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Confession must once again be seen as the normal practice of a Catholic life

Confession may be in decline in many areas, but some parishes – usually seen as ‘traditional’ – are reversing the trend

By on Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Priests hear Confessions at World Youth Day in Madrid (Photo: CNS)

Priests hear Confessions at World Youth Day in Madrid (Photo: CNS)

In an article in the Tablet, John Cornwell, director of the Science and Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge, asks what has happened to the Sacrament of Confession, or Reconciliation as it is now called. Apart from certain inner-city parishes like the Brompton Oratory or St James’s, Spanish Place (and although he doesn’t mention it, I feel sure the same is true of St Patrick’s, Soho Square), where there are still queues for Confession, he suggests that a general decline in practice is widespread and has been so for many years. This conclusion accords with my own impression of our local parishes – but not, interestingly, the Oxford Oratory, where Confessions are available during Mass and where I have noted a keen uptake.

Cornwell refers to the late theologian Bernard Haring on this topic, saying he wrote in 1978 “that adult Catholics ceased to confess because so many of them were using artificial contraception, and saw nothing wrong with it. He might have added other stumbling blocks: sex before marriage; gay relationships; what Häring calls ‘self-stimulation’; being divorced and remarried… These have caused people to either leave the Church, or simply ignore the teaching on ‘serious’ or mortal sin and the need to confess before receiving the Eucharist. The circumstance has created, in consequence, a remarkable historic split between teaching and practice.”

Several thoughts come to mind on reading this. First, what are the London and Oxford Oratories, for instance, doing right that other parishes get wrong? Could it be that the Oratorians, who place great emphasis on reverent liturgy and who are seen as “traditional”, also preach about the need for Confession as part of the normal spiritual practice of a Catholic life, and follow this up by making it available during Mass to be more convenient for busy, hard-working parishioners? Obviously this isn’t possible in what our late parish priest called “a one-horse parish” ie where there is only one priest to celebrate Mass. But I know from friends that where the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is celebrated, the (single) priest also has a queue for Confession. It seems that old habits, such as the need to examine one’s conscience regularly, die hard in certain circumstances.

Cornwell also doesn’t mention new movements in the Church – or indeed old ones like the Third Orders attached to religious communities, where I would guess the old practice is still strong. Local parishioners and friends who are also members of Opus Dei, for instance, take regular Confession very seriously, as do their priests. What does this say about ordinary parishes where most Catholics who practise their faith attend Mass?

It should also be pointed out that Bernard Haring was one of those post-Conciliar theologians who challenged the Church’s teaching on Humanae Vitae and artificial contraception; I would guess that he also took a “therapeutic” attitude towards the other “stumbling blocks” listed by Cornwell above. If you do away with the concept of sin, you do away with the need for Confession. Was Haring satisfied with the results of his own interpretation of Church teaching? Was he content with this “historic split between teaching and practice”? He might have approved of the Tablet, which takes a somewhat “post-Conciliar” line on the moral teaching of the Church.

These reflections bring me to the memory of the late Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ, who died at the end of August and whose obituary has been in the Herald. Fr Thwaites was, for a short time, the parish priest of a nearby parish. He once told me: “It’s on my conscience that I haven’t preached on the sinfulness of artificial contraception.” He proceeded to do so the following Sunday – with the result that many parishioners “walked away from him”. They found his words too hard. Yet others I know who listened to him and talked to him later decided to change their lives. There have been many tributes to Fr Thwaites for his evident holiness. I think that people describe a priest as holy when it is obvious to them that his deepest and overriding concern is to save souls. He will always attract those who have ears to hear. People are thirsting for the truth, even if they do not know it. When heard, it is irresistible to some, repugnant to others.

Cornwell also remarks: “Conversations with priests and people in different parts of the country raise diverse questions. Does Confession reconcile us to the Church, or to God?” Surely this is an artificial distinction, implying (possibly) that God always forgives while the institution, hidebound by rules and regulations, is fussier. It is through the agency of the priest that we are reconciled to the Church – which is, as the late Mgr Alfred Gilbey wrote in We Believe, Christ lived on in His followers.

