QUAERITUR: confession during Mass, not just before

In a comment under another entry, a reader asked:

I have been told by some older folks that this was a very common practice at all Masses in years past. Is this no longer allowed in the NO Mass? Did it die out from lack of Priests to be able to both celebrate Mass and hear confessions at the same time?

The shortage of priests is certainly a factor.  But so was some screwy theology.  First, there were/are a lot of priests/bishops (now of a certain age) who just don’t like to hear confessions, either because they don’t really believe in hell or mortal sin, or think that it is so rare that virtually no one commits them, or they are lazy, or they are … whatever.   Second, there was an idea that when Mass is going on then confessions were forbidden, that nothing else could go on, that there was somehow a cosmic conflict between the sacraments.  I think there is something of the same goofy idea in the heads of priests who insist that the only Hosts consecrated at this Mass can be distributed at this Mass, or that you can’t have the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary, blah blah blah.

But, confession can be head during Mass.  As a matter of fact, given the disastrous situation with the sacrament of penance in most places they should be heard during Mass it there are priests around.

Here is the documentation translated from Latin found in Notitiae 37 (2001 – no. 419-420) pp. 259-260 with my emphases and comments:

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (October 2001)

What are the dispositions governing the time for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance? For example, can the faithful have recourse to the sacrament of Penance during Mass?

The principal norms governing the time for the celebration of the sacrament of Penance are to be found in the Instruction Eucharisticum mysterium (25 May 1967), which states: The faithful are to be constantly encouraged to accustom themselves to going to confession outside [And this is very good. People should ideally be focused on the sacred action of Holy Mass when they are at Holy Mass. Also, special effort must be made to see to one’s own spiritual welface. Moreover, depending on the way it is handled, hearing confessions during Mass might be distracting to some other people.] the celebration of Mass, and especially at the prescribed times. [This is close to one of my 20 Tips! #3] In this way, the sacrament of Penance will be administered calmly and with genuine profit, and will not interfere with active participation inthe Mass (no. 35). The same is reiterated in the Praenotanda of the Ordo Paenitentiae (no. 13), which states that: the reconciliation of penitents can be celebrated at any time and day. [Remember those people who claimed confessions couldn’t be heard during the Sacred Triduum?]

Nevertheless this ought to be understood as a counsel [Not an imperative, that is, that confessions should be heard at scheduled times rather than during Mass.] directed to the pastoral care of the faithful, who ought to be encouraged and helped to seek health of soul in the sacrament of Penance, and have recourse to it, as far as possible outside the place and time of the celebration of Mass. On the other hand, [Here we go…] this does not in any way prohibit priests, except the one who is celebrating Mass, from hearing confessions of the faithful who so desire, including during the celebration of Mass. [There it is, ladies and gentlemen.] Above all nowadays, when the ecclesial significance of sin and the sacrament of Penance is obscured in many people, and the desire to receive the sacrament of Penance has diminished markedly, pastors ought to do all in their power to foster frequent participation by the faithful in this sacrament. [In other words… this sacrament, and the awareness among the faithful of its importance, is really in danger.] Hence canon 986.1 of the Code of Canon law states: All to whom by virtue of office the care of souls is committed,are bound to provide for the hearing of the confessions of the faithful entrusted to them, who reasonably request confession, and they are to provide these faithful with an opportunity to make individual confession on days and at times arranged to suit them.

The celebration of the sacrament of Penance is indeed one of the ministries proper to priests. The Christian faithful, on the one hand, are not only obliged to confess their sins (cf. can. 989), but on the other hand are fully entitled to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments (can. 213).

