Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Confessions after Mass: Is It Confession That They Want?

As I noted yesterday, many pastors have become wary of hearing confessions after daily Mass on a regular basis.

The principal reason is this: Confessions after Mass have a tendency to become extended spiritual direction or counseling sessions, and sometimes a rather small circle of parishioners, including those with significant emotional and psychological needs, or an unhealthy attachment to the priest, tend to take over this time slot.

The pastor should first assess whether he is providing sufficient time before Mass for confessions. If he is not hearing confessions throughout the scheduled time before Mass, yet finds a significant number of people wishing to make their confession afterwards, this may be a sign that parishioners are developing a two-tiered approach: a quick sacramental “clean-up” before Mass, or a lengthy conversation in the Confessional afterwards.

The pastor who has scheduled confessions after Mass may then wish to do two things: First, offer a simple explanation from the pulpit concerning the differences between confession, spiritual direction, and counseling, perhaps expressing a willingness to offer spiritual direction or counseling -- or to refer parishioners to qualified Catholic spiritual directors or counselors -- but at a different time and place than the Confessional. Second, the pastor may address these issues directly in the Confessional with a penitent who seems to want something more than, or different than, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

All of this having been said, there is still great value in offering confessions after Mass. More about this tomorrow.


  1. Any time offered other than Sat. afternoon would be a bonus. I have four young kids, only one is old enough for confession, so our Saturdays are pretty busy. It is very hard to get to confession on Sat. afternoon if we are doing anything else that day. That means we wind up going to another parish where confession is offered in the morning or another time on a week day. I know some abuse the confessional, but it does seem that for most priests, the confessional is the last place they would rather be. 45 minutes before Sat. afternoon Mass is not enough.

  2. Is there a polite way to ask a priest for confession outside of scheduled hours? A missionary priest once told our group that somewhere, there were children running after a priest for this sacrament. I believe that's not the case for most catholics in North America. However, I do get the impression that, while encouraged, it's a sacrament less and less available these days. It doesn't seem convincing that this issue is due to a shortage of priests.

  3. Saturday confessions are most praiseworthy. It is a time when we can descend into the tomb. In monastic environs it is Saturday that has been their day. I like to call this keeping the Sabbath holy so that we may rejoice on the Day of Resurrection

  4. Father: Is this a cry for help? ;-)

    I think this blog is a great idea!

  5. I think this is in important consideration to think about: "Confessions... have a tendency to become extended spiritual direction or counseling sessions."

    It seems to suggest, at least implicitly, that there is a notion that the sacraments must have a temporal utility in-order to be justified (ie the spiritual direction or counseling). This is, unfortunately, all to often to the determent to the atemporal nature of the sacrament and the mystery of God's grace.
    St. Augustine would chide us by telling us that, "Our holy scriptures themselves do not promise us peace, security and repose, but tribulations and distress." (This happens to be in the office today :)) So we as Christians look for peace not in this world but in the next.

  6. Excellent observation. I would only add, as one who has for over a decade desired some kind of Catholic spiritual direction, that real and practical advice about obtaining it is included in explaining the difference. This would include: a list of priests and lay persons that the local diocese recommends for the task, what a typical session would be like, how often one should expect to meet with director, as well as how long (months, years, occasionally). Also, the cost of each session and if it is "free will donation" what is the recommendation and at what point do one whip out their checkbook. What about suitability? If the first director one sees isn't a good fit, how does one gracefully change to another? Also, who needs a spiritual director? everyone or just those in crisis?

    A really good article answering these questions would be very helpful as I live in a different state altogether but these answers have be nagging me for a very long time and I feel as if I have not reached my potential as a Catholic for lack of direction...Peace

  7. As a priest at a Catholic Campus Center I must say that while we offer confessions every day before Mass and those are usually well attended, the best times we offered it was after the late night Sunday Masses. We tried it before Mass but the students just didn't come early. After Mass,they were willing to wait for as long as it took. It wasn't spiritual direction, it was confession.