Cornwell is researching a book on Confession – hence his article, entitled “Where are the penitents?” His interest is sociological and his investigation is a survey. I can see such research might be valuable in a limited way. But in the end, it is always about one individual on his knees before a priest, remembering the words of Christ: “Repent and be saved.”

  • nytor

    “the London and Oxford Oratories”

    Birmingham, too, and no doubt the soon-to-be established Manchester Oratory (currently still at the Holy Name but soon to move).

    This is for one simple reason and you have alluded to it above – the importance that they place on it. This doesn’t even have to involve preaching on it – just the example of being there, in the confessional, regularly for long periods is enough to inspire people to go. Where it is once a week on a Saturday morning for half an hour, the priest is often late or doesn’t turn up at all, and no emphasis is placed on it whatsoever, or even worse where it is “by appointment only”, then is it any wonder that people don’t go?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Another excellent article from Francis Phillips.

    My own route back to the Faith are being effectively lapsed for twenty years culminated in a single moment in time (in 2005), which involved seeking out a priest on a Wintry early Sunday morning in Russia, and, having found one who spoke English, sitting with him in a room in the crypt of Moscow Catholic Cathedral for over an hour. Receiving absolution (accompanied by many tears), was the start of a resurrection not only in my spiritual life but in all other aspects as well and the first steps of a gradual ascent. 

    I would say two things about Confession. 

    a)  a good one made by a soul crushed by humility and a realization of the deathly sting that is sin shows the power of the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ more strongly and more obviously than any other Sacrament, although of course receiving Our Lord in Communion WORTHILY is its equal.

    b)  it is NOT a magic bullet or a miracle pill from the doctor. It is part of a PROCESS that demands (particularly when one’s moral failings have been serious) the return to Christ in the Confessional time and time again until the person’s WILL is strengthened and made whole so that it can truly cooperate with the Grace freely given by Our Lord. Regular Confession then is a MUST: I find every 4-6 weeks to be about right for me now. In the aftermath of my return to the Faith, it was weekly. 

    We MUST return to the mentality we once had: that we are in constant need of Grace: without it, we can do nothing at all. Good intentions just drain away into the sand; there is no power to our own efforts.

    All this flies in the face of course of the militant atheists and other Godless, who tell us that the only sin is not enjoying ourselves or not indulging our animal instincts to the full. Theirs is the sweet siren call of the devil and all his demons; “there is no sin, you are guilty of nothing”, they whisper – and we listen, all too readily. And many end up in hell.

    Let us remember that all the Saints had a profoundly clear understanding of themselves: that without Christ they were sinful rubbish. 

    The modern Church has, I am quite certain, lost souls, many many souls, by denigrating Original Sin; by downplaying (as did the English Bishop Conry a year or two back in an interview) regular Confession; by denying hell and the devil, by never talking about the seriousness of sin and by transforming individual guilt for sin into others’ guilt via the politics of socialism (where everyone else is to blame except me).

    The Old Mass too MUST return: it places me where I must be – on my knees facing Our Lord asking for forgiveness and mercy. The Novus Ordo grants me a dignity my sinfulness does NOT merit. What’s ‘sin’? What need is there of ‘mercy’ when we are all destined for Heaven whatever we do?

    No. Our Lord spoke of Satan, hell and eternal death far more than He spoke about any other subject. Mr Phillips is entirely right and I urge all Catholics to get to Confession at least once a month, even if they have to mentally drag themselves there. The devil will do everything he can to stop you going. Once you realize that, the going will be made easier. And Grace destroys his power; he can’t abide it. The second, third and subsequent times – believe me, you will go with joy. 

