Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ramblings about Confession, Confessionals and Kneelers

Since having children, the challenge of getting to confession has become somewhat more complicated.  My goal is to go at least every four weeks, with six weeks being an outside number, if things are very busy.  Over the course of the past few years I've noticed that after six weeks thing begin to go downhill rapidly and I find myself increasingly impatient and short-tempered and in desperate need of an influx of sacramental grace.

Receiving the Eucharist is awesome and grace-giving and yet without regular confession I find myself increasingly off balance, less and less the person that I want to be.

Before we had kids, getting to confession was easy.  I could jump in the car and be at confession at whatever time it was that week, and if there was no one there because I'd missed some announcement in the bulletin, it wasn't that big of a deal because I could just as easily go the next week.  Throwing babies and toddlers into the mix, complicated things.  Suddenly movement of any sort, wasn't exactly easy.  Paul was gone on Saturday's for school in those days, and so I would ask Nani to watch Sadie and haul Mae into town with me, hoping that confession would be going on.

The obvious answer to the problem was, of course, to schedule a meeting at another time, but even that was met with difficulties for various reasons, as was the solution of coming before Mass and seeing if anyone had time to hear a quick confession, because of the general annoyance that that suggestion was met with.

When I discovered that confession was held before Mass at the chapel we attend during the school year, I was joyous.  That I could do.  I could get the whole family out the door, at least when we needed the sacrament, by 7:40, in time to slip into the confessional before the 8 am Mass.

Yet, these past two months have still been a challenge.  The last time I went to confession was on April 8th.... 60 days ago.  Shortly after that confession I was put on bed rest.  Bed rest ended and we finished finals, organizing, and moving cross country in a flurry of non-stop movement.

So I longed for the sacrament, but didn't actually make it.  After all it wasn't as if I had a mortal sort of need to go.  It was more like the venial piling on top of the venial... tiny weights adding up one after another.  And since those venial sins are wiped away by the Eucharist it wasn't as if they carried over.  But still I felt the weight and the pull, and the simultaneous desire to stay away that always lets me know that I really, really need to go track down the nearest priest and beg him to hear my confession.

This morning I prayed that somehow, today, there would be a priest to hear my confession.  Our current parish is in transition, with one priest leaving for a new station and another arriving, so I wasn't sure confession would be heard at all.  As we headed west after shopping I suggested to Paul that we stop by the parish office in The City and see if anyone was there.  Around half an hour later I was finishing up my confession, feeling a heavy weight lifted from my shoulders, as well as a resolve to not let 60 days pass again between confessions.  I am refreshed.

But I have to say... I really miss confessionals when I'm away from parishes that still have them.  I'm certain there are many people who prefer the face to face confession (okay, I at least imagine there must be, otherwise why the switch?  Although I have a hard time imagining wanting to look someone in the eye while confessing your deepest, darkest secrets...), but I am most certainly not one of them.

I appreciate the formality and the anonymity of that old screen, and I appreciate the physical action of kneeling while I confess my sins to God.  For some reason, sinking into a plush leather couch to recount my sins doesn't quite bring along the physical feeling of penance or worship in quite the same way.  It's a bit more like going to see a psychiatrist, although I certainly do know it's far more than that.

I find myself increasingly aware of our composite existence as I seek out God, and how as composite creatures, made of both a body and a soul, the physical as well as the spiritual is an important aspect of my journey towards God.  There is an understanding of this in Catholicism that I love, the acknowledgement that our bodies and what we do with them matter very much.  We are not simply a body or a soul.  We are a body and a soul.

I wouldn't mind seeing a resurgence of confessionals with screens and kneelers, for they help me remember where I am and who I am addressing when I confess my sins.  After all, a little extra reverence when addressing our creator and expressing sorrow for our sins, couldn't hurt!


  1. "It's a bit more like going to see a psychiatrist, although I certainly do know it's far more than that. "

    LOL... I'll have to pass that onto my psychiatrist.. in fact every psychiatrist I've ever seen and let them know to upgrade their offices.

  2. I love kneelers. :)

  3. We are lucky to have confessions before every Mass at our parish but it's still not easy to go with kids around. Also we have the confessionals at the back of the church with doors and screens. Wouldn't want it any other way.

  4. When you are bedridden, that is, put on bedrest, even because of pregnancy, you should think about having the priest come to you. I know most people think that all right for Great-Great-Grandma in her declining years, but the situation of health concerns during a pregnancy is also an opportunity for the priest to come to you. You might want to request Anointing of the Sick, as well.

    My husband became deathly ill in middle-age, and I had to have ti pointed out to me having the priest stop by for confession, as well as a good anointing, wasn't the perk of the elderly, but was there for all Catholics.

  5. Most Churches that I've been have the option of both. You enter in such a way that the priest does not see you, and you can either kneel behind a free-standing kneeler and screen, or sit in the chair nearer the priest for face-to-face. I thought canon law required there at least be the option of anonymous confessions?

  6. When my husband and I go to confession we leave the kids in the car and go in one at a time, it the only solution that works for us. My parish always has face to face confessions which I was ok with. This past Saturday I went to a different parish and there was the screen and I liked that, the priest was amazing both churches have kneelers and a chair in cause you want to talk with the priest.

  7. My old church had an option. There was a fairly big room with a two chairs but as you walked in you could kneel behind a screen. Everyone is happy. Now I go to confession in a parish (not where I'm a parishioner) that is closer to my house. They have 4 new confessionals with screens in all of them. I think I might start going to confession with our new priest (in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter), where the new priest will be young and married. We'll just have to see how convenient his confessions end up being.

  8. To my knowledge, both priest and penitent have the canonical right to anonymity in the sacrament of penance. I recall a story of a elderly woman who wore a Halloween mask after the parish priest removed the screen. It promptly returned.

  9. I'm with you all: I want the screen, kneeler, and anonymity.


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