QUAERITUR: Face-to-face confession. Fr. Z rants.

From a reader:

I am trying to figure out what was the rationale to change the rite of confession to allow for face-to-face confessions. I have read the documents of Vatican II, but did not see anything there specifically addressing this, so I assume it was done later. Now it seems like face-to-face is the preferred option, although behind the screen is still “allowed”. I’m looking for ink – actual documents I can read – to understand the current usage.

The Latin Church’s law concerning where confessions can be heard:

Canon 964 §1: The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is in a church or oratory.

§2: The conference of bishops is to issue norms concerning the confessional, seeing to it that confessionals with a fixed grille between penitent and confessor are always located in an open area so that the faithful who wish to make use of them may do so freely. [Nota bene: fixed grill... also called a grate.]

§ 3: Confessions are not to be heard outside the confessional without a just cause. [This is pretty broad.  The idea here, however, is also to protect the priest.]

There was a craze for a while to make everything “meaningful”.  Therefore, we dumbed our worship down to the vernacular, then dumbed down the translation, started using dumber music, dumbed down catechism which resulted in catholicly dumber Catholics, dumbed down seminary resulting in catholicly dumber priests, etc.

We produced dumber priests, alas.  In seminary, one of the dumbest faculty members – quite a distinction in that crowd – actually told us that sacraments takes place when you look into the eyes of the other person.

Talk about dumb.  That might have been well-meaning, but that’s just plain stupid.

For a while seminarians and priests were being pushed or told or advised or urged actually to lay their hands on people while giving absolution.  Let’s picture this: in an enclosed room, the priest puts his hands on the penitent?!?  Again, that might have been well-meaning, but that’s just plain stupid.  I hope no priest is still doing that.  If there are any, I hope they have good lawyers.

The grate was included in confessionals for a reason: it keeps both people apart.  Priests must be protected from accusations.

The form of the grate, with or without a curtain, can help with anonymity too.

In my opinion any priest who gets into one of those enclosed rooms with a door that closes and that has no window of any kind culpably irresponsible.

In the USA we are/were used to the box style confessionals with doors and enclosed booths usually on either side of the priest.  In other places, however, we see a form of confessional that allows for people to have a modicum of screening, so that no one can read their lips or easily overhear, and also provides for the possibility of face-to-face confession but with a barrier in place.  Here is a shot of a confessional in Rome.

The center part, where the priest sits, also has a set of upper doors which can close.  The penitents can stand in front or kneel on either side where there is a grate.

In any event, back in 1994 the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, with the Holy Father’s approval, published a note, responding to an inquiry posed by several conferences of bishops regarding confessionals. He said:

“If, according to Canon 964, paragraph 2, of the Code of Canon Law, the minister of the sacrament, for a just cause and excluding cases of necessity, can legitimately decide, even in the eventuality that the penitent ask for the contrary, that sacramental confession be received in a confessional with a fixed grille.”

So, the priest can refuse to hear a confession if there is no confessional with a fixed grate.  Even if the person insists that it be face-to-face, the priest can decline.  There may not be many situations wherein a priest would need to do that.  What this this response from the Holy See does, however, is underscore that a) confessionals are important and that b) there should be a grill or grate.  The Church considers the grate or grill to be important.

Sooooo much of the people’s money was wasted on wrecking churches and on stupid ideas like “reconciliation rooms”, with their ghastly little tables, pastel carpets, and boxes of tissues.   I urge all priests with parishes to rethink their rooms and, whatever the cost, to install more traditional confessionals.

Even more, I urge priests to get into the confessional and HEAR CONFESSIONS.  One of these days, Fathers, you will stop breathing.  Your heart will beat its last beat.   You will go to your judgment.  If you are pastor of a parish, you will go to your judgment as a priest who had the care of souls.   God is going to sort out your life, and God cannot be fooled.  If you are not offering reasonable confession times to the people of your parish, if you are not teaching people about mortal sin and the effects of the Sacrament of Penance, you are probably in serious danger of eternal separation from God.

Here is a little thought to brighten your day: Try to imagine what goes through the mind of the damned soul during his first 10 seconds in Hell.

How do you think, Fathers, God will look upon your lack of care for the Sacrament of Penance?  Hear confessions and/or get priests to help you with this obligation.  Preach about confession.  Teach about confession. Hear confessions.

Have a nice day!

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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60 Responses to QUAERITUR: Face-to-face confession. Fr. Z rants.

  1. Southern Baron says:

    I only wish a few of the boxes were more soundproof. I hate being put in the position where I have to sing a song in my head and try to block my ears from the inside, as it were, because whoever is before me in line–or maybe even the priest–is speaking so loudly that the whole church can hear. I almost left the line once and figured I’d go elsewhere. But I know of one place that has lined its walls–on either side of the grate–with foam egg-crate mattresses, and they are quite effective.

    My first confession (ca. 1993) was in one corner of the church, two chairs set up. Another priest was hearing them in another corner. It took a long time until I was comfortable behind the screen but now I won’t go back.

  2. Scott W. says:

    Sooooo much of the people’s money was wasted on wrecking churches and on stupid ideas like “reconciliation rooms”, with their ghastly little tables, pastel carpets, and boxes of tissues.

    It’s the rotten fruit of the secular Age of Therapy.

