ASK FATHER: CONFESSIONAL DRAMA! Penitent says, “Bless me, Father” and actually wants a blessing!

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

One of our wonderful [traditional order/institute] priests this Sunday mentioned – prior to his sermon – that he was surprised that so many of us were not correctly following the ritual of Confession.

He said that many begin with “Bless me, Father for I have sinned…” and then just go right into listing their sins. He said if we are asking for a blessing then we should stop and wait for him to bless us and then to proceed.

He said if you simply say, “Forgive me, Father…” and then go on that would be fine. But he said don’t ask for a blessing and not wait for it [O! the HUMANITY!]

He actually seemed to be perturbed by this.

I have never ever heard that I should wait to be blessed and then proceed with my confession. I asked a couple of other parishioners and they had never heard of it either. [For good reason.]

Of course that may simply underscore Father’s admonition – that we need some catechesis.

Should we wait for a blessing before continuing with our confession?

Hmmmm… perhaps Father is young.

I see two scenarios…

I can picture it now.

The penitent literally wants a blessing before beginning and says “Bless me, Father!” and then stops, waiting for the blessing.  Meanwhile, the inflexible priest, ordained now all of a couple months, grits his teeth on the other side of the grate and does … nothing.  They remain there in the dark, in obstinate silence, each unwilling to blink.   Minutes pass.  A quarter hour.  A half hour.  The line, outside, knows exactly what’s going on.  Someone leans forward to the next guy ahead and says, “I’ll bet she asked for a blessing.”  The other penitents, nearby, sag a little and look at the floor shaking their heads in commiseration. A confessional Mexican standoff!

Or else…

The penitent kneels down and says, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been four….”

“HEY! WAIT” says the priest, “Stop!”

“…weeks since my last confession.  These are my….”

“NO! Wait a minute! You asked for a blessing and, by God, you are going to get one whether…”

“… sins.  I lied three times.  I kicked my dog twice.   In a fit of picque I stabbed my…”

Benedictio Dei omnipotenti, Patris et …. HEY HANG ON!  SHHHHH!…. I’m trying to…”

“… husband in the left shoulder with a carving knife.  I’m really sorry about that too.  I was aiming for the right…”

“Would you STOP IT?  I trying to give you the damn blessing you wa…”

“… because there was this big spider, see? The last time one of those critters bite him it was, like, all anti… anti… antipathetic – is that the word? –  shock and all the swelling and choking.  So, I.. I guess I did a bad…”

“…Patris… PATRIS!…. ET FILII….”

“…thing.  Maybe that wasn’t a mortal sin. Father?  What do you think?”

“…. DESCENDAT … no…. SPIRITUS… grrrrrr….”

“Father?  Are you okay?”

I have several reactions to this.

First, Father should zip it when it comes to this.

We all agree that we should understand what we are doing as Catholics, especially important things like going to confession.  We should be careful, think about what we do and say when, for example, we genuflect on entering pews, make the sign of the Cross, say our prayers… ask for a blessing….

But…

“Sheesh”, as we say.

I suspect that most people say, “Bless me, Father…”, as something they learned as a child from Sr. Mary Opportuna back at St. Fidelia’s School back in Blackduck.  I’d do a poll on this, but my poll plug in is STILL BROKEN and my guy is ignoring me.  In anglophone regions, I think most people will say “Bless me” or “Forgive me”.  Either way of beginning is fine.

In “Bless me” Mode: Think about it.  You are about to make a confession.  You ask for the priest’s blessing to help you to do well and to keep off the Enemy of the soul.   Later on, after you have confessed your sins, you explicitly ask for penance and absolution along the lines of, “For these and all the sins I cannot now remember, I ask a penance and absolution.”   So, you wind up saying “forgive me” in some way.  Right?

In “Forgive me” Mode: Think about it.  You are about to make your confession.  You make your confession and get absolution.  You say “forgive me” in some way … again.

If the penitent has gotten into the confessional, isn’t it the usual expectation that she is there to be forgiven?