Consequently, it is clearly lawful, even during the celebration of Mass, to hear confessions when one foresees that the faithful are going to ask for this ministry. In the case of concelebrations, it is earnestly to be desired that some priests would abstain from concelebrating [One a side note about concelebration, which ought to be safe, legal and rare… there are some priests who are nearly obsessed with concelebration. They nearly impose it on other priests, in violation of their rights or judge priests badly if they choose (as is their right) not to concelebrate. This happens quite often, as a matter of fact, and in surprising quaters. Still, I like this advice from the CDW: confession is very important – perhaps some men could hear confessions instead of concelebrating!] so as to be available to attend to the faithful who wish to receive the sacrament of Penance. It should be borne in mind, nevertheless, that it is not permitted to unite the sacrament of Penance with the Mass, making of them both a single liturgical celebration [This is done in the Novus Ordo sometimes with baptisms, for example, or even celebrations of liturgical hours such as vespers.].

Furthermore, in Redemptionis Sacramentum 76 we read:

Furthermore, according to a most ancient tradition of the Roman Church, it is not permissible to unite the Sacrament of Penance to the Mass in such a way that they become a single liturgical celebration. This does not exclude, however, that Priests other than those celebrating or concelebrating the Mass might hear the confessions of the faithful who so desire, even in the same place where Mass is being celebrated, in order to meet the needs of those faithful. This should nevertheless be done in an appropriate manner.

Cf. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter (Motu Proprio), Misericordia Dei, 7 April 2002, n. 2: AAS 94 (2002) p. 455; Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Response to Dubium: Notitiae 37 (2001) pp. 259-260.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Unrelated but I Confess is an awesome movie.

  2. wolfeken says:

    A practice that works very well is for priests not offering the respective Mass to hear confessions until the Sanctus bells of said Mass. Then the priest leaves the confessional, rests for a few moments, and changes the violet stole to the color of the day if it’s not violet. Then he distributes Communion at the Mass being offered.

    It means having to tape Meet the Press, but those are the breaks.

  3. pfreddys says:

    I had to chuckle and I like how they felt it necessary to point out ……not in any way prohibit priests, “except the one who is celebrating Mass”{!!!}, from hearing confessions of the faithful …
    How clumsy could that be!!!!

  4. raitchi2 says:

    There is an issue of how all those concelebrating priests would get stipends if they are only hearing confessions. There isn’t anyway to count a stipend unless you celebrate or concelebrate.

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    raitchi2, I assume you’re joking. That you don’t think that any priest would actually be so crass (or worse) as to accept a stipend for a Mass that he merely concelebrates. (I think of this not as a matter of doctrine or canon law, but simply a matter of common decency. A “have you no shame” kind of thing.)

  6. tianzhujiao says:

    Confessions were heard during Masses at my parish yesterday.

  7. MarieSiobhanGallagher says:

    This is done in NYC at St. Agnes and other places all of the time, in fact all day long.

  8. Childermass says:

    Happily, at the church I go to in Boston, two priests hear confessions before all Sunday Masses. The confession lines are very long each week, so confessions go well into the Masses, usually until the Sanctus or so. I’ve sometimes found myself going through the Liturgy of the Word standing at the back, in the confession line. No harm at all, I can see and hear everything going on.

    Also happily, the local Franciscans and Oblates of the Virgin Mary offer confessions throughout the day Monday through Saturday and for several hours on Sunday.

  9. Papabile says:

    I know the Redemptionis Sacramentum had a “confer” citing JPII’s Apostolic letter, but I thought it would add to include JP II’s actual text from Misericoriae Dei:

    “2. Local Ordinaries, and parish priests and rectors of churches and shrines, should periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertized times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available before Masses, and even during Mass if there are other priests available, in order to meet the needs of the faithful.(15)”

  10. Central Valley says:

    Fr. Z, as you know, this was done for a very long time at the San Clemente Mission in Bakersfield and it worked very well. When the mission was in it’s glory there were always confessions and there was OF and EF side by side ant the parish was united.

  11. raitchi2 says:

    Henry Edwards,
    I wasn’t joking. To my knowledge a priest is allowed to count concelebrated mass for an individual stipend-bearing intention. There is an issue to have priests hearing confession during mass, since there are not only the physical costs of mass for each priest (candles, wear and tear on missals vestments etc.) but also temporal costs (ie. not only does the priest spend time in the confessional, but also saying a mass). These costs might not be much in a parish with two or three priests, but in a monastery it could be quite a bit of coin.

