Is it Wrong to Judge a Catholic Parish by the Confession Schedule?

st-john-vianney-confessionBack in the 90s, I encountered the “penance service” phenomenon whereat people were told to write their sins on a piece of paper and put them into a bowl that would be lit aflame to burn the sins. I never stayed for the finale, and had secretly hoped that the whole place would burn down — felt banners, resurrecifix, and all. I saw another parish where the “confessional” was a glass walled sitting area that looked kind of like a interview seat on the set of a TV daily talk show. Who would want to go to confession there? Everyone would see you through the glass, not to mention that the way it was lit would make you feel as if you were performing on stage…

It was no wonder I never saw anyone using it.

Later, I would encounter Fr. Hardon explain that frequent confession is the cornerstone of spiritual progress. A sigh of relief because he explained that Pope Paul VI, after Vatican II, had noted:

Frequent and reverent recourse to this sacrament, even when only venial sin is in question, is of great value. Frequent confession is not mere ritual repetition, nor is it merely a psychological exercise. Rather is it a constant effort to bring to perfection the grace of our Baptism so that as we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ who died, the life that Jesus Christ lives may be more and more manifested in us. In such confessions penitents, while indeed confessing venial sins, should be mainly concerned with becoming more deeply conformed to Christ, and more submissive to the voice of the Spirit.

St. John Paul II was similarly disposed, perhaps more strongly so, as I recall him constantly urging frequent confession. So much so, that you wonder how what I’ll describe can exist today…. yet it does.

You have to wonder, though, when you look at modern American parishes. I assembled some examples by comparing very large (1500 or more families) parishes from a variety of cities. Of the many I surveyed, it was strange that nearly all of them made it very difficult to find confession times on the website. Of those I could find, it was almost verbatim:  confessions at 4:30 (or 4) Saturdays, usually a half hour, some for an hour, before the so-called vigil Mass on Saturday evening.

Some notes:

  • Proliferation of “ministries”.  All of them had numerous “ministries” for outreach. I counted on the websites the “ministries” listed…  one parish had 70, and of those many had weekly meetings, listed on the website and in the bulletin.
  • Spanish. One example of the surveyed bulletins came to mind — the parish had more than half of the ten page bulletin in Spanish — seven pages!  The scary thing is that of the thousands of families in that parish, I am told by someone there that only 50 or so are Spanish speaking. It has only one Spanish Mass per month, and it has four separate ministries of its more than fifty dedicated to Spanish outreach. I saw no ministry dedicated to bringing lapsed Catholics back. I think the remaining english pages were discussing ministries, but the confession times were nowhere in the bulletin.
  • Resurrexifixes. Although I cannot stand this “art”…  whereby Jesus is detached from the Cross and shown without wounds many times, just a man standing in touchdown pose, most of these parishes have a prominent resurrecifix behind the altar.
  • “By appointment”  Of those that did bother to list the scheduled confession time, many, a little more than half, offered “by appointment” confessions. See the next point for a strange twist on this, though.
  • Huge Staffing. Lots of people work at these parishes. One parish has what appears to be a whole page of people and phone numbers of folks to call in order to get involved in the parish. What’s scary to me is that the “by appointment” for confession contact at one parish was a lay person (not the priests’ secretary). Probably a really nice person, but I’d not call them to schedule a confession, no matter how nice.

I’ve mentioned “busybodies” before. I’ve mentioned before how AmChurch marginalizes its own and forsakes the inheritors of faith as well… Both Padre Pio and St. John Vianney are known for bringing lost Catholics back to the fold and both heard confessions endlessly…  But they are merely a couple examples.

but seriously…  Is it wrong to see these places as lost? A ten page bulletin for a place that has about 5000 parishioners, with a half hour for confession weekly at which maybe 5-10 people show, has plenty of resources to teach its people on the need for frequent confession, right?

At some point, you’d think some of those 5000 people would pressure the priests to have more confession times. It’s not like they don’t have enough busybodies to do the administrative work at those places.

Is it wrong to see all of this as “activity” that has replaced our faith?

Is it wrong to think that place isn’t “Catholic”?

Does it make it any better that some of these places describe the giant confession services they have during lent, once or twice, during which many priests hear confessions?


This article, Is it Wrong to Judge a Catholic Parish by the Confession Schedule? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.
  • sue200012 says:

    A good confession changed my life, so I think it is never offered enough.. People are reluctant to make appointment confessions. You don’t want to be a bother or make like your sins are so terrible you can’t wait til Saturday. I did it once and felt stupid, like did I think I was one of the great sinners like Martin Luther or somebody? But the priests couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating and the secretary acted like it happened all the time. They should encourage this maybe? Confessing in the priest’s office is a bit uncomfortable. Some of us still prefer the chance of anonymity.

    (Did you ever hear about the confession that was secretly recorded by law enforcement via cellphone? I think in Oregon. Half dozen people listened to it. Don’t take your cellphone into the confessional.

    • John B. Manos says:

      Now Sue, you got right to the point I was thinking about!

      Confession is the sacrament that brings people back to Jesus and His Church. Constantly, our churches are lamenting at low Mass attendance and lapsed Catholics. These parishes seem to be using “ministries” to reach new people all the while neglecting the supernatural tool God gave us to bring attendance back: the miraculous and supernaturally powerful sacrament of confession!

      Interesting about the cell phone… that might be a whole other topic for another post someday!

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