There’s nothing wrong with asking for a blessing.  At the same time… you Blessing Wait-ers don’t have to wait for it either.  Father can give you a blessing as you move ahead into saying how long it has been since your last confession.

How about some give and take, here?

Yet another scenario….

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been four….”

[On the other side of the screen, Father silently raises his hand, gives a blessing, and keeps listening.]

“…weeks since my last confession.  These are my….”

[Or, if there is a pause, Father says, “God bless you as you make your confession.]

Not as bloggable, I guess. But it does save time.

Father doesn’t have to go through the whole, “Benedictio Dei omnipotentis… descendat super te…” while you wait.

ASIDE: I would be curious to know if this same priest starts the Formula of Absolution while the penitents are still reciting their Act of Contrition.   After all, if we are being literalists, we are not to delay absolution once the penitent has expressed adequate sorrow.  The classic Act of Contrition said in most places starts with an expression of attrition, which is sufficient, if not as perfect as contrition.  Hence, he should start the absolution during the Act of Contrition.

Orrrrrr …. he can wait for the penitent to finish.  Either way.

As I was ranting… a penitent says, “Bless me, Father…” and I bless him, pause or not.  What’s the big deal?

Understand.  There should be a good, solid routine for making a confession, so that it is orderly and comfortable.  This is especially important for children (and Father too, apparently).

However, while we are being orderly, we don’t have to be rigid or force people into only one groove.

If they want to say “Bless me” or “Forgive me” at the beginning, so what?

If they wait for the blessing… or not… big deal.

If at the end they say, “For these and all my sins, etc.”, as I do, or if, as some people from some ethnic backgrounds or formation say “My Jesus, mercy” to indicate that they are done confessing, or if they say, “That’s it, Father!”, you go forward.

As a matter of fact… at the beginning of a confession you don’t have to be in either “Bless me” or “Forgive me” Mode.  You can just start bluntly by saying, “It has been [X] since my last confession.”

The essentials are:

  • how long it has been since your last confession
  • (your state in life is really helpful)
  • all your mortal sins in kind and number with any important circumstances (like spiders)
  • an adequate expression of sorrow
  • an expression of intention of amendment of life

So, you priests out there who would surely rail against sloppy, or non-traditional “McPenance”, but who nevertheless demand that penitents be just so, as if this were Burger King, please do us all a favor and unclench.

I am not for confessional anarchy.  However, pull out the cork and let some pressure out.  Going to confession is hard enough for most people.

Finally, everyone, review my

20 Tips For Making A Good Confession

And, having examined your conscience…

GO TO CONFESSION!

If Father sighs heavily when you say “Bless me, Father!”, just smile and get on with it without waiting in obstinate silence.

Please share!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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13 Responses to ASK FATHER: CONFESSIONAL DRAMA! Penitent says, “Bless me, Father” and actually wants a blessing!

  1. oldCatholigirl says:

    I like to start out as I was taught in childhood 70 years ago: “Bless me, Father, I have sinned; it is __ weeks since my last Confession; the sins I have committed are….” It gets me past speaker’s block, or whatever that blank dumbness is called. I never thought of actually waiting for a Blessing. I guess I just have been assuming he would bless me tacitly or generally or something. I’m not just talking by rote, either. When the priests begins with an oral Blessing as he opens the screen (as they often do), I just say “Thank you, Father, I have sinned….” I guess I’d be OK if he interrupted me to add a Blessing. (I just love young, enthusiastic priests & can put up with curmudgeonly old ones, too.) As long as he includes the basics–some sort of penance & an audible absolution (any language), I’m cool. I’m just so grateful to him for being there.

  2. youngcatholicgirl says:

    Father, that was one of the most hilarious thing I may have ever read!
    Also… I know some priests start with the sign of the Cross before the penitent says anything (I’ve gone to some that do and some that don’t); in that case, isn’t the penitent already blessed?

  3. richiedel says:

    This reminds me of once when I said the act of contrition, the priest stopped the celebration of the sacrament to point out that I was saying I was “hardly” sorry for having offended God.

