authorities on the faithful, to test their patience and fortitude." (Szymon Hołownia)

No useful suggestions, I'm afraid, but the thought of *more* pastoral letters made me come over all cold and shaky. (And I'm all for confessions during Mass - why on earth not? It's not as though everyone is going.The more pious priests round here stop what they're saying at the consecration, or if between pentitents, step out of the box and kneel.)

Sixupman said...

Are there clergy who do not believe in Sin? Is that part of the problem?

At one time I went to Confess at Liverpool Cathedral, at the appointed time: a nun was incredulous as to my desire and told me all the clergy were at a meeting!

gemoftheocean said...

From my own observations: Up until the mid-70s or thereabouts, it was fairly common (in my parish of Immaculate Conception in San Diego) for a priest to be 'in the box' and available for confession while another was saying the Mass. Quite a few people took this opportunity to go to confession. IIRC the priest would usually hear confession up through the sermon. Then the practice fell out of favor. Then a few years ago, I started attending St. Anne's -- the Church given over to the FFSP. There on a Sunday mass there is ALWAYS another priest 'in the box.' The congregation makes heavy use of it. I think psychologically it may be easier for the penitent. If you get in the habit of going at a Sunday mass - you feel you can just 'slide in' and not have to go through a gut wrenching catharsis.

Sharon said...

In Melbourne Australia there is one Opus Dei parish and they are very generous in making confession available. At midnight Mass (at midnight) on Christmas Eve a priest was in the confessional (not face to face) until after the homily but the takers were few although the church, a large one, was full. I know this because everytime I glanced over the green light was on.

Nic L said...

Fr Sean

I sympathise very much with the actualy 'turnout' for reconciliation when, like you say, there are at least 250 of us (your parishioners). I hope that I am not the only one who most definitely does not think I am 'saintly'. You are right, indeed, that you do definitely talk about the importance of reconciliation and I am one of the few who does not take the sacrament of holy communion for the very reason that I have not been to confession for some years. I am now being asked by my daughter who is preparing for her first Holy Communion as to why I do not take communion and when I tell her that I have not been to confession she then, quite rightly, asks me when I am then going to go to confession?! I really do want to do this but after so long am very nervous indeed and I also work full time so the times allocated are difficult for me. I am not sure that I am convinced, however, that having confessions during Sunday mass is a good idea. Half of my family are Maltese and this is something that takes place at most Sunday masses in Malta and I think it detracts from people focussing on the mass and loses a bit of meaning. It all seems rather rushed.

Kep up the good work - and I hope we can all make time to come to confession regularly. For some of us it must be put down to laziness, others a bit of cowardice (like myself) and perhaps some others not really understanding the full importance of it.

Pastor in Monte said...

Dear Nic; thanks for being so honest. And, as I'm sure you know, I am always at your disposal, and promise to be kind.