In a recent post, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, moderator of the highly respected and widely read blog, “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” (www.wdtprs.com/blog/), commented on the infrequency of scheduled confessions at many Catholic parishes today (see “Stingy schedule for confessions in parishes and ‘New Evangelization,’”August 7). The number of responses to Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s article -- more than 125 at last count --- indicate that, at the least, he has hit a nerve.
This week I will offer several articles about the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the life of the parish. Today, I begin a 3-part consideration of whether to schedule confessions after Mass.
First, a case study: During the past few years, as Rector of Saint John Vianney College Seminary on the campus of the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, I offered a 9:30 p.m. Mass on Sunday evenings for students on campus. The “Last-Chance” Mass grew from a small handful of UST football players and their girlfriends to a weekly attendance in the 250-300 range.
After each Mass I would hear confessions, and plenty of them. I will restrict my comments about the contents of those confessions. Nevertheless, let me be clear: these were not choirboys or choirgirls lining up for the Sacrament of Penance. Moreover, it was clear that the preaching at the Mass, on topics near and dear to undergraduates with their many and diverse temptations and moral struggles, along with the power of the Mass itself to lift minds and hearts to God, brought even the most brutish of souls to a conviction of sin and a desire for God’s mercy.
Is this the ordering needed in our day: Mass and preaching first, and then Confessions? Spiritually, we must strike while the iron is hot. If Christ is convicting souls at Mass, why would we make that soul wait a day, or a week, before obtaining forgiveness and peace of soul?
The custom of hearing confessions before Mass, but not after Mass, has its reasons. But we now are faced with an enormous apostolic challenge and opportunity to bring many souls back to God, through ardent preaching followed by the immediate availability of the Sacrament of Penance. Why would we stir hearts and minds with a diagnosis, then dawdle in offering a spiritual cure? Yes, there might be some advantages in the person reflecting upon their sins for a few days before making their confession. But we are rapidly becoming an attention-deficit-disorder culture, and many Catholics live their lives,including their lives of moral reflection, fifteen minutes at a time.
There are certainly challenges in scheduling confessions after Mass, and most any pastor can tell you all about those challenges. (More about that tomorrow.) Nevertheless, to the dictum, “A good Confession before the worthy reception of Communion," we may now wish to add, “And a good Confession soon after hearing God's Word concerning sin, judgment, and the mercy of God.”
Tomorrow: Learning a lesson from the old parish missions.