  3. APX says:

    Now there seems to be a move away from reconciliation rooms, to reconciliation fishbowls. Our new Cathedral’s room is literally a room surrounded by clear glass walls, with zero option for anonymity, and you’re put on display to those in the Eucharistic Chapel. Lord help you if someone can read lips. I’m very disappointed one of our bishops actually approved such a design when the cathedral was being designed.

    Growing up I never had the option of anonymous confession, and I loathe face-to-face confession. Even face-to-book confession when he confessional isn’t available for use is difficult. I think the sanguines of the Church completely forgot about the cholerics and melancholics who also need confession, but don’t wish for the meaningful sappy therapeutic conversation and the hugging. Whiskey tango foxtrot is with the hugging?!

  4. The Egyptian says:

    I wrote a post on the “box” a while back, the real reason for the “box” being instituted is almost prophetic,

    http://otritt.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/my-views-on-confession-or-give-me-the-box/

    abuse! and the rise in abuse coincides with the turn to face to face, please read, almost sad

  5. Burke says:

    I saw an interesting set of confessionals in Youghal, Co. Cork in a relatively new church. From the outside they look like a modern version of the old, wooden confessional, only built into the wall of the church, with a door either side of the priest’s central seat; closer inspection reveals that the priest’s ‘door’ in the chapel is false; the priest instead can only access the confessional from a rear corridor, which is itself accessed from the sacristy, which is itself accessed through a door which is kept locked.

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  7. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for mentioning the need for priests to make confessions available! More often than not, the most practical way for me to get to confession is to take a day off work for that purpose.

  8. Darren says:

    There is a very new, boring, ugly, modern church near me that has old-style confessionals … …the priest is behind the door in the middle, and the penitants go behind a curtain on either side. They also have 11 AM on Saturdays, so I am frequently there. No chance for face-to-face. It is a good thing. My parish has little “reconciliation rooms” where you have the option. They put windows in the doors a few years back for the protection of the priest. Of course, if noone is looking through the window… …but the penitant is always visible whether kneeling or sitting. The priest is never visible.

    Re: Souther Baron: “I only wish a few of the boxes were more soundproof.”
    I have very good hearing, and there a LOT of senior citizens with poor hearing in my neck of the woods. I doubt many of them realize how loudly they are speaking, but I am often kneeling on the other side covering my ears!

  9. louder says:

    I really don’t like hearing confessions face-to-face, and I’m convinced one of the reason for the fall off in confessions is this whole making confession a counseling session, and, at times, making it a public event. It’s not, the Sacrament is for the confession of sins, and spiritual help. The bottom of the barrel in this is “communal penance services,” where people are forced to go to confession out in the open, in the sanctuary, in this corner of the church, in that corner, everywhere! How can a person bare his or her soul in front of a church full of people? I myself, prefer going to confession behind a screen, but often times I’m forced to go to confession in a priest’s office, with no option on how to go to confession. All is takes is a little common sense about these things, for priests to put themselves in the shoes of their parishioners, this ain’t the groovy 60s anymore, Jerry Garcia is long gone.

  10. Cathy says:

    I vividly remember my first face-to-face confession, I was a little person of eight years old and when I looked up to address the priest who was sitting in front of me and who did not look back at me, all I remember seeing was his very large nose. It took everything in me to suppress the urge to give in to a giggle fit! As a teenager on retreat, face to face confessions were given in a room with two chairs and a bed. The priest asked me a question regarding personal sexual sin, but the way it was phrased sounded like the type of question one would be asked on a crank phone call. Having been sexually molested a few years earlier, I kind of freaked out and firmly told the priest, “no”. While that was an honest answer, I can’t possibly describe the desire my heart to flee the situation. I don’t think that is exactly Our Lord’s or the Church’s intention for reconciliation. I love the old box confessionals, in a way they admit to the death of sin and the glory of resurrection. It is like you enter into a wooden coffin, confess your sins, and come back out alive.

  11. TheAcolyte says:

    The Liturgiologist and Antiquary of “Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy” fame have a witty discussion about Confessionals available here: http://romanitaspress.com/peregrinus_gasolinus/peregrinus_gasolinus_chapter_9.htm.

  12. contrarian says:

    As someone who hates the chummy approach, I always say that the best part of being Catholic is 1) the requirement that I must go to confession to confess mortal sins, and 2) that I can do so in a confessional with a grate.
    But alas–this is also one of the many reasons that I cry ‘false advertising’. If I wanted a reconciliation room with a kleenex box, I would have stayed Protestant. And if Catholics really believed what they taught about the need for confession, you’d think they offer it more often.
    I join many converts in saying: So. Annoying.
    At least in my protestant church, they believed what they taught.

  13. Pete says:

    Ah, but we are certainly still face to face with Christ!

    “Behold, my child, Christ standeth here invisibly, and receiveth thy confession; wherefore, be not ashamed, neither be afraid, and conceal thou nothing from me; but tell me, doubting not, all things which thou hast done; and so shalt thou have pardon from our Lord Jesus Christ. Lo, his holy icon is before us; and I am but a witness, bearing testimony before him of all things which thou dost say to me. But if thou shalt conceal anything from me, thou shalt have the greater sin. Take heed, therefore, lest, having come to the physician, thou depart unhealed.”

