What Is Confession Time Really For?

I am ever more impressed with the quality of posts on Fr. Bill Baer’s blog.  He is a priest acquaintance of mine in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  I have posted about him before.

He has been talking about confession recently, which is a common theme here on this our blog as well.

Fr. Baer posted in his latest his explores the idea of two kinds of penitents, those who want "a quick sacramental “clean-up” before Mass, or a lengthy conversation in the Confessional afterwards".

He adds:

The pastor who has scheduled confessions after Mass may then wish to do two things: First, offer a simple explanation from the pulpit concerning the differences between confession, spiritual direction, and counseling, perhaps expressing a willingness to offer spiritual direction or counseling — or to refer parishioners to qualified Catholic spiritual directors or counselors — but at a different time and place than the Confessional. Second, the pastor may address these issues directly in the Confessional with a penitent who seems to want something more than, or different than, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This brings up good points for people who are waiting to get into a confessional. 

May I also direct you back to my 20 Tips for Making a Good Confession?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jack Hughes says:

    I have two ‘types’ of confesson for different priests.

    1) the quick sacramental clean-up before Mass at one of the local Churches where confession is avaliable everyday bar Sunday and where I don’t really know any of the three priests.

    2) the more than confession with the FSSP priest (Sunday) who hears confessions before, during and after Mass which means that we actually have time to drill into the root causes of my sin and actually come up with solutions which go deeper than ‘pray more and try not to do this again’.

  2. DavidJ says:

    I’ve been through some really good spiritual direction that’s involved the confessional; rarely has that been without an appointment, though, as that’s usually lengthy a lengthy process and is not considerate of others in line. It’s also helpful if that direction takes place outside of the context of the confessional as then it’s not bound by the seal.

  3. THREEHEARTS says:

    Let me tell you, if I may, about writing down one’s sins before making a confession. I was in correspondence with a woman who had not confessed her sins for a very long time. I had urged her by e mail to go. Here is her story. She spent a great deal of time looking at herself and at my urging wrote down three or four pages of her times as the Greeks say “missing the mark”. She tried to go to confession. Her local priest would not did not want to hear confessions. She tried another who lined up her, her children and a couple of others and said now tell me your sins. fat chance I would have said but she left. Finally I wrote to her local ordinary a cardinal and asked what kind of priesthood did he have in his parishes. A priest called her and she went to him. Now she wrote me and asked before hand what should happen to her list. I wrote back, burn them. She wrote back with an amazing answer. Just before her family were going out they lit the barbecue and threw the paper on it. It flared up 5 or six feet and they could not go out as it continued to burn for a long time. I thought better them than her.

  4. SuzieQ says:

    It’s hard to complain about a priests who take the time to hear Confessions, but when he can only get 3 people through in an hour and everyone coming through has to confess impatience… perhaps he should move things along a bit.

  5. lofstrr says:

    This is why it is also good to have more than one confessor available during scheduled confession times. I sure you still have to encourage people to get to the point but for those who just can’t seem to be quick, if you have two priests you have at least a fighting chance of once being able to continue to process the queue. Basic queueing theory.

    Question, I realize it doesn’t fall under the seal directly but how confidential are sins that are brought up during spiritual direction and counseling?

  6. moon1234 says:

    I, personally, think it is very rude to spend more than 5 minutes in the confessional before Mass (or before communion). People want to receive our Lord in the state of grace. This means as many people as possible need to be heard before Mass.

    If you have a need for spiritual direction, please go to confession and then speak with Father after Mass. That is being condsiderate of others souls AND it provides those seeking such direction a less time restricted venue for this direction.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to go to confession before Mass, but one person will spend 15-30 minutes in the confessional while 5-10 of us are waiting. Making your confession longer does not make it more penitent, it only prevents those who also need confession from getting to Father in a timely manner.

  7. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I hope it doesn’t sound uncharitable, but it drives me CRAZY when someone hogs the confessional. The lines are long and one could stand for an hour or two!

    Penitents can get chatty for sure – the old-school priest who is used to long lines can GENTLY ask the penitent to be more succinct ‘as there are others waiting’. The priest can also say “Call me and make an appointment if you need more time”. I have had this happen to me and I understand! The penitent can get absolution for the moment, but if real spiritual direction is needed, one-on-one is advised. There are also chatty priests who need better formation in this regard.

    Obviously there are exceptions, like the back-after-20-year scenario and the priest doesn’t dare let em go!

    I get the impression that folks think they need a conversation for the absolution to work. No, confess your sins with sorrow, the priest gives penance and absolution and you are free to go. You are absolved. That’s the power of the Sacrament.

    We are all supposed to have Spiritual Directors and the private sessions in which the priest gets to know you well so that he can direct you in context of your life, and help you discover your root cause of sins. So one-on-one sessions are laudable, just not when you’ve got 10 or 20 people waiting who have a day of chores, errands, and appointments.

    Perhaps we are influenced by the ‘therapy’ model? This idea is encouraged by that chair for face-to-face confession. On one’s knees, tensed up for confession – and 20 minutes seems a lot longer than when one is comfortably seated. …while everybody is outside standing and shifting from foot to foot. Psychoanalysis came into vogue after confession disappeared with the Reformation, because confession and needing advice is part of human nature. In the meantime, people seem to have forgotten the power of the Sacrament: it works without a therapy session!

  8. This ABSOLUTELY has to be addressed. I regularly witness folks consuming 10, 15, 20 minutes worth of a confessor’s time while a long line of others wait outside before Mass. And I hold priests responsible as well. They simply have to draw a line between Confession and direction/counseling. I have almost written on this topic several times, and I hope it is finally getting some attention. Bad practices here have deleterious effects on others trying to make proper and regular use of the sacrament.

