Fr. Selvester on confessions on Good Friday: a response


Fr. Guy Selvester, a blogger I respect who often comments here, I am glad to say, has taken WDTPRS and others to task for supporting the hearing of confessions on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

He states acknowledges that it is not forbidden receive during the Triduum, but he says it is a bad idea to hear confessions during the Triduum.

I think it is a good idea to hear confessions during the Triduum, when it is reasonable to do so.

Let’s look at a couple excerpts of what Fr. Selvester wrote.  I will add my own emphases and comments as usual.  I do so with great respect.


Now that Holy Week is over and we are enjoying the happy days of Easter it is a time to look back over Holy Week and how it went. In my parish we always have a post-Holy Week meeting to go over the good and bad points and make suggestions on possible improvement for next year. [Good idea!]

One of the things that I note with keen interest is that fact that this year there were no confessions heard by the Pope on Good Friday as there had been in the past. This was something discussed quite a bit on the blogosphere prior to Holy Week. Many commentators made a point of underscoring [correctly] that it is a myth that confessions are forbidden during the Triduum. They went on to make the point that they thought it was most fitting to have confessions on Good Friday or Holy Saturday and as proof of the "correctness" of this practice they pointed out that even the Pope hears confessions on Good Friday thus giving good example to the Church.

But, Pope Benedict didn’t hear confessions on Good Friday.
Those who made bold predictions that it definitely would happen were wrong. It was Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, who used to do that. Instead, Pope Benedict held a Penance Service in the week prior to Holy Week and heard confessions at that time.  [What just happened here.  Fr. Selvester points out that the Holy Father did not hear confessions on Good Friday.  I think we have to ask, "So what?"  First, this doesn’t change the fact that it is not forbidden to hear confessions during the Triduum.  It doesn’t change the fact that Pope John Paul II did hear confessions on Good Friday.  So, if Father is using the non-example of Pope Benedict in support of not hearing confession during the Triduum, we must respond.  First, the adage is tacere est consentire: if Benedict did not do something or say something you cannot use his silence or non-action against hearing confessions in the Triduum (which remains lawful).  Also, Father has pitted Benedict XVI against John Paul II.  I prefer a to see a greater continuity, rather than a rupture.  Third, and this must be taken into consideration, it shouldn’t suprise anyone that an octogenarian might not, during the Triduum, choose to add something else to his already draining schedule on one of the busiest days of the year.  When Pope John Paul was too weak to do certain things, was he changing his practice in a prescriptive way?]

Now, when I pointed out to some of my esteemed colleagues in the blogosphere that the Bishops’ Conference of my country, while not forbidding confessions in Holy Week or even during the Triduum, strongly discourages them one priest went so far as to say that priests should feel free to ignore such a teaching! Funny how those among us who are normally rather traditional suddenly feel no compunction whatsoever towards being blatantly disobedient when something comes along with which we don’t agree, isn’t it? [ … "blatant disobedience" … I find this statement to be over the top.  First, it is sad that any conference of bishops would ever suggest that there are times when priests should avoid hearing confessions.  When did "discourages" come to equal "forbids"?  It sounds like "discourage" is to offer "advice", express a preference, rather than make a "command".  I am also not sure how "thanks for the advice, but I will do differently" becomes "disobedience".  Perhaps the way priests in that country understand how they are to interact with that particular episcopal conference has its own nuances that I don’t understand.]

In addition, many many people love to point out that there are all sorts of changes happening at the Vatican these days under Pope Benedict that are showing a distinctly different style from the way things were done under John Paul II. So, in churches all over the world priests were quick to put six candles on the altar and a crucifix in the center because, "That’s they way they’re doing it at the Vatican now". But, when Pope Benedict changes the practice of his Venerable predecessor concerning confessions on Good Friday they just ignore that and point out that John Paul’s practice was better.  [Here is the argument: because the Pope chose not to hear confessions on Good Friday, neither should other priests.  This must be the "monkey see monkey don’t" approach to the celebration of sacraments.  Here is the problem.  Rearranging the altar with a Crucifix, etc., strikes me as an act of expansion, or enlarging, or making sacrament life and worship larger and richer.  It is also perfectly lawful, even before the Pope did it.  But saying that you shouldn’t hear confessions on Good Friday, which is lawful, seeks to make the sacramental life of the Church smaller.  And I can’t get my head around taking such an inflexible position about this.  Can individual priests not exercise freedom and prudence?  The Church says priests can hear confessions during the Triduum.  It may or may not be good to do so, depending on the circumstances.  In most cases, it probably is a good idea.  What is hard about this?]


Pope Benedict gave us all a very good example this year regarding what to do about confessions as we approach Holy Week: leave them out. [Again: despite the disclaimer above, he essentially is pitting Benedict XVI against John Paul II.] Have a Penance Service prior to Holy Week [A very good idea!  If you can greatly reduce the number of potential "latecomers", wonderful!] so that the Sacred Triduum, which is really one three-day liturgy, can occur uninterupted as it should be. ["Sorry… I am Triduuming right now… can’t hear your confession…so sorry… must stay focused… "] What a pity that everyone ["everyone"?] who is happy to jump on board and support the Pope’s example in so many other liturgical areas simply glossed over this one because it didn’t suit their personal tastes or piety. [HUH? "everyone" has "glossed over" this issue?  Pretty unfair, I think.  This is pretty much an accusation of shallowness.] Careful now: [I should say so!] that’s starting to smack of the kind of thing the so-called "progressives" are accused of all the time.  [Father’s critique now smacks of what most progressivists critics of Pope Benedict and more traditional Catholics do when they attack Summorum Pontificum.  They infer that when they make choices, even legitimate one, they are simply acting on their own personal "taste", as if they don’t have legitimate motives for their choices.  I think I don’t like that implication very much.]