  14. anilwang says:

    The “face-to-face confession” likely came from the Ressourcement (return to the sources) movment within Vatican II. But as far as I know, face-to-face confessions have never been the norm. Its true in the East, the do not use confessionals, but the confessions are not face to face. Both the priest and the penitent face the cross of Christ during confession. The theology of this norm is clear. The theology of the face-to-face confessional is murky since it makes the confession a human experience and removes God from the focus. Pope Benedict makes exactly this point in his comment on how the “ad populum” liturgy is closed in on itself while the “ad Christus” liturgy is directed towards God.

  15. LisaP. says:

    This is so much of what frustrates me about modern American Catholic practices. There is all the *stuff* stuck in that may or may not be good stuff but isn’t integral to the Faith, and it edges out the stuff that is integral.

    There is so much that is so touchy feely — the greeting before Mass, the holding hands during the Our Father, the face to face Confession, the prolonged navel gazing required before you can enter the Church, the Popsicle stick exercises at religious education, the endless droning elevator music. Why people think every Catholic needs to think like an eight year old giggly girl in her “princess” phase is beyond me. There is a range of personalities and characters in Catholicism, why do the PTB feel we need to all conform to one “style”, and that such a girly gaggy one? I mean, I’m a girl, and I don’t want my Mass to be one big chick flick!

    I don’t want face to face Confession. I live my life in public, and I have to constantly be concerned about body language, about how I look when I communicate, how to read the other person, what that person is trying to tell me, how he thinks of me. I don’t want to look at the priest, I don’t want him to look at me. If I feel moved to cry during Confession, I don’t want spend energy and thought trying to suppress my tears because there’s a person in front of me who may disapprove, may think I’m being a drama queen or, worse, may try to hug me or something horrible like that. I don’t want to suppress the tears so he doesn’t feel the need to react to them. And if I don’t feel tears coming, I don’t want to wonder if the priest considers me properly repentant if my eyes are dry, like in those public trials where people sit at home and condemn defendants because they don’t look sad enough. I don’t want to think about my face. I want to think about my sin and my absolution. Please don’t force me out from behind the screen, don’t pressure me to sit in a chair knee to knee with you. Don’t put up obstacles to my receiving the grace of God.

    Cathy, I’m so sorry you had that experience with Confession, that’s inexcusable, and I’m impressed that you could rise above that and move past it. It amazes me that people are so unable to see beyond their noses that they would put people in that position during Confession.

  16. solemncharge says:

    I love when Fr. Z writes about confession. It is good to hear it come from a priest. It is sad to see so many confessionals used as storage closets these days.

  17. Dies Irae says:

    My first confession was in the sanctuary.
    All the kids processed up and there were, if I remember correctly, 8 or so priests stationed in different parts of the church. We were picked at random and sent to different priests and my priest (whom I didn’t know) was sitting up in the sanctuary, behind the NO altar. I think they may have done it that way so the parents could see their children make their first confession; I don’t know, but it was really dumb.
    When I was little, I always went face-to-face because it didn’t bother me and I think I was kind of scared not being able to see the priest. But when we started going to the Latin Mass, face-to-face wasn’t an option. The first time I went to a “Latin” confession, I was scared to death, not only about not being able to see the priest, but also, as I told my mom, “I don’t know how to speak Latin, will the priest understand me?” :D

  18. The Sicilian Woman says:

    At my parish, our two confessionals are small, enclosed rooms in the chapel, only large enough for one chair on the side of the large screen/wall that fully conceals you from the priest and the priest from you, a chair opposite the priest if you wish for face-to-face, and a chair for the priest and a couple feet between you and the priest. Plus, they’re soundproof. For anonymity, they’re perfect.

    I was a disappointed to see, when I went to Confession at a neighboring parish once, the lack of anonymity, given the design of the confessional. The door where the priest enters to sit in his area was glass, so that, by walking to the confessional – you had to walk towards it from the front, not from the side – the priest could see you, unless he kept his gaze lowered. It defeated the purpose of having the grate once you got into the confessional. Plus, although I didn’t notice this as I awaited Confession there, a friend who’s a parishioner at that parish said that the waiting penitents were able to hear the Confessions (he had experienced this) because, while the doors for the priest and the penitents were full doors, there was no ceiling to the confessional, and that + the location of the confessional amplified the sound.

    At another local parish, the confessionals are the old style and enclosed. Anonymity is a given, and I’m beginning to understand why that’s likely the better option, or at least the option I’ll choose whenever I go back to Confession again.

  19. Southern Catholic says:

    I was at our Cathedral one time to confess, and the priest actually made me say the confession face-to-face, it was the most awkward confession I’ve ever had. I didn’t know until later that I could refuse to be face-to-face.

  20. pelerin says:

    Solemncharge mentions the many confessionals used today as storage cupboards/closets. I have seen many such confessionals including the most intricately carved beautiful examples containing a mop and bucket. At least they have not been destroyed and thrown out.

    The most unusual use for a no longer used Confessional I saw earlier this year in a magnificent church in Paris. St Jean Bosco was built in the Art Deco period and style. The carved Confessionals are still in place but each one had been converted into a glass-fronted display cabinet illuminated from within. Inside are displayed various vestments, chalices, patens and other Church Plate all in the Art Deco style. Sad to see that the items are no longer used for Mass but at least like the Confessionals they have not been thrown out. Anyone interested in Mosaics should visit this church – they are magnificent.