  • Theophilus

    I know this will bring down on me the wrath of traditionalists, but I will say it anyway. After some years as a Catholic priest, including time at an inner-city church where people still come to confession in appreciable numbers and could therefore be called successful here like the churches you mention, I would describe the great majority of confessions I have heard as trivial, superficial and perfunctory. They show an alarming absence of any real self-understanding, without which there can be no genuine repentance. The idea that there is any kind of encounter with God’s love going on is ludicrous: it is merely trawling through a hollow ritual for the sake of the ritual. I do not in any way criticise the people making the confessions, they are the recipients of centuries-long bad teaching by a Church which emphasises the externals of faith and worship but does little to help people know God in any real way. 
    Most people who have given up the practice of confession have done so, I imagine, because they realise what a travesty and fraudulent deceit it had become. Very very occasionally one might come across someone who really does have something weighty to confess that is burdening their conscience, and there the ritual can be liberating and the experience a most moving one, but that only shows up the petty pointlessness of the rest. 
    If the Church wants people to come back to the practice of confession it will need to offer them a much better way, one that helps them to understand sin in a more truthful, realistic and honest way. As it is sin is the most misunderstood term in our religious vocabulary and the most misused, and  there is little sign that the Church is willing to look at this again. So the decline, apart from those pockets where people are addicted to traditional rituals, will continue.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    ” … it is merely trawling through a hollow ritual for the sake of the ritual”.

    You cannot possibly judge what is in the heart of the faithful who come to you for Confession – whether they have no understanding or not. 

    Maybe the problems you identify have more to do with your own difficulties with the Sacrament of Confession? After all, you talk about the “bad old Church” in the usual caricature way of the neo-Modernist-progressive. 

    And again, the simple soul who approaches you in Confession may not be able to express himself or herself in a way that you might want. 

    I think your post is utterly hateful. Confession a ” … a travesty and fraudulent deceit”, full of “petty pointlessness” eh?

    What kind of priest are you?

  • Marlow

    The implication running throughout your whole critique is that the sacraments do not confer grace.

  • Dorothy B

    Very well done, Aelfrid. This is an inspiring testimony.

  • awkwardcustomer

    You say, ‘After some years as a Catholic priest, including time at an inner-city church where people still come to confession in appreciable numbers …..’

    This suggests that you are no longer a Catholic priest.  At any rate, you have little regard for one of the Sacraments of the Church, and nothing but disdain for the penitents who queued outside the Confessional.  Do you believe in Original Sin, in Mortal sin, or venial sin?  Do you believe in any kind of sin.  How about the sin of pride? 

    No wonder the laity have all but given up attending Confession.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    All this flies in the face of course of the militant atheists and other godless

    If you are referring to the Dawkins’ acolytes, do not call them “atheists”. This is what they want. By identifying as “atheists”, they dilute their image into the image of relatively friendly atheists/agnostics like Charles Chaplin. Call them anti-theists . This is factually, objectively correct, and exposes them as negative people – people who fight against religion but do not have a good positive alternative to offer.

    Second, I know from other comments that you are a radical traditionalist and that you blame Vatican II for the horrible crisis of the Church in the 1970s. Maybe you do this because you apply the teaching “By their fruit you will recognize them”.

    I recommend you to seek the local Opus Dei group. There you will see the faithful application of Vatican II. You will see that, despite not being traditionalists, those people are brave, politically incorrect, vibrant, faithful and orthodox Catholics. If you attend one of their Masses, you will see that the ordinary Mass can be very beautiful and reverent. In fact, when I remember that wonderful Mass, I immediately remember the saying

    Beauty will save the world.

    Also, when I have apostasy temptations, I readily remember two things:

    My Opus Dei friends are so exemplar, that there must be some supernatural force behind them. By their fruit you will recognize them.


    The world is utterly crazy (abortion, debauchery, relativism, radical tolerance of sexual perversion and radical intolerance of the natural law, etc.), and the Catholic Church is a an Oasis of sanity, founded on a rock. As St. Peter said, “Lord, to whom would we go?

