In a comment under another entry, a reader asked:
I have been told by some older folks that this was a very common practice at all Masses in years past. Is this no longer allowed in the NO Mass? Did it die out from lack of Priests to be able to both celebrate Mass and hear confessions at the same time?
The shortage of priests is certainly a factor. But so was some screwy theology. First, there were/are a lot of priests/bishops (now of a certain age) who just don’t like to hear confessions, either because they don’t really believe in hell or mortal sin, or think that it is so rare that virtually no one commits them, or they are lazy, or they are … whatever. Second, there was an idea that when Mass is going on then confessions were forbidden, that nothing else could go on, that there was somehow a cosmic conflict between the sacraments. I think there is something of the same goofy idea in the heads of priests who insist that the only Hosts consecrated at this Mass can be distributed at this Mass, or that you can’t have the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary, blah blah blah.
But, confession can be head during Mass. As a matter of fact, given the disastrous situation with the sacrament of penance in most places they should be heard during Mass it there are priests around.
Here is the documentation translated from Latin found in Notitiae 37 (2001 – no. 419-420) pp. 259-260 with my emphases and comments:
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 [And this is very good. People should ideally be focused on the sacred action of Holy Mass when they are at Holy Mass. Also, special effort must be made to see to one’s own spiritual welface. Moreover, depending on the way it is handled, hearing confessions during Mass might be distracting to some other people.] the celebration of Mass, and especially at the prescribed times. [This is close to one of my 20 Tips! #3] In this way, the sacrament of Penance will be administered calmly and with genuine profit, and will not interfere with active participation inthe 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. [Remember those people who claimed confessions couldn’t be heard during the Sacred Triduum?]
Nevertheless this ought to be understood as a counsel [Not an imperative, that is, that confessions should be heard at scheduled times rather than during Mass.] 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, [Here we go…] 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. [There it is, ladies and gentlemen.] 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. [In other words… this sacrament, and the awareness among the faithful of its importance, is really in danger.] 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 [One a side note about concelebration, which ought to be safe, legal and rare… there are some priests who are nearly obsessed with concelebration. They nearly impose it on other priests, in violation of their rights or judge priests badly if they choose (as is their right) not to concelebrate. This happens quite often, as a matter of fact, and in surprising quaters. Still, I like this advice from the CDW: confession is very important – perhaps some men could hear confessions instead of 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 [This is done in the Novus Ordo sometimes with baptisms, for example, or even celebrations of liturgical hours such as vespers.].
Furthermore, in Redemptionis Sacramentum 76 we read:
Furthermore, according to a most ancient tradition of the Roman Church, it is not permissible to unite the Sacrament of Penance to the Mass in such a way that they become a single liturgical celebration. This does not exclude, however, that Priests other than those celebrating or concelebrating the Mass might hear the confessions of the faithful who so desire, even in the same place where Mass is being celebrated, in order to meet the needs of those faithful. This should nevertheless be done in an appropriate manner.
Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio), Misericordia Dei, 7 April 2002, n. 2: AAS 94 (2002) p. 455; Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Response to Dubium: Notitiae 37 (2001) pp. 259-260.