  21. AnnAsher says:

    Reading this leads me to question the status of the portable wood and whicker approximations ? But at least they keep me from seeing the pink walls and tissues.
    A note : I know a good Priest or two who spend a lot of time *alone* in their confessionals.

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  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    I’m still confused. Who issued permission for face-to-face confessions? I know it had to be approved by the Holy See, but who thought, after 1500 years (if memory serves, hidden confession was from the Irish in the 500′s A. D. or so – somebody correct me) that this was a good thing?

    I went to graduate school where the well-attended and infamous Newman Center had no confessionals – at all. You had to go into the priest’s office. I’ll add this to the list of liturgical abuses I saw, there. Once I really started studying what the Church taught, I started counting the number of serious liturgical abuses at Mass or other liturgical activities. I counted 23 (yes, 23) violations during Masses, ranging from not saying the Creed to having lay preaching to using a non-Trinitarian formula for blessings to using bread made from multiple ingredients to holding hands during the Our Father to Clown Masses (at a college!) to vacuuming up fragments of the “host,” (if it were even valid matter), to self-communicating, liturgical dance, etc. It, truly, was (or is) a place where every possible liturgical abuse was on display. Not only did they not have grated confessionals, sometimes the priest made up his own formula for absolution. To this day, I still have no idea if all of my confessions were valid (I went once a week) and if the Masses were valid. I have no idea how to even begin to confess the mess of that period (any ideas?), since I may have attended countless Masses and a few confessions that were invalid.. At the very orthodox Latin Rite parish I attend, now, the situation of that place is well-known. They have tried to “rescue,” students, here or there, but students, up to the advanced graduate level, today, are so badly catechized that they think the emotional thrill of the “Mass,” that the Center offers is the epitome of an encounter with God. It took years before my eyes were opened. I assumed that priests were as well-trained at their jobs as I was bring trained at mine, so I trusted that they knew what they were doing – until I finally started reading about the Faith on my own with the help of the materials and books provided by the modern American apologetics revival.

    How many young people are ignorant of the faith? This university has a very orthodox real church two blocks away that is having to close because of the attraction of the Newman Center. This old church used to be the thriving center of Catholic life of the University until the 1970′s. They had three priests on staff – now, some is there to close it down. I can’t believe that students were so ignorant of the Faith in the 1970′s that they would leave Jerusalem for Gommorah, but I know that to be the case. It is precisely these sorts of students who are so easily swayed by an Obama. Until bishops act strongly and decisively to remove these defective “churches” or demand more stringent universal Catholic education (not schools, but the subject matter), we will continue to have immorality misidentified and souls will be in jeopardy. Face-to-face confessionals are merely one symptom of a much larger set of vines choking the plant. They will go away when the weed killer is applied.

    The Chicken

  24. Southern Baron says:

    Speaking of reappropriations of confessionals, I once saw an old box turned into three fitting stalls at a vintage clothing shop. Sorry it wasn’t in a church but at least the church was not the clothing shop!

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    Just to clarify – there are really good and orthodox Newman Centers, as well. One need only mention the one at the University of Illinois.

    The Chicken

  26. beez says:

    My confessional at the parish is two rooms, one for the priest and one for the penitent. I have my own door (which locks) and we have a sliding, louvered door in the window that connects the two sides.

    My experience is that 90-95% of penitents prefer the anonimity of the screen. 100% of the priests in my confessional prefer that because it actually makes it easier to concentrate on the sins, offer a little counsel and send them on their way.

    My pet peeve, as a newly ordained priest, is the number of people who think that the confessional is a time for spiritual direction. I have some confess and then start asking me questions. I spend at least four hours a week in the box, and at even four minutes per penitent, that doesn’t allow me to see many people. (15 per hour x 4 hours = 60 per week in a parish of over 12,000)

    PLEASE folks, the confessional is a place for a sacrament, and not a chat! Father is trying to be polite when he’s hearing your confession, but remember that line of people behind you also wants time with him and he has a limited amount of time himself!

  27. The Egyptian says:

    anilwang,

    it was the norm, from my post at

    http://otritt.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/my-views-on-confession-or-give-me-the-box/

    The intercourse between priest and penitent was especially [96] dangerous because there had not yet been invented the device of the confessional–a box or stall in which the confessor sits with his ear at a grille, through which the tale of sins conceived or committed is whispered. Seated by his side or kneeling at his feet, there was greater risk of inflaming passion and much more opportunity for provocative advances. It was not until the middle of the sixteenth century that the confessional was devised, doubtless in consequence of the attacks of heretics, who found in these scandals a fertile subject of animadversion. The earliest allusion to it that I have met occurs in a memorial from Siliceo of Toledo to Charles V, in 1547. (5) In 1565 a Council of Valencia prescribed its use and contemporaneously S. Carlo Borromeo introduced it in his Milanese province, while in 1614 the Roman Ritual commanded its employment in all churches. 6)

  28. Philangelus says:

    We had a visiting priest in our church at one point and my daughter and I ended up going to him for Confession. He did the hands-on-the-head during absolution thing, which worried me a bit, but he’s a really wonderful priest (he’s rather orthodox in most other things) so whatever. My daughter said to me afterward, “How does Father *** know I don’t have head lice?” and when I laughed, she added, “Would I have to find another priest to confess to so I could confess that I gave a priest head lice?”