  12. threej says:

    Father, I am confused by your comment that priests who insist on distributing hosts that were consecrated at that mass are goofy– are they not but being obedient to the directives of the Vatican?

    [89.] “So that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the Sacrifice being celebrated”,[174] it is preferable that the faithful be able to receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass.[175]
    (R.S. plus footnotes)

    [Perhaps some your confusion will be cleared up by reading again what I actually wrote and then reviewing what you quoted. o{]:¬) ]

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    To my knowledge a priest is allowed to count concelebrated mass for an individual stipend-bearing intention.

    So you may have multiple priests charging different people for the same thing?

    “Say it ain’t so!”

    Maybe we can begin to see why concelebrated Masses should, if legal and safe, be above all rare.

  14. Dr. Eric says:

    I love going to a traditional parish and knowing that there will be extra priests to hear confessions. There have been times when I have been lazy and didn’t go to confession on Saturday, thinking to myself that I haven’t committed any mortal sins so I didn’t stress out about rushing to confession. Yet, in the traditional church (St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis, MO) there are always two extra priests to hear confessions and help distribute communion so I am happy to go and make a confession before or during the Mass.

  15. Stephen Matthew says:

    I have never seen confession being heard during mass, but I have seen the practice of confession being offered before all masses. In the diocese to the north both the cathedral and a downtown parish hear confessions for 20 minutes before every mass on weekdays and Sundays. Since those churches are only minutes away, I have at times found those options far easier to use than the one hour on Saturday mornings of my own parish.

    Speaking of which, I need to read over your 20 tips since our Advent pennence service is less than an hour off. (Usually conducted with an opening prayer, short reading, brief homily, and examination of conscience; followed by individual confession and absolution being offered by about 10 priests in every nook, cranny, and corner in the church including the one confessional. I think everything about this is on the up and up, except usually a list of suggested pennences is printed on the program and you are told to please pick one for yourself and to tell the priest, but I usually ask the priest to assign something, I never can make up my mind what is fitting.)

  16. Tony says:

    Confessions are heard every Sunday at my parish. We are very blessed to have Holy Innocents and Fr. Peter in Long Beach CA (Archdiocese of Los Angeles.) http://holyinnocentslb.org/.
    Confession can be heard on Sunday: During the 9 AM (Church), 11 AM (School Hall), 12:30 PM (Church), and 7:00 (Church) Masses.

  17. sejoga says:

    So glad to Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie pictured here!

  18. James Joseph says:

    Well… What about more than one Mass going on at one time inside the same church building but at side altars and altars out of sight. I ask because the 1962 Missal has the note indicating this at the bottom of the pages. Here, I am thinking of a Church has maybe 5 altars in it.

    alms. fasting. prayer

  19. threej says:

    “I think there is something of the same goofy idea in the heads of priests who insist that the only Hosts consecrated at this Mass can be distributed at this Mass…”

    “‘So that even by means of the signs Communion may stand out more clearly as a participation in the Sacrifice being celebrated’, it is preferable that the faithful be able to receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass.”

    …They still appear contradictory to me, unless you are drawing a contrast between the priest’s insistence verse what the Vatican describes only as a preference?

    But is it really that goofy to insist on what the rubrics say is a preference? For example, should not priests insist on a Benedictine altar arrangement O:-)?

  20. Much of this depends upon the situation. If the confessionals are apart from the nave (like, for instance, in a lower church, or perhaps closer to the narthex, or in a lightly-used transept on a weekday), offering confessions during Mass certainly does no harm. But when the confessionals are in the nave in plain sight, or perhaps near the sanctuary, it will likely be an obvious distraction that should not be encouraged.

    In most places, however, I see no reason why confessions can’t be offered at regularly scheduled times outside of Mass, even just before or just after if necessary. Leave the nave for Mass while it is being offered. Lots of these extenuating circumstances seem to me to be manufactured, either by priests, or by penitents, or by both. Whenever I have seen confession offered other than Saturday 4-5 PM, I see lines. Set up reasonable and generous times, daily if possible, and there will be no need to have confessions and Mass in the same nave. That may not be wrong in terms of being illicit, but, as my mother always says to put the kibosh on something without getting into extended discussions, “it isn’t necessary.”