    By the way, I recognize Traditionalism and regret its persecution by Modernist or misguided Church authorities. I just want you to know that Traditionalists do not have a monopoly on orthodoxy. Not even close. I want you to know that it is possible to be faithful to Vatican II, and at the same time be a truly faithful, orthodox, exemplar Catholic.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    So the decline, apart from those pockets where people are addicted to traditional rituals, will continue.

    Wrong. Among my practicing Catholic (that is, real Catholic) friends, they attend frequent confession and even frequent spiritual retreats.

    Christianity without confession is absurd.

  • Magdalene Prodigal

    We have two daily Masses with confessions also.  11 confession times a week and there are always folks in line.  If you build it, they will come.

    The huge parishes with 45 minutes for confession once a week will not be able to grow a great holy laity or vocations.  The faithful need a FULL and vibrant sacramental life.

    Lazy clergy will not generate a vibrant parish.

  • Magdalene Prodigal

    I am sorry to read of your attitude toward the sacrament.  You had people desiring holiness but you denigrate them.  They seek the grace of the sacrament and you ridicule them.  Why did you not instruct them?  Our new priest is giving instruction for confessions and how to approach the sacrament–no excuses or reasons to be given.  One states the length of time since last confession, state in life and then says “I accuse myself of…”

    We have many come monthly and even weekly.  It is not trivial.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Thanks are due to Our Lord God, to Whom we owe everything! 

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    You describe me as a “radical Traditionalist”.

    I describe myself as a Catholic.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    In other comments you seem to support the idea that SSPX is a bastion of Catholicism, and the Catholic Church must convert to SSPX.

    This is absurd; there are positive (such as the radical rejection of relativism) aspects in the SSPX, but there are also negative aspects, such as denying religious freedom (precisely in a time we need it to protect ourselves), and saying that the ordinary Roman Missal is intrinsically bad.

    I believe certain good aspects (such as communion in the tongue while kneeling) of the extraordinary Mass should be imported into the ordinary Mass. But the ordinary Mass is not going away. Do not cling to illusions.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    ” …. and the Catholic Church must convert to SSPX.”

    Nope, I have never said that. 

    What I really am sure of Fides is that the anti-Church (called by some New Church or nu-Church) has wrapped its tentacles around the Catholic Church and has nearly strangled Her with heresy and evil. 

    This anti-Church, or some individual leading light in it, may be the Anti-Christ for all I know, but whatever – anti-Church is of Satan and hell, that is 100% guaranteed. 

    The great trouble is that many clerics are sometimes members of the Church, then say or do something that puts them in anti-Church. It’s all like a shimmering mist. 

    We can only know where we are by staying with the Catholic Church of all time, without the innovations and without the totally protestantised Novus Ordo. 

    The SSPX are the heroes of our Age.

  • JByrne24

    “I know this will bring down on me the wrath of traditionalists”

    Well, Tu Dixisti old son.

  • JByrne24

    Theophilus does none of the things of you accuse him. He states:
     “I do not in any way criticize the people making the confessions”.

    You are not a Catholic who has, with the greatest of all possible regrets, left the Church.  You are content with “tradition” (which, of course, is nothing of the kind, but merely conservatism of both the large and small “C” varieties), and you speak only from your deeply limited sectional view-point.  


  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    You are not even a Catholic as you have claimed here before, but are extremely hostile to the Catholic Faith. Push off. 

  • Nesbyth

    Great post….and in The Sermon on the Mount, which many people equate with the simple, loving teaching of Christ, Our Lord warns his hearers of Hell five separate times.

    He also brings it into some of his parables: Sheep and Goats, Foolish Bridesmaids, Wedding Garment, Parable of the Sower as well as the mention of the “millstone” as a fitting punishment for those who lead astray the ignorant and innocent.