    Later on I thought, she actually has a good point. Not that she’d be morally culpable, but that a priest could pick up head lice from direct contact with someone’s hair.

  29. Manhattan Trid says:

    My Novus Ordo territorial parish recently installed a new confessional/’reconciliation chapel’ that is okay (it has a grill and kneeler but has a nice chair to chat with Father.), is relatively sound deadened, has a bright light inside when the confessor is in the box and has faux stained glass with the Prodigal Son imagery. My biggest peeve though is that they forgot to install the “traffic lights” so that you can tell if there is a penitent!

  30. Marie Teresa says:

    “Even more, I urge priests to get into the confessional and HEAR CONFESSIONS. One of these days, Fathers, you will stop breathing. Your heart will beat its last beat. You will go to your judgment. If you are pastor of a parish, you will go to your judgment as a priest who had the care of souls. God is going to sort out your life, and God cannot be fooled. If you are not offering reasonable confession times to the people of your parish, if you are not teaching people about mortal sin and the effects of the Sacrament of Penance, you are probably in serious danger of eternal separation from God.”

    Fr. Z – if only your words were hammered into our priests at the many priestly retreats and meetings throughout the year.

    I always choose behind-the-grate, but in this area, Confession is rarely available at best. The prevailing attitude among area priests is that someone asking for a Confession appointment is needy – well, I am; I need the Sacrament!

    Sins confessed by kind & number – no counselling – no direction! In fact I dread the inevitable advice to receive Communion in the hand and stop genuflecting and stop taking Holy Water home and … and stop going to Confession so often.

    The last time I requested an appointment, father offered Tuesday afternoon, 8 days later, and asked me to drive (1 hour each way) to his house. Unable to miss work, I asked if he had time during the evening or weekend – having heard my confession dozens of itmes, he knows 5 to 7 minutes is ample. Four weeks later, he sent an email asking if I’d managed to make arrangements that meet my needs.

    Maybe I’ll send a copy of Fr. Z’s advice to our Bishop.

  31. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Don’t the Eastern Orthodox confess with the penitent standing at a sort of lectern with an icon, with the priest standing to one side, and then the priest puts his hand on their back? that’s the picture I saw.

  32. MAJ Tony says:

    My home parish’s original wooden confessional was turned into a cabinet for a bartop in a parishioner’s home. That really irked my Dad (and me as well). Other than that, the church wasn’t really wreck-o-vated, but that same parishioner thinks he’s an artist, too.

  33. St. Epaphras says:

    Thank God for the Sacrament of Penance — in any place with any type confessional (so long as one’s confession cannot be overheard). Am getting less picky about the details and more grateful for any priest who is AVAILABLE to hear confession at many times during the week and so shows that he “loves mercy” (Micah 6:8).

    “I will show thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requireth of thee: Verily, to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to walk solicitous with thy God.”

    When a pastor is willing to schedule confessions at frequent times, that tells me a lot. Same when a priest sits there before every Mass praying and waiting. We need mercy and this is how we receive it.

    Don’t think we forget you or don’t pray for you, Fathers.

  34. Catholictothecore says:

    I’ve had face-to-face confessions couple of times in my lifetime. Last year during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Father heard our confessions in the Garden of Gethsemane. A beautiful setting, very peaceful. Almost all the pilgrims went for confession – how could you not – in the place where Our Lord suffered such agony for us that he sweated blood. On a regular basis though, I try to go every other week, it is in a confessional box with grates, sound proofed. You cannot hear a word even if you tried.

  35. Xmenno says:

    After becoming Catholic, I practiced confession “face to face” because that’s how the RCIA team told us it was done in modern times. Last year in Rome, when I finally found a confessional that said “English” in St. Mary Major, I experienced confession behind a screen in a confessional like the one in the picture above. The difference was notable. I was unable to see the priest’s expressions, and therefore, I was not conscious of his reactions to my confession. I was able to concentrate on my sins, and my contrition without the “clutter” of interpersonal communication with the individual priest. It’s anonymous for me from now on.

  36. Lucy C says:

    I was about 20 years old when face to face confession became common. It wasn’t required to go this way, but STRONGLY encouraged. I did not feel comfortable with this at all. I have always preferred to go behind a screen. Many years and several different parishes later, I’m happy to say that we are at a wonderful parish. Both options are always available and our priests are extremely generous with their time for confessions. Confessions are heard a half hour before every Holy Mass (and we have at least 3 every day), plus a longer block of time on Saturdays. We are very blessed!

  37. Susan the Short says:

    I knew of a parish that had a reconciliation room…lamp, table, tissues….and only one door…..seems one time a large fellow, angry with the priest, had cornered him and threatened to punch out his lights….When the church was about to undergo further wreckovation, the pastor insisted on having an escape door in the rec room…..I don’t think he actually got it, though

  38. kellym says:

    This is certainly on my list of pet peeves (along with no bells at the Consecration, but that’s a story for another day).

