Not long ago I answered a question about why priests might not offer opportunities for confession on feast days. HERE As part of that entry we moved into the issue of priests hearing confessions during Mass (not the celebrant, obviously). In support of this I linked to the Holy See’s document Redemptionis Sacramentum 76, which clearly states that confessions can be heard during Mass.
One comment left for my consideration (it went into the queue), said:
From the policy books of the Archdiocese of Chicago:
BOOK FOUR- THE SANCTIFYING OFFICE OF THE CHURCH (SACRAMENTAL AND LITURGICAL LIFE)
202.12.1. Policy The Sacrament of Penance or any other service shall not be celebrated while Mass is being celebrated in the same space. Regularly scheduled confessions between Sunday Masses are not permitted.
301.1.2. Policy The Sacrament of Penance shall not be celebrated while a Mass is being celebrated in the same place. (See also Policy 202.12.1., herein.)
This is apparently directed to “regularly scheduled confessions” and I note the most priests I know will gladly hear the confession of those who approach them whenever they can.
This stuck in my craw.
In 2001 a dubium was submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. That dicastery has pretty much ultimate authority when it comes to the matter at hand. A response was give in the official publication of the aforementioned Congregation, Notitiae 37 (2001), 259–260.
[QUAERITUR:] Quaenam sunt dispositiones quae ad momentum celebrationis sacramenti Paenitentiae spectant: utrum, exempli gratia, christifideles perdurante Missae celebratione ad sacramentum Paenitentiae accedere possunt?
De tempore celebrationis sacramenti Paenitentiae praecipuae normae inveniuntur in Instructione Eucharisticum mysterium, 25 maii 1967, ubi commendatur, ut « Fideles ad eum adducantur extra Missae celebrationem, praesertim horis statutis, ad sacramentum Paenitentiae accedant, ita ut eius administratio cum tranquillitate et ipsorum vera utilitate fiat, neve ipsi ab actuosa Missae partecipatione impediantur » (n. 35). Quae etiam in Praenotandis Ordinis Paenitentiae denuo proponuntur (n. 13), ubi tamen declaratur, ut « reconciliatio paenitentium omni tempore ac die celebrari potest » (ibidem).
Quod tamen quamquam consilium a pastoribus intellegi debet ad pastoralem curam christifidelium, quos hortari et adiuvare ne omittant, ut in sacramento Paenientiae bonum animae quaerant et ad eum pro posse accedant extra tempus et locum celebrationis Missae. Altera ex parte haec norma nullo modo prohibet sacerdotibus, praeter illum Sanctam Missam celebrantem, confessiones fidelium audire, qui id desiderent etiam tempore celebrationis Missae.
[NB] Hac praesertim aetate, qua ab multis ecclesialis significatio peccati et sacramenti Paenitentiae obscuratur et desiderium accedendi ad sacramentum Paenitentiae valde minuitur, pastores omnibus viribus suis favere debent frequens usus huius Sacramenti inter fideles. Ideo in can. 986 § 1 Codicis Iuris Canonici leguntur: Omnis cui animarum cura vi muneris est demandata, obligatione tenetur providendi ut audiantur confessiones fidelium sibi commissorum, qui rationabiliter audiri petant, utque iisdem opportunitas praebeatur ad confessionem individualem, diebus ac horis in eorum commodum statutis, accedendi.
Celebratio re vera sacramenti Paenitentiae unum e ministeriis propriis sacerdotis est. Christifideles autem non solum obligatione tenentur peccata confitendi (cf. can. 989), verum etiam ius est eis ut ex spiritualibus Ecclesiae bonis, praesertim ex verbo Dei et sacramentis, adiumenta a sacris Pastoribus accipiant (can. 213).
Licere quidem patet etiam perdurantibus Missarum sollemnibus confessionem suscipere quotiescumque praevidetur fideles illud petere ministerium. Si concelebratio fit, enixe rogatur ut aliqui sacerdotes abstineat a concelebratione ita ut praesto esse possint fidelibus qui ad sacramentum Paenitentiae accedere velint.
In mentem autem revocandum est, non licere sacramentum Paenitentiae cum sancta Missa unire, ita ut fiat unica celebratione liturgica.
Translation from Adoremus:
Reply to a question about hearing confessions during Mass
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (October 2001)
What are the dispositions governing the time for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance? For example, can the faithful have recourse to the sacrament of Penance during Mass?
The principal norms governing the time for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance are to be found in the Instruction Eucharisticum mysterium (25 May 1967), which states: The faithful are to be constantly encouraged to accustom themselves to going to confession outside the celebration of Mass, and especially at the prescribed times. In this way, the sacrament of Penance will be administered calmly and with genuine profit, and will not interfere with active participation in the Mass (no. 35). The same is reiterated in the Praenotanda of the Ordo Paenitentiae (no. 13), which states that: the reconciliation of penitents can be celebrated at any time and day.
Nevertheless this ought to be understood as a counsel directed to the pastoral care of the faithful, who ought to be encouraged and helped to seek health of soul in the sacrament of Penance, and have recourse to it, as far as possible outside the place and time of the celebration of Mass. On the other hand, this does not in any way prohibit priests, except the one who is celebrating Mass, from hearing confessions of the faithful who so desire, including during the celebration of Mass.
[NB] Above all nowadays, when the ecclesial significance of sin and the sacrament of Penance is obscured in many people, and the desire to receive the sacrament of Penance has diminished markedly, pastors ought to do all in their power to foster frequent participation by the faithful in this sacrament. Hence canon 986 §.1 of the Code of Canon law states: All to whom by virtue of office the care of souls is committed,are bound to provide for the hearing of the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them, who reasonably request confession, and they are to provide these faithful with an opportunity to make individual confession on days and at times arranged to suit them.
The celebration of the sacrament of Penance is indeed one of the ministries proper to priests. The Christian faithful, on the one hand, are not only obliged to confess their sins (cf. can. 989), but on the other hand are fully entitled to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments (can. 213).
Consequently, it is clearly lawful, even during the celebration of Mass, to hear confessions when one foresees that the faithful are going to ask for this ministry. In the case of concelebrations, it is earnestly to be desired that some priests would abstain from concelebrating so as to be available to attend to the faithful who wish to receive the sacrament of Penance.
It should be borne in mind, nevertheless, that it is not permitted to unite the sacrament of Penance with the Mass, making of them both a single liturgical celebration.
So, it is not only licet to hear confessions during Mass, it is recommended. The Congregation states that the times for confessions should suit the faithful and be convenient for them. When else are so many of the faithful at church than for Masses? If there are more than one priests the Congregation urges some of them not to concelebrate, but rather hear confessions during Mass. The Congregation recommends confessions during Mass, it doesn’t just say that it’s permitted.
Given the CDW document Redemptionis Sacramentum and given this response from the CDW and their strongly favorable official response, I am inclined to say that a bishop who would try to forbid confessions during Mass would act ultra vires.
Why be so stingy?
It may be that those guidelines were published a long time ago. It might be opportune to update them in light what what Rome says about the matter.
On a personal note, at the church where I usually am on Sundays, we often have confessions during Mass. Lots of people go, they are happy to have the chance, and the priests are happy to hear the confessions.