  21. Legisperitus says:

    Funny how some dissenting Catholics who most vocally insist on their so-called “right” to receive the Holy Eucharist will neglect this other sacrament which we all truly have a right to receive, and of which they are often so desperately in need.

  22. kat says:

    We have regularly scheduled confessions in our church: for students during the school Masses (boys one day, girls the next); on Thursday nights during Benediction (and after) until all have been heard (usually get two priests then: one in the confessional, and one set up in the cry room with a prie-dieu with a screen attached) ; on Saturday mornings after Mass until all are heard; and on Sunday mornings between the first and second Masses. If we are lucky for the rare occasion when two priests are present on a Sunday, one of them will remain in the confessional during the second Mass. There is no distraction. The line forms along the wall, the confessional is the in back of church, and many people who cannot get to church during the week get that opportunity to go.

  23. danielinnola says:

    At my parish, there is always a priest. (sometimes two) hearing confessions during Mass. @ the TLM & NO

  24. JPF says:

    Henry Edwards: What exactly is your objection to concelebrants taking a stipend? I’m a priest of a religious order, and it is customary for all the priests of our communities who concelebrate the conventual Mass to take a Mass stipend. Has the Church forbidden the practice of concelebrants taking a stipend?

  25. swamp_rabbit says:

    The cathedral we attend Mass at (in Tainan, Taiwan) has an excellent older priest who hears confessions through the entire Mass. There’s usually a short line for the confessional. In some of the other churches we go to (for the English Mass) the priest simply comes a bit early so he’s available to hear a confession.
    There’s a wonderful Filipino priest who says the English Mass who usually gets”and when we sin, there is always the Sacrament of Confession” into his homily… :)

  26. TomB says:

    This always happens whenever we are blessed with an extra priest. Alas, that is rare, so far. Hoping and praying for an assistant to our hard-working pastor.

  27. Our bishop has forbid it. Unfortunately some of us are only able to make it on Sundays and live too far away from any parish to walk (not everyone can afford to keep a car on the road these days). Makes it very difficult sometimes now. There are now times when personally I can’t make it to confession for a month. Barely able to make it to Mass at times as it is. Unfortunately very few priests visit Catholics in their communities- at least in my diocese. Here the days of a priest knowing the flock in his territorial parish are long gone. Sad when you think about it. Hopefully it will come back when the younger priests go through a sound religious formation. After all if a shepherd does not know his sheep its highly unlikely he is doing his proper job.

  28. Benjamin says:

    In our church (Budapest, Church of St. Teresa of Avila) we have regularly scheduled confessions both outside & during Masses (up until the beginning of the liturgy of Eucharist). We have 3 priests, 1 celebrates Mass (the liturgy of the Word), meanwhile the other 2 can hear confessions. It’s that simple.

  29. jaykay says:

    Managed to attend the Missa cantata in the Dublin Latin Mass Chaplaincy last Sunday. Confessions were being heard in the box right near to where I was, with many attendees. It also happens during the NO celebration in the Carmelite church in Dublin City centre where there are three regular daily Masses between 11:00 and 1:15 and confessions from 11:30 to 2:30. Great resource!

  30. Fr. Z -Thanks for this. It has been common practice in parts of the Archdiocese of Dublin to combine a Penitential Service with Mass on Sundays. After experiencing a few of these I now flatly refuse to do them. Still a lot of moral pressure is brought to bear on those who do so. In one parish I had to hear confessions down in the congregation where there was hardly room to move and the secrecy of the confessional could not be guaranteed. The then parish priest (now retired) has since boasted of being ‘culped’ for advocating women’s ordination and he was, and still is, very popular there.

    I was most relieved a few years ago when I found that phrase you quote from Redemptionis Sacramentum. It gave me some ammunition to use against those who advocate these abuses. Their own argument always comes down to numbers. They get more people if they hear confessions during Mass and it’s ‘more convenient’ for all and anyway the people like it. But repentance and the proper use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is generally not preached.