    From the time I made my First Holy Communion in 1975 I had no choice but to submit to these face-to-face confessions whether I wanted to or not. For some reason my mother, who in most Catholic things is pretty Orthodox, fell for this fraud hook, line and sinker. When I left home and found a parish for myself I was relieved that the confessionals were still intact and used. Confession was offered every Saturday afternoon with at least two priests available.

    My current parish in SF subscribes to the monthly communal reconciliation service followed by individual confession. Other than that you’re instructed to make an appointment at the rectory. Ugh. The priests are scattered throughout the sanctuary and you have to migrate yourself into some sort of satellite orbit to indicate to those attending which priest you’re intending to confess to. It’s a misery. We have a glass-fronted “crying room” at the back which doubles as a confessional with a prie-dieu and screen and it’s adequate. Unfortunately it’s undermined by the lack of curtains to pull across the glass. Double Ugh.

    I really hope this foolishness is abandoned soon. I don’t think proper teaching of what confession is and how it works can be conducted otherwise.

  39. I built something like Burke above said. The priest enters through the vestry closet, and can’t even get into the same room as the penitents. The penitent enters through the door in the Lady Chapel, and there’s no way for me to come into contact with anyone, or they, me. It’s wonderful!!!!!!!!!!

  40. johnmann says:

    I’m all for the traditional but kneeling behind the grate, I feel uncomfortably close to the priest’s face. Might be better if the penitent is able to sit or kneel behind the grate just like the priest, not facing the priest but towards the door or wall.

  41. bobbortolin says:

    Just want to add a voice for “face-to-face” confessions: I’m in a power wheelchair and hadn’t been to confession for decades primarily because of the lack of access to the confessionals. Several priests have offered to come to our home to hear my confession but, for various reasons, that was impractical. We recently had a memorial mass said and I called the priest and explained my situation and asked if he could hear my confession. He said if I could meet him 30 minutes before mass “near” the confessional he would be glad to hear me. It turned out to be one of the greatest moments of my life. He silently heard me, we talked (I think the eye-to-eye contact actually enhanced our connection) and then he absolved me. I will never forget that encounter and the kindness and adaptability of Father Mcguire.

  42. Moro says:

    I discussed this issue with a priest before and he said that confession behind the screen is actually faster. People go, confess their sins and get to the point counsel. The minute they see a priest face to face it becomes a counseling session more than a confession. Perhaps this is another way to promote the sacrament behind the screen and it has the added advantage of making the sacrament more about the forgiveness of sins that about counseling (good as that can be, that’s not what the sacrament is about).

  43. Joseph-Mary says:

    Does a large parish with confession times once a week at from 3-3:45 count as a reasonable time allowed for the 3000 families to appreciate the sacrament?

    And how many parishes does this describe? But I doubt if any of those pastors read this column. A friend just moved to Phoenix and searched out what seemed to be a good orthodox parish but they only have that sliver of time for confession; my friend called me in tears as their family was used to monthly confession and there was a wedding going on and not confession when they went. That is a travesty!

    I have been –only once–to a glass confessional. And I was surprised once when visiting to enter a ‘reconciliation room’ this two chairs in the middle and one sat knee to knee with the priest. Awful. I go behind the screen even with my regular confessor who knows me very well. I am not anonymous by any means but that is fine–he needs to know my soul, where I have been in combatting sin so that he can best advise me. And it humbles me too and that is a good thing.

    In my former parish a retired priest would offer Saturday morning Mass when no parish priest would and he would hear confessions in the vesting sacristy before it. The ‘remnant’ all went to him weekly. Yes, it was face to face but it was to a kind and good confessor.

  44. Joseph-Mary says:

    ps–my present young confessor asked me not long ago, “Has anyone taught you how to go to confession?”

    What a question as I have been a weekly penitent for many years. I have asked the question too–”Father, how would you like me to go to confession?” And no particular answers.

    So I now go as my confessor has taught this lady old enough to be his mom—how long has it been, what is my state in life and then I begin “I accuse myself of….”

    There are not reasons and stories to be given. Just the sins. I rather had a different approach but have adjusted and it is working fine.

  45. Marie Teresa says:

    @Joseph-Mary
    for your Phoenix friends …
    … near downtown, Sts. Simion and Jude Cathedral where they may even find the Bishop himself in the Confessional and often presiding at the 6:15 weekday Mass.
    … northeast, All Saints Catholic Church has an an EF Mass, or at least they used to a few years ago. If Fr. Terra is still there, he is an admirable priest and confessor.
    … northwest, Our Lady of Lourdes/Prince of Peace parish in Sun City West has a most generous Confession schedule and Mass schedule, too. (it’s in the heart of the retirement community … lots of old folk gettin’ ready for Heaven ;)
    Phoenix Diocese has much to offer Catholics … easy to find a Mass, easy to find Confession …

  46. Lili of the fields says:

    Writing from Canada, it is difficult enough to find a priest free to hear confessions ( easier to make an appointment) finding a traditional confession booth with a grate is quasi impossible. One by one, they are replaced with a little room with a glass door, face-to-face confession. No wonder nobody wants to go!
    Some months ago I asked a lady friend, a “good catholic” involved in church’s life what were the confession “days” in our parish; she told me : “not to worry about it, we don’t have to do that anymore”. I had to research on internet to find a parish with a confession day and time that match my work schedule. It was a confession booth that look like a living room with a glass door , with people passing by, gawking.
    I consider myself in spiritual convalescence here, so I am not going to make a fuss about all this, but truly some priests and bishops are neglectfull in tending the flock, it is the least I can say… hum…mutter under my breath…

  47. Augustin57 says:

    So, I guess my idea of drive-in Confessionals, with neon signs saying, “Toot-n-Tell or Go to Hell” are out, huh? LOL

    Seriously, I didn’t know any better, and have actually gone to confession once (at EWTN) in my car. I was going to park on the other side of the chapel to go to Confession and saw Fr. walking towards the door. I stopped, rolled down my window and asked him if he could hear my confession real quick. So, he leaned in the window and did. After, I rolled the window up and went back to my job. (I’d taken off a few minutes to go to Confession, and was trying to save time.) I doubt that would happen again like that, though.

