Confession Time

Confession expert: St Alfonso Liguori

There is a very interesting article about confession on the “New Theological Movement” blog . The article gives the “layman” some idea of the difficulties every confessor must face, difficulties that we are perhaps not entirely aware of.

At the same time, the author of the article tries to strike a balance between the need for spiritual direction and the need to not let people wait in vain for a confession. This last problem strikes me as a rather  rare one,  as in my experience the priest who hasn’t the time to hear all the people who want to be confessed by him is doing things extremely well (Padre Pio, St. Philip Neri, St. John Vianney come to mind) or, more probably, very badly. Generally, confession lines are very short; which would indicate that, in case of problems, confession times are even shorter.

What I notice is that in many churches here in the UK confession time is limited to 30 minutes a week, one hour at the maximum. This creates in my eyes a vicious circle in which the limited possibility to go to confession will reduce the number of those seeking it – bear in mind that most Catholics do not think very clearly about that and will take every excuse to postpone – and, more strikingly, send the message that confession is not such a big deal after all, which will again act as a further deterrent to confession. The result will be fewer people queuing at the confessional, and perhaps the decision of the priest to further reduce confession time because…. no one’s there.

In my eyes, the time management problems mentioned in the article would be solved if the priest would act as follows:

1) stress from the pulpit the need for confession

2) make confession easily available.

Some priest might say that he is, in fact, always available for confession, but this seems to me a very disingenuous statement and, actually, one of the clearest signs of a mediocre priest. A priest who has already shouted to the world (through his confession times) that he can’t dedicate more than 30 minutes a week to confession is not exactly encouraging the faithful to knock at his door trying to get one. This reminds me of those company bosses saying “my door is always open”.

Similarly, a priest claiming that he hasn’t time to hear confessions because of his various social engagement, parish committees etc. would be well advised to rearrange his priorities starting from the fact that he is a priest first, and a social worker fifth, or seventh.

Looking at today’s UK, I can’t avoid thinking that the confession problem is largely a priestly creation, originated through: a) lack of encouragement to go to confession during the homily; b) short and “strange” confession times (eg. 30 minutes, and then the confessor has to go to celebrate Mass); c) priests often showing up late for confession time, so the 30 minutes are rather 25; d) in the sum of all this, the unspoken message that confession is not really so important.

If there was the habit – or perhaps, the obligation – for priests to dedicate more time to confession (say: at least two hours a week, divided in at least three days during the week, of which at least one suitably late after working hours) and the correspondent encouragement, frequently repeated, to go to confession, I think things would change rather rapidly. I may be too optimistic here, but I think that the biggest problem is not one of lack of will, but lack of encouragement. The sheep are not very intelligent animals, or particularly active. They must be encouraged and guided frequently, perhaps with a bit of a rod and staff here and there; but then they react, and go in the desired direction.

Let me conclude this with a short message to those among my readers who might be thinking about conversion, or thinking to come back to the sacraments, but are scared to present themselves in front of the confessor, fearing that he will skin them alive. Every practising Catholic will confirm to you that this is very, very unlikely to be the case. Even most priest who are lions from the pulpits are lambs in the confessional. If you go there with the right spirit, you’ll be absolutely fine and will get out of the confessional enriched by a beautiful spiritual experience, and wondering what the worries were all about.



Posted on August 2, 2011, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Unfortunately Mundabor,my first confession after 35years was not a beautiful spiritual experience….The priest said he did not want to listen to “thirty years of sin”and I was told to make it short.It didnt hurt too much at the time,I was just relieved to have made it into the box……It was afterwards that I began to think on his words…..

    • Sandy, could it be that you went there with some wrong expectation? (Just askin’).

      Actually, that he didn’t want to hear 30 years of sin is rather good and I think he was goign straight by the book.

      What counts is the contrition and serious intention of amendment, not the ticking of 30 years of boxes….

      I went to my first confession after 30 years and went out crying tears of joy and consolation. Through the grate, I could clearly see the priest’s tears, too. The entire exercise cannot have gone on for more than 10 minutes, too….


  2. Well Mundabor,I had no intention of trying to list 30years worth of sin,impossible task!It was the mortal one that I was desperate for forgiveness for.I wanted to say sorry,, sorry sorry,for living with the mortal sin and thinking it was nothing.The remorse was overwhelming.I shall think about what you have said.Maybe I expected gentler treatment ,I guess at that stage in my conversion I was still rather fragile!Thanks for putting another view on it.

    • Sandy,
      it may also be that the man was bad…

      What I wanted to say is that the idea that the 30-years confession should be dealt with in 10 minutes is rather the norm, even for an excellent confessor. Your wanting to say sorry so many times 😉 in my eyes rapidly persuaded the confessor that you were adequately contrite, I would say. Still, I wasn’t there.. 😉

      In my experience, “fast” confessors who stick to the point, give me a short but intelligent and to-the-point word of advice and give me absolution are the best. One or two of them have surprised me with words Iwouldn’t have expected, but with the benefit of hindsight I can say that they knew what they were saying…..

      I was at confession again last week and the man was fast but boy, he was good…


  3. Hmmmm.In the months that followed that confession I learnt of his rather “liberal views”.I didnt know what I was at that time,but gradually the more liberal I perceived him to be,the more “orthodox” I realised I was.I think I gave him a hard time …..I just couldnt swallow some of his thinking.He was and is, a good man I think,but no,I didnt like his watered down Catholicism.Maybe this has coloured my view of that confession,the thought that he really didnt want to hear it at all.

    • Your thoughts do you honour, Sandy.

      Have you tried other confessors to see the difference? I have seen differences, but only on one occasion I met a confessor who was so strange sounding that I decided not to go to him anymore. In my experience, even the “tough” ones are, in the confessional, surprisingly gentle…


  4. I am afraid I “legged” it from that parish Mundabor.I found a Priest who celebrates an E.F.Mass once a month,and I go to confession to him.Sometimes you can sense if someone is holy and I think that he is,and I thank God for him.

  5. When I go to confession I always feign a fake accent to disguise my identity.

    I HATE ‘reconciliation rooms’ and can’t see why they were invented. I only go to the old style confessionals. I have no desire to be seen (quite the opposite!)

    • Wow Shane, you are able to fake an accent? Congratulations!

      I had confessors starting to talk to me in Italian without being asked 😉


    • I forgot: I think that the reconciliation rooms is born of the idea that the priest is your friend, and the confession should be made as much dissimilar from the old sacrament as possible, something informal, a good chat.

      What the V II crowd managed to think is outright scary.


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