    At least here in my friary there are confessions afternoon and evening on Tuesday and Thursday and morning, afternoon and evening on a Saturday (with confession on request outside these times). Given that I’m the only one here who isn’t a pensioner and who also works fultime in a school this is not bad.

  31. Cecilianus says:

    At the Novus Ordo church my family goes to confessions are heard right up until the Creed – at which point the priest explained he isn’t allowed to be hearing confessions in the church (quite reasonably enough – at that point one’s attention really should be focused on the Eucharistic Sacrifice). There are FREQUENTLY up to 20 people left stranded in line who didn’t make it; after Mass is over the priest heads back to the confessional if he sees that people are still waiting.

    On the topic of concelebration, it once happened at a Melkite liturgy where multiple priests were serving that someone came up to the iconostas during the Liturgy and rapped on the door asking for a priest to hear his confession. (Concelebration has been the custom in all the Eastern rites of the Church from the earliest centuries – the Roman Rite was the only one to lose it – and confession is heard not in a confessional, which is a modern innovation introduced at the Council of Trent, but in front of the icon of Christ to the immediate south of the Royal Doors.) One of the priests serving the Liturgy interrupted his prayers to come hear the confession.

    I think this is relatively common in the East because I was once at a Ruthenian liturgy where the priest (only one in the church, this time) heard a confession during Liturgy while the cantor was chanting the prayers after Holy Communion – a little bit awkward, since we had to try hard to not hear what was being said.

    One really should confess one’s sins before receiving Holy Communion, so I hope that more priests offer the Sacrament during Mass for those stragglers who walked in too late to give their confession beforehand. The Church – both Latin and Byzantine – also might have done well to learn from the Armenians, who to this day insist that all who wish to come to Holy Communion kneel in the church, read a confession of sins (a set formula – the missalette at the church I went to was quite insistent the need for separate personal confession BEFOREHAND), and receive sacramental absolution before presuming to approach for Holy Communion.

  32. The Cobbler says:

    I have a hard time believing a Vatican II notion went around that Sacraments should be kept seperate. Not simply because it’s another myth about VII, mind you, but because the other ideas that went around during/post VII contradict it: specifically, Matrimony celebrated during instead of immediately before Mass, and Baptism now being not merely incorporated into Mass but split up into multiple parts at different points through the Mass! Now, I’m not terribly inclined to whine about these myself, especially since the point of one was to double the emphasis of Marriage being a representation/imitation of the sacrifice of Christ, but I have to admit… the way some people do Baptism today is kinda odd from a structural standpoint (not to mention that at a large parish you may be sitting wondering how soon till Mass gets on since you don’t even know these people — it may not be quite the right thing to wonder, but I bet it gets wondered). And then, fortunately plenty of people still have Baptisms before or (what’s more common in my experience) after Mass. But the point stands that it’s impossible for a Vatican II Catholic to think that Mass and other Sacraments must be kept seperate, because they just plain aren’t these days.

    Now, perhaps somebody thought that being repentant of sin and then healed of it was too gloomy for the celebration of the Eucharist, but even the Novus Ordo has that whole bit near the beginning where we acknowledge our sins and beg God’s and our brethren’s forgiveness, so… I guess the only thing left would be to think that that part of the Mass makes Confession at all unnecessary; but that wouldn’t lead to getting rid of it during Mass while keeping it at other times, would it?

    What’s the line from… Dilbert? (Or was it Calvin and Hobbes?) “Now I’m all confused, thank you very much.”

  33. RichardT says:

    An astonishing comment from my parish priest, when he preached on the need for confession during Advent. He has been here since about August, and has a regular weekly confession slot.

    So far, he said, NO-ONE has come.

    Yes, I’m to blame for not having gone myself (although I tend not to go to my own parish anyway). But this is a combined parish, with 3 churches and a Catholic population of 600, and no obvious other parish nearby where people might be going to confession. No-one in almost six months?

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