  • Rodlarocque1931

    I think you are a bit confused. It is not the proposed cure that matters, but the ACT of confession that matters. This is why the dialogue is so simple and to the point. Our Lord already knows our sins, but He also knows we need to admit them to another human being, in an effort to take responsibility for them and to help us expose them to the light and diminish their power over us.
    There are many times I would like to chat with the priest about spiritual matters and aspects of my sin, but I know that confession isn’t the proper format to do it and often it is part of spiritual pride.I am sure my priest thinks I am naieve and lack insight, but this is because I can’t use up his time for chit chat and there is no place for verbosity in the confessional.

  • Jeannine

    If you thought that the typical confessee did not understand the definition of sin, where were you in the confessional telling them what was a sin & what wasn’t? Where were you during your homilies instructing your parishioners on the definition of sin?  Why didn’t you take a more active role catechizing the adults & children in your parish in regards to everything related to sin? 

    If you are able to answer in the affirmative to my questions, then you planted seeds & someday they will understand what sin is with the Holy Spirit’s help.

    In the meantime, you need to study & better understand the sacraments esp Reconciliation. The seminary that you attended did a lousy job educating you. If I were you I would ask for a refund!

  • JByrne24

    I was a Catholic for over 70 years.

    Push off yourself!

  • Meena

    Atheists are not “anti-theists”. They are non-theists.

    Atheists such as myself have no objection to theists as such (neither Christians nor any other kind), nor to their own particular beliefs – normally instilled into them in early childhood.

    Atheists do, however, object most strongly to theists enjoying special privileges in our secular society, eg. clerics installed in the Parliament because of their Christian beliefs; state money to help them spread their particular dogma through religious schools; advantageous tax treatment…etc.
    These absurdities have their origins in history and are no part of the modern world.

    Why should those who do not share belief in your gods and dogmas be obliged to help you to spread it through their taxes? 

  • Alexander VI

    “what are the London and Oxford Oratories, for instance, doing right that other parishes get wrong?”
    Attracting neurotics perhaps? 

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Calling oneself Catholic does not make it so.
    Being “Catholic” without believing in the Church is like being “Muslim” without believing in the Koran.

    You have a solidly liberal Protestant mindset.

    In fact, certain Protestants are much closer to being Catholic than you are.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Atheists are not “anti-theists”. They are non-theists.

    Straw man. I did not say that all atheists/agnostics are anti-theists. I said that the militant, intolerant variety are anti-theists. And they most clearly are.

    Atheists do, however, object most strongly to theists enjoying special privileges in our secular society

    The problem is that anti-theists consider religious freedom to be “special privileges”. The Universal Declaration of Human rights says

    Article 18.Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    , eg. clerics installed in the Parliament because of their Christian beliefs

    Those clerics are a real problem. Interestingly, the anti-theist rarely speak about those clerics.
    Oh, and by the way: the European countries with official liberal Protestant religions are precisely the countries with the highest level of atheism in the West. Be careful what you wish for (I, for one, would love the disestablishment of these erastian religions).

    state money to help them spread their particular dogma through religious schools 

    False. Religious people pay taxes too; therefore, public financing of religious schools is a simple matter of justice.

    Why should all public schools be secular, when religious people pay taxes too?

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Not just traditionalists, but any faithful Catholic.

  • Parasum

    “I would describe the great majority of confessions I have heard as
    trivial, superficial and perfunctory. They show an alarming absence of
    any real self-understanding, without which there can be no genuine
    repentance. The idea that there is any kind of encounter with God’s love
    going on is ludicrous: it is merely trawling through a hollow ritual
    for the sake of the ritual. I do not in any way criticise the people
    making the confessions…”

    ## Surely the solution to that, is for the confessor to give them the advice they need, so that the superficiality can be avoided ? Easy to say that, of course… 

    “As it is sin is the most misunderstood term in our religious vocabulary
    and the most misused, and  there is little sign that the Church is
    willing to look at this again.”