  48. wmeyer says:

    “not to worry about it, we don’t have to do that anymore”

    What an appalling misunderstanding of a sacrament!

    Don’t have to do that anymore? Confession is a mercy, a gift of God’s grace. We haven’t earned it, yet we are able, allowed, to confess and be forgiven our sins.

  49. Penny says:

    Our parish has two rooms on opposite sides of the Chapel. You can kneel behind a wall with a screen or sit a few feet in front of the priest. You can hear muffled voices from the rooms, except when the priest laughs (one was always laughing so I’m hoping they were just chatting at that point) or when the priest wants the fan/air cleaner on. Then you both have to speak loudly.

    The other parish in the area has very small booths with heavy curtains as doors. The problem is it is pitch black in there. You can’t even see your hands in front of your face. Being slightly claustrophobic, they are a real challenge. Holding the curtain back to get some light and air isn’t the best option.

    That said, I generally do face to face Confessions. Besides, the illusion of anonymity was dispelled for me when I was in grade school. The Confessional boxes were the old type – the priest in the center and two small cubbies with doors on either side of him. Our class went to Confession one day. After I finished telling the pastor my sins, which did not include missing Mass since I was sick, he asked me why I wasn’t in Church on Sunday and that I should tell my mother that she needs to get those envelopes in. Now.

    I was introduced to face to face Confessions in high school, when it was the only option. I work hard at keeping my Confessions short and to the point. If I have things to discuss, I ask for an appointment telling the priest at the time I make the appointment that I have some questions or need some help.

  50. Andkaras says:

    I have to say that when I came back into the church several years ago ,if I had read all these comments they would probably have scared the beejeebers out of me and would probably have caused an obstacle to my returning to the sacrament. Having grown in my faith since then ,I will now always choose the fixed grille, however we mustn’t ever forget those who are struggling their way back into the faith against every thing the evil one can throw at them . I say confession any where, anytime ,anyplace, anyhow and soon those who will come to recieve the extrordinary grace of this sacrament will also eventually come to prefer the grille .Rubrick all we want on everything else but no obstacle or impediment on this one . If I were a priest I would risk even false accusation to save a soul.

  51. I would probably have avoided confession for many years, were it not for the face-to-face option. Inasmuch as priest are as subject to the human condition as anybody, you get a real jerk now and then. For a time, I found that one way to avoid such an outcome was to be able to look them in the eye. This philosophy may not work for others, but neither I nor my salvation depends on that. These days I go either way. If I trust the priest enough to behave himself, I will use the grill. If not, I will face them. If one of them wants to make a big case of it, as is his right … well, I cross that bridge when I come to it.

    xgenerationcatholic: It varies from one tradition to another (the hand on the shoulder is a new one on me), but generally, confession in both the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches consists of the priest and penitent standing next to one another in a private room, with both facing the icon of Christ the Teacher. Touching only occurs when the priest lays his epitrachelion (priestly stole) on the head of the penitent while giving absolution. (This use of the stole is applied to other blessings and rituals as well, so Eastern Christians see nothing unusual about it.)

  52. Pingback: Face-to-face confession. Fr. Z rants. | Knights of Divine Mercy

  53. Bill Foley says:

    from Bill Foley

    Father Z, your comments re confession are on target. There should be more times for confession; there should be a completely private and totally sound-proof confessional with no possibility of visual or physical contact. Good grief, why would a priest possibly put himself in a position for a false accusation of abuse!
    However, Father Z, why did you have to make one of your usual criticisms of the ordinary form of the Mass. My wife, who passed away 3.5 years ago, was the most Christlike person that I have ever known, and she attended the ordinary form of the Mass since it came into use.

  54. Volanges says:

    Our new Pastor has reinstated Saturday afternoon confessions which had been discontinued about 7 years ago by a previous Pastor with the comment to me, “No one comes so I’m not wasting my time sitting there waiting.” After that it was ‘tap Fr. on the shoulder and as to confess if he bothers to show up more than 5 minutes before Mass’ or take advantage of the Advent and Lenten Penitential Services. Of course our parish was cursed with General Absolution for about 10 years. When that was stopped the attendance at the semi annual Penitential Services dropped by about 80%. Even though there had been no regularly scheduled confessions for 6 or more years, the two most recent such services attracted about 10 people in a parish of 1500.

    Now Confession is listed in the bulletin for all to see.