  8. Thomas
    If spiritual direction can help a person get to know the root of their sinfulness and take steps to avoid it and so "sin no more", that seems worth it. Our goodness and sinfulness is due to the decisions and choices that each of us makes. If people are looking for peace, they ought to try a counsellor; but if they are trying to raise themselves from their sinfulness, then the priest can help them in their efforts.

  9. The same thing happens before mass.... Many a Saturday afternoon have I sat and waited 30 or 40 minutes while someone "chatted up" the priest inside the confessional.

  10. Oh yeah, this is done routinely at an otherwise good parish in Oakland, CA with a Traditional Mass. After Mass the confessions (for the women) can extend for an hour or more! It's ridiculous! If you're confession lasts longer than 5 minutes you probably need to get serious about correcting your life, and you prob need to go to shorter confessions more often. How about a little consideration for those of us who aren't as big of sinners as you?

  11. PLEASE do not discourage those few parish that offer daily confessions! We have them, thanks be to God. Yes, there are regular penitents. It is for the priest to not allow a 30 minute chat session but to arrange another time. I know one person who does this and I always make sure to go before her.

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate being able to go confession during the week. It was so hard trying to work around a 45 minute window on a Saturday with my family. And being in a Third Order it is a part of my rule to receive the sacrament a minimum over every other week. In this way I am also able to earn plenary indulgences daily as this is one of the requirements.

    When I was in the parish with the short alloted time for confessions on Saturday, it was the mostly the same half dozen souls that came. There are often more than that after all the daily Masses (we have two). This is a means for holiness!!!!

    Yes, it means an added commitment for the priest but I think it also helps for his holiness too.

  12. Well Priests IMHO are there for our spiritual direction as well as giving us the "sacramental clean up".

    However before Mass I have often seen some women take ten minutes plus in there and these women are daily communicants. It can be irritating because there are five people + in the line.

    These are before Mass.

    After Mass if there are confessions - sometimes even I have to ask a Priest a question and I think it is legitimate to do this after Mass.


  13. Anonymous (the one who addressed me, as there are many),

    I think I wasn't very clear about what I meant to say and for that I'm sorry, but I was looking more at what the purpose of confession is. What is it about confession that set it apart from all other sacraments, spiritual devotions, or other means to reflection on our fallen nature?

    My point is that if we lose focus on the essential parts of confession, then what makes it any different from counseling. I would never advocate anything like turning away people from sinning no more, so I think we are in agreement as there is nothing that I would argue.

    Perhaps spiritual direction is best done with a spiritual director (which many times is a priest) and if one cannot find time to get one then we might have to rethink where are priorities lie. Eternity may be worth it.

  14. Confessions in my neck of the woods are limited to an hour and a half in two Saturday secessions. We are mostly saints you see and never need to go at any other time. ( That was a joke.). Before Mass confessions stopped in our diocease decades ago, I even heard a priest getting chewed out by a progressive Auxiliary Bishop for hearing confessions before Mass in a Latin Mass Community ( but this has changed, the Latin Mass Community now has confessions before Mass as well as other fixed times).

  15. Most Latin rite priests our lazy and do not want to hear confessions. How about doing your job? In the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church they have confession during every Divine Liturgy on a Sunday.