  9. Patikins says:

    I’ve experienced both extremes. Our former pastor heard “drive through” confessions giving absolutely no words of wisdom, just absolution. I didn’t like that. On occasion I’ve had priests give lengthy (and unexpected) advice even though I didn’t prompt them for it. It’s not always the penitent’s fault when confession take more than a few minutes.

    This past Saturday I was privileged to receive absolution from our new parochial vicar. He gave a few words of advice before absolution. Even though it was brief I really appreciated it.

    Thanks to all the priests who hear our confessions!

  10. Sometimes it isn’t the penitent “hogging” the confessional. Believe me, I’ve been there, desperate to escape before Mass started…

  11. LaudemGloriae says:

    I’ve often wished we had an *express lane for confessions, 5 mins or less”.

    I wouldn’t dare go to confession without a written list. And while I used to bring 5-10 page written statements of my sins and sorrow, (which I rattled off very fast! and still got out in under 5 min) at some point I realized this was pride. It is not relevant for father to understand me or why I did what I did or for me to enumerate every detail. Name and number. If father wants to know more he will ask.

  12. raitchi2 says:

    Priests need to learn how to tell a penitent when something needs to be addressed outside of the confessional. I’ve been in line for confession waiting a half hour for a single penitent. I hate having to confess that I lost my patients while in line for confession.

  13. Random Friar says:

    @lofstr: Question: I realize it doesn’t fall under the seal directly but how confidential are sins that are brought up during spiritual direction and counseling?

    This is why, if I think *at all* that any sins may be mentioned, I try to insert an “In the name of the Father…” and have my purple stole on, even for spiritual direction. I believe throughout the United States we are mandated reporters for the same certain cases, and spiritual direction is NOT directly covered, unless the Sacrament of Confession is invoked within that context. At least that’s been the legal advice I’ve gotten. And this is true *even* if the sin was confessed before, and then brought up again in spiritual direction. It is NOT covered. If you want to make sure it is under the seal, say something like, “Father, I need to confess and get a little advice/counseling…”

    So what’s a priest to do? If I find someone who starts, “Father, I did something I’m not proud of…” or in like manner, I say, “Ok, then let us begin in the name of the Father… Now tell me what happened.”

    As for “hogging” the Confessional, yes, sometimes we priests are long-winded. Sometimes it’s a soul that’s been a long time away. Sometimes it’s a scrupulous person that can’t psychologically accept pardon. Folks from some cultures tend to get at serious sin in a manner in which they feel the entire backstory is necessary (and sometimes it is, but it’s hard to decypher that in the middle of the situation). I’ve gotten impatient as well, especially when I’ve been the one in line. Anger and impatience do tend to rise from my temperament, and then I remember what it’s like inside again. If someone makes it impossible for you to confess, make a spiritual Communion, and then ask Father after Mass, or head down to the next parish.

  14. Girgadis says:

    Just a hunch, but I suspect one reason why some people hog the confessional is because they have to offer a rationale for their sins. Instead of just stating their offenses and the frequency, they have to give an explanation of why they missed Mass, took the Lord’s name in vain, etc. God forbid we should take the blame for something we didn’t really do, right? At any rate, anything truly of value in life is worth waiting for, so I think we have to guard against impatience and look upon the waiting and anxiety as a small price to pay for so great a gift.

    I never mind a priest taking his time in the confessional, but I feel obligated to let him know if a long line is waiting for him ( I have no idea what priests are able to see from inside the confessional and whether they can tell they have people waiting or not) I will say something like “Father, I really appreciate your time, but I don’t know if you’re aware there are 5 people in line behind me and Mass is scheduled to begin in 5 minutes. I don’t want to make you late.”

    Once, while waiting in a long line at a shrine where the confessional is a room with a door, my fellow penitents and I became alarmed when the person inside did not emerge after 30 minutes and then we could hear shouting and a few loud bangs, like someone was hitting the wall. One of the gentlemen waiting with me opened the door to rescue the poor priest, who was a captive audience for a very psychotic person with a history of mental illness and harassment of priests. I told Father next time he should flash the red “occupied” light continuously to alert people of a problem, and he joked that he’d rather have an ejection seat.

  15. Mike says:

    True story: A US soldier in Iraq sees a Catholic army chaplain, asks to go to confession. Priest says sure. They walk, the soldier confesses, they walk back, talking…we’re you from? the soldier says Maryland…went to a Catholic school…the priest, on first guess…names the school. How did you know, asks the soldier/penitent? I could tell by your confession–short, and to the point. The Chaplain told him how he knew our school, alum, and school chaplains very well. Indeed.

    Personally, I like the screen for quick, three minute confessions; I prefer to confess in the chaplain’s office w/o a screen when I need spiritual direction that might take a little time.

  16. Random Friar says:

    @Girgardis: With respect to knowing how many people are outside most confessionals, we’re kind of like truckers and their warning signs: “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” A “heads-up” like you mentioned is a great kindness.

  17. Elly says:

    Random Friar- If confession is going to be used in the course of spiritual direction, wouldn’t it have to take place in a confessional? Also, would the person then have to confess at that time any other unconfessed mortal sins too?


  18. Random Friar says:

    @Elly: No, it doesn’t have to, anymore than Confession has to necessarily be in a confessional (although I agree with most here that it generally *should* be in the confessional). Spiritual direction tends to take place in the director’s office, in a more comfortable setting since it’s not a confession only, or even mostly a confession. It’s more of an informal talk or direction or directed prayer.

    If individual confession takes place in any form, including spiritual direction (save danger of death — general absolution), then yes, the person must confess any unconfessed mortal sins.

  19. Elly says:

    Interesting. Thanks for the information.


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