    Last year a couple of elderly parishioners took it upon themselves to petition the Administrator (the same priest who, as pastor, had discontinued regularly scheduled confessions) for permission to install a grate in the wall between a closet and the Reconciliation Room, thereby turning the closet into a penitent’s box. One did the carpentry work and both petitioned the K of C to foot the bill. We now have a confessional again and we have a priest who’s willing to sit in it – even if nobody comes.

  55. Scott W. says:

    My wife, who passed away 3.5 years ago, was the most Christlike person that I have ever known, and she attended the ordinary form of the Mass since it came into use.

    Sorry for your loss. However, it is almost as if you are saying, “My OF-attending wife was Christlike, therefore there is absolutely nothing wrong with the OF”

  56. notenoughflair says:

    I recently happened to have the ear of a priest about to move to a very large parish in the heart of a downtown metropolitan area. He asked how he can get downtown workers in the door for the 12p Mass, and I suggested to him that he offer more confession times. As a former parishioner of that parish, I described an average confession experience: Confession was from 3:30p-4:15p before the 4:30p Anticipatory Mass in English. I would get there at 3:15p, only to be behind at least 10-12 people waiting for confessions to start. Because there was usually a wedding going on around that time on Saturday afternoons, confession would not start until sometimes closer to 3:45p. Because the lines were long before I even got there, I would end up spending close to an hour standing still on wood floors, getting progressively nervous as Mass time got closer and closer, and hoping I could get in before the Mass was about to start and the priests would have to leave the confession box. By the time I got into confession, I was sore, I was tired, I was anxious, and I usually had a few more sins to confess than when I originally got into the line.

    I explained to the good Father that at my current parish (FSSP), there is more opportunity for confession on a Tuesday than there is for his very-soon-to-be-new parish in an entire week. And there are probably ten times as many parishioners at his new parish. I explained that this is the case in many of the larger parishes in the area, that the opportunity for confessions is infrequent and awkwardly timed. I said, if you want to get downtown workers in the doors, offer confession every day before and during the 12p Mass. I can guarantee you that if you do, people will walk through that door. I sincerely pray that he can find ways to get people through those doors and to save the souls of those whom he has the opportunity to serve and shepherd.

  57. Ben Yanke says:

    solemncharge brings up a good point! As a matter of efficiency, let’s turn those horrid reconciliation rooms into closets, and bring back the confessionals! There’s much more space for the brooms and mops there.

  58. Mark Nel says:

    Our parish priest actually had a portable grate made that he could fit into his car. So when he goes, for example, to the old age home to hear confessions and give Holy Communion, he can set up the grate and still hear confessions without resorting to face to face, which would normally be necessary be in that circumstance.

    Another interesting point is that taking Holy Communion is rarely given to the Deacon to do. (We, thankfully, have no EMHC, no matter how many people attend Mass.) This is because the priest is firmly of the opinion that the Sacrament of Confession must be made available as frequently to those unable to attend Mass as Holy Communion otherwise it is simply neglected.

  59. Carolvoss says:

    Given the current climate of open season on priests, I think that any priest who hears a confession in someplace other than the church (presumably, with other people around,) is exercising pretty poor judgment. Obviously, all Catholics ought to be receiving this Sacrament frequently. However, a recent incident in my own diocese demonstrated that there are a lot of disturbed people out there. The long and short of it was that the priest was removed from his post after an allegation was made, and is now at the provincial house of his order. I strongly suspect that the allegation was made by a rather disturbed young woman, given what information was made public.

    I worked for quite some time in psychiatry, another place where confidentiality is sacrosanct, at least legally. No counselor would isolate themselves with a client. No how, no way, precisely because of allegations of conduct on the part of the counselor that just plain did not happen. For the life of me, I can’t understand why a priest would make himself available for off-schedule confessions in the rectory or the parish office. Wouldn’t it be a lot smarter to merely add more scheduled confession times, such as maybe one evening a week as well as the Saturday times, in the church, and at least have a sacristan or janitor in the building with him?

    My parish has a “reconciliation room,” with a portable screen and prie-dieu at one side, and a chair and card table on the other side. The pastor sits at the card table, which is at an angle to the screen/prie-dieu (a little difficult to explain, but the effect is that he is in profile to the screen.) Additionally, there is a half-hour for confessions set aside on Saturday afternoon. This is for a parish of 2,000 families. I don’t like it.

    Here’s an engineering thought for those parishes with glassed-in reconciliation rooms: What about having the plate glass replaced with obscure glass, or glass block? There would still be some translucency, but facial features would be obscured.

    So I stopped going to confession at my own church, and now make the trek downtown to the Jesuit-run church, where they have two priests hearing confession for an hour every day, real confession booths with real screens, lined with some kind of sound-absorbing material, and one booth even has headphones for the hard-of-hearing. The other side of that booth has a folding chair for those who physically can’t kneel. I fall into that latter group right now because of a back injury, and I’m delighted that I don’t have to resort to a “reconciliation room.” They don’t do the face-to-face thing. Say what one likes about them, but they certainly know how to do the Sacrament of Penance!

  60. Carolvoss says:

    Mea culpa. I forgot to mention this about the downtown parish: Word has gotten out about the great availability of anonymous confession daily through the diocese. Especially during Advent and Holy Week, and before First Fridays, if you got there precisely at the start of the confession times, you would think that the Fathers were giving away free lobster in those confessional booths, they’re so well-attended!