  16. In my parish we have confession the one hour on Saturday afternoon. One priest complains twice a year that nobody attends and tells us how well versed he is in sin from the seminary that no sin of ours could shock him. Last summer a newly ordained diocesan priest came briefly (before being sent to Rome for add'l schooling) and started announcing (and posting signs) that confession was available AFTER 10 a.m. mass. I was taught that receiving communion while needing to go to confession was a mortal sin. Since practically entire church received communion, why would anyone go to confession after mass? The 2 or 3 people who may not have received communion will most likely not be attending mass again until the following Sunday and will probably have sinned again by that time--or maybe they are in a state of perpetual sin that confesion can't clear up/non Catholic. It seems to me that confession after communion is just another way church is signalling that communion is not receiving the true presence and a way to pour additional contempt on the name and person of Jesus Christ. Without concept of sin, confession IS just counseling. While on the subject, came to my attention that first communicants now have first confession several months before first communion. Because I recall having mine very close w/in day or two of communion, looked in family Bible where my mom wrote down these dates. All siblings were the same until my youngest sister, 10 years behind me: her confession was in December w/1st communion following May. She attended Catholic school eight years (more than any of us (me-3 years), but, of all siblings, she is only one to reject her faith. She could probably count the times she went to confession in her entire life on one hand.

  17. I attend mass at a parish staffed by the excellent fathers of the Fraternity of Saint Peter. Confession is offered Saturday and before each mass every day of the week. Our priests appear no worst for wear because of it.

    I suspect that priests who are fearful of a certain type of penitent are so because they have not been well trained. A scrupulous penitent may not be fun to deal with, but this is a soul who needs a good confessor to guide him out of his spiritual and emotional mess. Charity may be easier to apply by sending money to naked children overseas, but every priest is called to administer it in the confessional too.

  18. Dear Anonymous:
    Per your comment: "I was taught that receiving communion while needing to go to confession was a mortal sin." Although it is always preferable to receive the sacrament of reconsiliation before Mass, it is valid to receive Eucharist if you are not in a state of mortal sin. I think Father makes a good point about the readings, Gospel, homily, and encounter with Christ in the Eucharist as being beneficial to some who may use that time to ponder a little further on their worthiness. As for your second comment: "While on the subject, came to my attention that first communicants now have first confession several months before first communion," I think that a child who receives their FIRST confession a few months before their first communion is supposed to be brought back MANY times (in our family, I ideally take my children monthly) with the last time just days before first communion. We as parents cannot just expect that our children will be catechized appropriately in parochial school. Parents are the first and primary catechists of their children.

    Fr. Bill, thank you for this whole thread of blogs, they have been thought provoking and inspiring. God Bless.

  19. First, I think that ANY time people want to go to confession is a good time! God grant that lots and lots more people will want to go to confession all the time, and lines and wait times will be very long! The problem today is not people going to go confession, but too many people NOT going to confession!

    Now, that said: Confession after mass does seem a bit odd - but there have been times when I have asked for it, because the confession line was so long before mass that I wasn't able to get into the confessional. But I don't think it should be a regular practice. Confession cleans you up so you can receive the Eucharist more deeply - doing it after mass all the time could prevent the fullness of Eucharistic grace from entering into you.

    Where I go, occasionally someone is in the confessional for a long time, but I don't assume anything about what's taking place there. There could be some very needed grace pouring out there, so I try not to be impatient, but allow the grace to take place, and use the time of waiting for greater self-examination and prayer.

    Regarding confession and spiritual direction, it's best to do it separately, but the reality is that good spiritual directors are hard to find, and sometimes the confessional is the only place where you can get what you need. I'm in that position right now, having lost an excellent spiritual director (he moved away) and not yet having found another - but having an excellent confessor who can also give spiritual direction. But I feel I have to be responsible about it, be considerate of others in line, prepare carefully, confess sins and share spiritual stuff quickly so I can get the advice I need in a minimum of time - preferably under 5 minutes. And I keep praying for God to lead me in time to a good new regular spiritual director, so I can keep the confessional for confession. That is best.

    If you use the confessional as a regular place to have an extended conversation without regard for others waiting in line, then frankly I'd say you're being a bit selfish. You need to learn to use your confessional time more responsibly, out of consideration for others. But do go, frequently! We need it on a regular basis, to help keep our souls clean and open for Christ.

  20. As a minimum standard, anonymous Confession should be offered 3x/day every day at every parish, with opportunity to go to Communion afterward for those who have also attended Mass that day.