From a reader:
If you’re sitting in the box and no one’s coming, double-check to make sure the other side isn’t stuck in the “occupied mode”.
Father, I went to confession last night, as did several other people.
We patiently stood in line for over a half hour thinking someone was in the box (the door was closed and the red light was on), and just taking a really long time (something that’s completely normal at our parish). Then the priest stepped out of the box, looked at us and said, “oops, sorry.” and opened the door. There was a lot of moaning, groaning, murmuring, and sighing from the line.
First, I must observe that the priest was actually in the box. He was hearing confessions. This is a blessing for the people. You must be very happy that the priest was hearing confessions. Aren’t you?
Many box-style confessionals with a grate and built in kneeler have a pressure switch which makes the light come on as soon as someone kneels. Sometimes it get’s stuck. That can be fixed. Sometimes there is a switch on the door, so that when it is closed, the light goes on. Sometimes there is no light, but the door being ajar is a sign that no one is inside. In the case of a box style, classic style, confessional, I am not convinced it is Father’s responsibility to open the door to the other side of the confessional. Since he doesn’t have either x-ray vision or psychic powers, if no one gets into the box, he might suspect that there isn’t someone out there. If, however, there is almost always a good number of people and a line, that is another matter.
If the confessional is one of those horrid little rooms with comfy chairs and an end table accessorized with a vase of fake flowers, a box of tissues, a Bible with a white cover, and a framed print of happy Jesus cuddling a lamb then I guess Father should have seen the door was closed. Reason #676 to eliminate those horrid little rooms.
Let horrid little rooms be eliminated! Let all confessionals have fixed partitions with grates as soon as possible!
Because I am an unreconstructed ossified manualist, on my planet confessionals have on the penitent’s side are accessorized with the Act of Contrition under a crucifixion scene framed and bolted to the wall. On the other side, on the priest’s side of the fixed barrier and the curtain over the grate, there is a rosary, breviary, a copy of the Code of Canon Law, my Examen Conscientiae, and Tanquerey’s or another manual for light reading. Thus endeth the rant.
Frankly, I am and priests I know are very reluctant to get out of the box and look at the people in line because we want to make sure no one gets nervous for being recognized. People should know they are going to confession anonymously if they wish to. When getting into the confessional, I never look at people in line. When getting out I don’t look at people who may be doing penance… unless it is time to lock the church. Even then there is mostly key rattling rather than pointed glances.
Finally, in my opinion, if people normally take “a really long time” or a half of an hour to make a confession in the scheduled time for confessions then Father should rethink what he is doing.
But the upside is, Father was in the confessional. That is the overriding good news.