    ## What have you in mind ?

  • Lazarus

    Father, I don’t know what counts as ‘trivial, superficial and perfunctory’ for you. I know that, when I confess, almost all the time it is a matter of day to day sins, constant struggles with deep seated flaws in myself, which (certainly in the eyes of the world) are superficial and trivial. Out of respect for the priest and the queue outside the confessional, I also try and organize my thoughts as carefully as possible so that, again in some sense, my confession may appear perfunctory.

    Perhaps your parishioners do make trivial confessions. Perhaps I also lack a deeper spiritual insight into my sins. But please don’t dismiss the possibility that the struggle against sin may present itself that way, and that what may be a trivial, superficial and perfunctory confession to you may be a sincere penitent struggling to do his or her best in the banal, but necessary, daily struggle. Even on a purely human level, I at any event find my inadequate attempts at proper confession extremely helpful in a way that may not be apparent to my confessor.

  • nytor

    If you think regular confession is the mark of a neurotic then you’re either a) sinless (which I greatly doubt) or have sunk into relativism and reject the idea that some sins are sinful (which I expect is the case).

  • Vitto

    once rubbis, always rubbish. Sinful or not. A slave will remain a slave.
    Atheists tell us nothing of the sort. And they are, after all, people of higher morals than the so-called believers.

  • nytor

    I just don’t accept that people have given up confession because “they realise what a travesty and fraudulent deceit it had become”. I think they have given up confession because they no longer have any sense of sin.  The evidence for this is that they will all happily take communion  – it seems rare for people to refrain these days – without having confessed first. The people in general think they are in a state of grace, whatever they’ve done. Liberal priests no longer preach on sin.They no longer teach the importance of confession. The sense of sin has been lost, and priests who discourage regular confession on the grounds that it is “superficial” only contribute to that.

  • nytor

    “apart from those pockets where people are addicted to traditional rituals”

    Ah yes, denigrate the spirituality of traditionalists as mere atavism, why not?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian


  • Cloister

    I’m a parishioner of the Oxford O, and I’d say what they are doing right is ‘being there’. They are there on the traditional Saturday morning, and every other day of the week, at every mass, in every moment, and would not turn you away if the numerous, numerous provisions they had made were not enough. As well as being there, of course, they visibly practice what they preach and see each other for confession before Mass. They are not above joining the queue (but, have been known to jump it!) :-) 

  • JByrne24

    You are so very confident of your abilities to “sum people up”, determine their “mindsets” and understand “certain” Protestants (among other things) aren’t you?
    You have my sympathy.

  • Herman U. Ticke

    Back in the 1980s I went to confession to my local parish priest.
    After the unpleasant process of preparing my confession
    and waiting for my turn I went in and knelt.
    I began to tell my sins when I heard a ringing sound.
    Father had taken his mobile telephone with him
    into the confessional and was expecting a call.
    “Sorry I really need to take this” said he.
    To be fair he did not ask me to leave while
    he discussed the purely natural business for the sake of
    which he had interrupted the paramount supernatural
    function for which Almighty God had set him aside.

    Some people would have found this terminally off-putting.

    Some folk reckon that letting priests marry would solve some 
    of the Church’s problems.
    I would pity this chap’s poor wife if he had been allowed to
    marry, given his sense of priorities.
    If you catch my drift?

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    You make things very clear.

    By the way, you complain that I dared  determine your mindset, when you take the privilege of judging the Holy Father as “reactionary” and “schismatic”. You also judge the Church as having left Jesus.

    This is _extreme_ hypocrisy.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Appalling story. Probably he was waiting for the result of the 2:30 at Kempton.

  • Joaco

    I think you should listen more.

  • Mariano

    AElfrid, when I read catholicherald’s articles, I then read all your comments. Many “likes” to your comments come from me.
    I think your discussion with Fides is more or less like whether the sky is “blue” or “really blue”. Still, I tend to like your comments better. Except for one thing: I totally agree with Fides that you would fit like a glove in Opus Dei. (or Opus Dei in you, whatever).