    (“Heartily” pronounced correctly, sounds like “hardly” with an extra schwa syllable following the “d”, get it?)

    He and I knew that that’s not what I was saying, but the moment would have been much more awkward for me were I to have tried to correct him.

    Since then, I have incorrectly been pronouncing “heartily” with and extra /t/ sound in there where the “t” is, and somewhat of a short /i/ sound in there instead of the schwa, just to be sure I don’t run into this problem again.

  4. APX says:

    I always just presumed the priest blessed the penitent silent and without commotion, as you stated you do. We had one priest from the FSSP who would bless the penitent as he or she entered the confessional (I always heard him muttering something in Latin as I walked in so I asked what he was muttering once).

  5. Josephus Corvus says:

    I always start with the “Bless me…” without the wait, but after reading this post, I decided to check a source. I pulled out my late-father’s “The Catholic’s Manual” from The Geo. F. Zander Company with a copyright and imprimatur of 1924 (before my dad was even born). It says:

    Then, making the sign of the Cross, say, Bless me, Father for I have sinned. After the Priest has given the blessing, say the Confiteor, as far as the words “Through my most grievous fault.” (When there are many penitents waiting for confession, the Confiteor should be said before entering the confessional).

    Just thought that was interesting. It’s actually written (in a “manual”?) and not just from Sr. Mary Opportuna.

  6. JonPatrick says:

    Here in our parish we are having “the light is on for you” this week with extra confession times. Yesterday there was confession at our local church that recently became part of a larger parish and is served by that parishes’ priests. When Father came in before confession was about to start, he found that the “reconciliation room” was full of junk and obviously hadn’t been used for a while, so he and the sacristan emptied it out and set up chairs. I did the usual form, I don’t recall if Father said a blessing if so it wasn’t out loud. I have to say I felt a great deal of peace after making my confession as I had a couple of sins that had been on my mind. It was also nice to see confession come back to a church where perhaps people hadn’t availed themselves of the sacrament for a while.

  7. Imrahil says:

    I never was really taught about “how to make a Confession”… and it seems not the usual practice here to say an act of Contrition.

    In any case, I wait for the priest to begin, and after the Amen it’s like

    “I am x years old and [profession], my last Confession was […]”. I suppose I should add “unmarried” but I always forget about it. Then: “I confess my sins.” The more standard formula I’ve heard of, which I mostly forget to say as well, would be “In humility and repentance do I confess my sins”. Then the sins, and then: “These were the sins I remember from my [if necessary: albeit brief] examination of conscience; I wish to include all the others and pray to God, with humility and repentance, for forgiveness.” I might leave the humility out but not the repentance (after all, one does have to express contrition in Confession).

  8. grumpyoldCatholic says:

    The church I go to has a couple of laminated sheets with instructions on how to go to confession. They are right in the front where the bulletins are. I think they are old school ( pre Vatican II ). They begin with Bless me Father for I have sinned, which is the way I was taught in Catholic grade school. The priest starts a blessing before I kneel down and is ready for me when I start.. I guess since Vatican II there has been many changes. Maybe that’s why there is confusion. I once remember going to a communal penance service? Do those things still exist? Please tell me they don’t

  9. Pingback: POLL: Starting your confession: “Bless me, Father…” or “Forgive me, Father…” | Fr. Z's Blog

  10. gracie says:

    The last time I went to Confession with my recently removed not missed pastor he said – as I knelt down and before I could open my mouth – “So, what are your sins?” I was tempted to say, “No, no, you go first”. How else to respond to a non-sacred, non-sacramental attitude? He was obviously impatient to get it over with so he could get out of there. I started with “Bless me Father” anyway and spent the entire time while confessing thinking what a jerk he was – great attitude to have in the confessional, right? – doubt he heard anything I said so it was probably a wash.

  11. Fr_Andrew says:

    Being frequently on the receiving end of the box, my usual procedure is to (when I hear someone enter) give the traditional blessing: “Dominus sit in corde …” It has the advantage of letting the person know that the priest is there and listening.

