Monday, August 16, 2010

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Today's Parish: Confessions after Mass?

In a recent post, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, moderator of the highly respected and widely read blog, “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” (, 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.


  1. As someone who has lived in an area where there was a parish that had confessions immediately following mass, I can certainly attest to its value. The parish that offered confessions after mass also offered them before hand, but from what I saw - the lines were always longer after mass. Some of those people might have gone before mass had the opportunity after mass not been available, but I have no doubt that for some of them - not having confessions after mass as well would have been a missed opportunity. There are several occasions I would not have been able to go at all because of my work schedule. Yes - one can always schedule an appointment, but how many people actually do that, or would do that? Why is it that some priests make confession seem like it is such a huge burden for them, when it is more likely the larger burden lies with the person in need of confession, especially if they are in a state of mortal sin?

  2. I cannot attest to confessions after Mass, but I am very grateful that Nativity of Our Lord Parish in St. Paul has confessions M-F before their 8:15 and 5:00 Masses.

    Waiting until the weekend is not spiritually healthy.

  3. I didn't know there were parishes where confession after Mass was an option. I think it could produce much fruit since I am sure that the Lord pokes at souls who need reconciliation with the words in the homily. Just as you said - strike while the iron is hot.

    I have always been fortunate to attend parishes that offer frequent confession and then keep other options open. I think the Cathedral also offers daily confession.

  4. This summer while traveling out N.E. my children and I came upon a very old, but magnificent Roman Catholic church whose property looked as if it had been abandon for some time, yet we noticed activity within the building. Curiosity getting the better of us, we parked and went inside the church only to learn later that the Coptic Orthodox community had recently purchased the property and Church. We were invited in to witness the mass during the point when the parishioners were receiving communion. We were alerted that a priest would meet with us—which he did for over 40-minutes—after the priests (about 2 or 3 which we thought we could identify from deacons. one was the pastor) after confessions were heard.

    Confessions after mass for this small congregation that gathered lasted a little less than an hour, for the priest told me during our chat that it was their tradition to meet face to face during confession and then give spiritual direction. Meanwhile, for those that were waiting in the church it seemed time for the others to socialize until they had opportunity to meet with a priest. It was an interesting experience.

    I did notice in one R.C. parish bulletin in Massachusetts that after mass confessions were being offered for a 30-minute period.