    I partially agree that SSPX are heroic. However, it helps not to be schismatic.

    Opus Dei are the heroes of our age. Among others.

  • spudbynight

    I agree – I live in Brighton&Hove and am on the border of two parishes.

    At one parish there is confession for 30mins on a Saturday at 5pm. At the other parish there is confession 5 days a week plus by appointment. 

    At one parish there is only a single priest at the other there are two priests and a deacon – can you guess which?

  • Matty

    I did not read what Theophilus said the same as you did at all. On the contrary I read it that he had great regard for the Sacrament and an understanding of the penitents. What I read was that he longed for the Sacrament to have even greater meaning and relevance to those regular penitents and many more as well. Nowhere did I read that he denied sin at all.

  • Matty

    I agree that the reduction in regular attendance at the Sacrament of Reconciliation is sad in many ways. I think that maybe there needed to be a change in approach from when I was young when the list format had a tendency to be sometimes too simplistic and missed the opportunity to look more deeply into one’s thoughts and actions and move onwards to an improved life as a follow of Christ.
    Sadly it fast went to rare attendance rather than a new approach. Looking at an earlier post reference is made to contraception, sex before marriage and divorce and these have been highlighted often as causes of the demise in church attendance etc. Yet again there is the emphasis on the intimacy sins which I think dominates the Church so much and often there is little concentration on the ways we fail outside of that area.
    In my own parish although only twice a year we have a Penitential Service which has readings, reflections, examination of conscience followed by individual confessions. It is heartening that attendance at these is increasing. Though not frequent it is welcoming that people, including children, see these services as relevant and maybe from them will seek confession at other times too.

  • cephas2

    Francis, the Oxford Oratorians are prepared to be brutally honest (in the nicest possible way!) with one in Confessions. They certainly put me straight on an important issue that led me to the proper practice of my faith. I thank God for their courage not to fudge the truth.
    Thank you for this excellent article – we need to be encouraged to go to Confessions as much as possible. The wonderful St John Cantius priests in Chicago offer Confessions before and during every Mass. The queues on Sunday go round the church – the more you go, the more you realize the need!

  • cephas2

    Excellent post. The Franciscans Immaculate offer beautiful daily EF Masses at 7:30, in St Joseph’s, Burslem, Staffs and 6:00 Sunday evening for anybody in the area.

  • Matty

    You and others have posted about confessions being heard during Mass. I’m not sure about that – it seems inappropriate to have people in and out of confession during Mass.

  • OiseProf

    Confession has always had an air of mystery and intrigue to outsiders. This can be accounted for partly by a certain fascination with the so-called Seal of Confession, an unbreakable pact between a penitent and his Confessor that, come Hell or high water, the secrets of the confessional can never be revealed. Some Governments, notably in Ireland, have recently introduced legislation that would force a priest to report incidents of serious crime to civil authorities, and although the Church has strenuously resisted this attack on the sacrament, it nevertheless puts a priest on the horns of a dreadful, soul-destroying dilemma. Not all priests agree on how to handle this. The new novel, Seal of Confession by Jon Brownridge, follows one priest’s anguish in making a decision after receiving conflicting advice from his bishop and from a colleague. Certainly, food for thought…

  • OiseProf

     Theophilus, I think you hit the nail on the head. Bishop Burke, Nova Scotia, opined that the average Catholic never gets past the level of a 10-year old child when it comes to understanding religious concepts. Lack of education presents an enormous problem and accounts for the quagmire of superstition and the culture of magic and make believe that so many Catholic embrace. Confession might be a case in point. The abundance of meaningless confessions that you mention are no doubt made by penitents who embrace the concept of “ex opere operatur”, the understanding that the very fact of going through the process is sufficient. This apparently excuses them from making an effort (ex opere operantis) to use the sacrament as a starting point for a new life of service to one’s fellow (hu)man.