    I have two principles that may seem contradictory, but I think can be harmonized :

    1. A penitent should say what is necessary so they are able to be open and clear to the priest and confess all necessary matter, and whatever additional matter or concerns, thus making their confession as fruitful as possible,

    2. The penitent should be as brief as possible so that the priest can get as many people the sacrament as possible.

    The harmony between these is Charity and Prudence. If you’re the only one, say whatever you need. If you’re not, keep it short and sweet.

    Most troubling to me is when that pious lady (or man) comes, who confessed last week and clearly never really does much of an examination of conscience, repeats the same laundry list of generic sins each week, but also goes through a 30 second introduction mentioning how she’s offended the Sacred Heart and is making her confession in reparation for blasphemies against St. Denis’ head, St. Peter’s fingernail, etc., finishing that formulaic, invariable laundry list, naming more of her dead husband’s past sins than her own, and ends with another 30 second conclusion that could be straight out of a Jansenetic Liturgical Preface.

    Thus, six minutes later, we’re wondering if there’s sufficient matter, or worse if there’s even any serious contrition, since the whole thing is an invariable formula. Even so, now the guy ten people behind her who fell into grave sin last night and is trying desperately to overcome a sinful habit and needs confession now won’t be able to confess and receive.

    It’s a made-up case, but not far from the truth.

    The confessional is a spiritual physician’s office. Just like the doctor has to see lots of patients, so the priest. It’s only Charity toward the others to take only what time is truly needed for treatment and to get your prescription.

    Thus, while I never cut anyone off, nor express any anger, I do try to teach people that the best formula for your confessions is as short and to the point as you can make it. Name the specific sin clearly (e,g, not “impure actions” but tell what you did, the priest won’t be shocked or scandalized if its matter-of-fact and not descriptive) and if mortal, name the frequency. Mention if it’s a habit. Don’t mention temptations, but real sins, unless you make very clear what you means. Answer any questions. Receive the penance and verbally accept it. Make your act of contrition. Do your penance. Make resolutions on how to avoid these sins again. Then afterward make a serious thanksgiving.

    It’s in that thanksgiving and the preparation for a confession that you can express that great devotion toward St. Cloud’s left armband.

  12. Matt R says:

    The blessing is not universal. Germans use the sign of the cross. Hispanics often invoke Our Lady. But when it is done, the blessing is simply on the blessing of the deacon. “Dominus sit in corde tuo et in labiis tuis,” but that one might make a worthy confession.

  13. John UK says:

    Whatever happened to the following? (from Ordo Administrandi Sacramenti et alia Quaedam Officia Peragendi ex Rituali Roman Extractus nonnullis adiectis ex antiquo Rituali Anglicano (London, Burns & Oates, 1915), pp.66-67)
    Caput II. ORDO MINISTRANDI SACRAMENTUM PÆNITENTIÆ . . .

    13. Si vero Confessarius, pro personarum qualitate, congnoverit pænitentem ignorare christianæ fidei rudimenta, si tempus supperat, eum breviter instruat de articulis Fidei, et aliis as salutem cognitu necessariis, et ignorantiam eius corripiat, illumque admoneat, ut ea postmodum diligentius addiscat.
    [Antequam pænitensa peccata sua confiteatur, petat a Sacerdote benedictionem; [Before the penitent confesses his sins, he asks a blessing from the priest;]quam his vel similibus verbis impertiri poterit:

    Dominus sit in corde tuo, et in labiis tuis, ut vere et humiliter confitearis peccata tua, in nomine Patris +, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen
    ]
    14.Tunc pænitens Confessionem generalem latina, vel vulgari lingus dicat: scilicet
    Confiteoretc., vel saltem utatatur his verbis: . . . .

    (My bold, which translates as :
    “The Lord be upon thy heart and thy lips, that thou mayest truly and humbly confess thy sins, in the name of the Father+, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”) [Which is what the priest would say, not the penitent.]