Confessions may not be forbidden [right] in the Triduum but it is decidedly NOT a good idea to have them there. [That is an opinion.  And it may be the correct one too … in Fr. Selvester’s parish!  Is it therefore a bad idea everywhere?  Hardly.] It seems obvious from his own practices that the Pope goes along with that line of thinking. [Now that is an impossible stretch!] And as one of my professors in the seminary used to say, "If it is good enough for the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church and the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth…it should be good enough for you too."

A couple points.

Fr. Selvester is saying that some people are defending their choices and changes by picking and choosing what they like about Pope Benedict’s choices.  Okay, so far so good.  However, in his examination of the

Father must administer to his parish in the best way determines, always within the law.  It is possible to hear confessions during the Triduum.  If he doesn’t want to do that, fine.  That doesn’t mean no one else should.

Also, the idea that just because Pope Benedict didn’t hear confession on Good Friday that means no one should hear confessions on Good Friday is fraught with problems.  First, the Pope is an old man in a terribly difficult office.  Father’s argument doesn’t take into consideration the simplest explanation: he is prudently husbanding his reserves of energy.  It is clear that Pope Benedict has been doing so all along.  He has significantly reduced his number of public appearances and private audiences and trips.  Whatever other reasons he might have had not to hear confessions on Good Friday, let’s not ignore the simplest.
Lastly, I think Father’s argument falls into the trap of pitting one Pope against another.  That doesn’t seem fair.  Even in the matter of old men being careful with their schedules: Pope John Paul wasn’t to careful and this Pope is.  So what?  Either way it was for both of them a legitimate choice… just as hearing confessions during the Triduum is a legitimate choice, depending on the circumstances. I will not have the combox on for this, for obvious reasons. 

If people want to send me comments, I will look at them and perhaps post them. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.

One Comment

  1. Some readers sent their comments. Here are a few, edited.

    Here is one reader’s take:

    His argument would appear to suggest that my parish priest should follow Pope Benedict in being seen to be available for confessions only once a year.

    Yep, that is a good point.


    Reading your analysis of of Fr. Selvester’s article brought to mind a previous blog post your yours in which the Confession was approved and even recommended during mass. Since the chief point of Fr. Selvester’s argument is that the Triduum is “really one three-day liturgy” this recent pronouncement would seem to answer the question about confessions in the affirmative. Though personally, I wonder how anyone could think there would ever be a time when people don’t need confession, unless the entire population could miraculously cease to sin during the Triduum. I was certainly blessed to go last Easter Sunday.


    It might help to clarify the controversy over Good Friday confessions with reference to our Lord’s dialogue with the Penitent Thief whose feast you noted the other day. Here is the classic confession (and absolution) on the first Good Friday. Those who wish to discourage the practice have to rewrite Lk 23:43 to read something like: ‘Truly I say to you, I have more important things to do at the moment’! Just a thought.


    Let’s say that a penitent comes to his local parish for absolution before Easter. He has fallen away from the Church, but wishes to return to the Sacraments, especially given that Easter Sunday is at hand. Is Father Sylvester suggesting that a priest /should/ turn away this penitent during the Triduum and that the penitent, who may have a mortal sin on his conscience, should therefore skip Communion on Easter Sunday, a holy day where the reception of Communion is required? Is that a very pastoral thing to do? After all, Jesus ate with the unclean and ‘worked’ during the Sabbath…


    My pastor and i (the vicar) decided to continue our parish tradition of hearing confessions on Good Friday. All in all, we heard confessions for around four-plus hours straight, from around 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It was an amazing day, because even though there were other events going on (Seven Last Words, Divine Mercy Novena, etc.), we priests were sitting in the confessional, hearing confessions. I was humbled by the experience, witnessing many many people who haven’t been to confession in years coming back to the sacrament. I definitely see Good Friday as one of those _key days_ in which the Sacrament of Mercy should be as available as possible. Sure, Holy Week and the Triduum are quite busy for parish priests – especially in the Inner City – but the availability of Confessions during this time is also one of the most valuable gifts we can offer the People of God in preparation for Easter.


    The question of confessions during the Triduum affected me personally this year. In spite of my genuine efforts to prepare well for Easter, I stupidly committed a serious sin on the Wednesday of Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday I telephoned my parish priest (my usual confessor) asking if it was possible to go to Confession. He told me that the bishop had prohibited Confessions during the Triduum and that it wasn’t possible. He seemed annoyed with me for asking to go to Confession. He was, in fact, quite rude.

    I accept that, generally speaking, it is preferable to go to Confession before the Triduum (I had been the previous Friday), and I recognise that many priests have an exceptional schedule during the Triduum and it might be difficult for them to hear Confessions. However, an absolute prohibition on Confessions during the Triduum strikes me as quite obscene. According to the Diary of St Faustina, Jesus requested the novena for Divine Mercy to begin on Good Friday. How absurd it is, then, for Jesus to be promoting his mercy at this time, yet for priests or bishops to refuse penitient sinners access to his mercy in the Sacrament of Penance.

    And this:

    If a man had a sheep & it fell into a ravine during the Triduum, what would he do?

Comments are closed.