QUAERITUR: Confessions during Mass

I had a great conversation with a group of priests last night. The subject of confessions during Mass came up.  I promised to repost information I have previous shared.

The Sacrament of Penance needs to be revived.  Confessions before Masses is a great way to do this.  If there are enough priests available, confessions during Mass is another.

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 welfare. 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 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 has happened to me, as a matter of fact, and in a surprising place. 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.

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  1. Banjo pickin girl says:

    We have long lines at the confessionals before each Sunday Mass. Our priests use this note to explain why they will not hear confessions during Mass. As soon as Mass starts the light in the box goes out. Some don’t get heard but I go at 4 PM Saturday because I have a flexible schedule. You really have to be on your toes to get in line quick enough on Sunday.

  2. PghCath says:

    It seems that any priest who loves Christ in the Eucharist should welcome confession during Mass: more opportunity for confession means fewer sacrilegious receptions of Holy Communion. And note how easily Father-Confessor can become Father-Minister of Holy Communion, giving some overburdened EMHC a day off!

    Of course, I guess this thread suggests prayers for vocations, as there can be no confession during Mass in a one-priest parish.

  3. samgr says:

    Confessions heard in many languages during Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major in Rome.

  4. Joe in Canada says:

    I wonder if this addresses two particular points. First, can someone who has been waiting in line and preparing to go to Confession, who perhaps only gets to Confession during the Eucharistic prayer, be considered to have participated in the Mass? Or should he or she then await another Mass? And second, what if a concelebrating Priest is needed to hear Confessions? I was asked by the main celebrant once after the entry procession to go back and hear confessions. He said ‘be sure to come back by the Offertory”. After most people were done with Communion he sent me back again.

  5. Frank H says:

    The note forbidding the uniting of Penance into the Mass as one liturgical celebration is interesting, as is Fr. Z’s comment on Baptisms done in the Novus Ordo.

    Aren’t weddings almost ALWAYS done in the midst of the Novus Ordo Mass? Is that a problem?

  6. gloriainexcelsis says:

    I well remember at St. Stephen’s, Sacramento, sometimes three priests hearing confessions, usually two, beginning 1/2 hour before the sung Mass on Sunday. The one celebrating left in time to prepare. The other one (or two) kept on as long as necessary during Mass, with the one who was to help distribute Holy Communion leaving in time for that. Even before the two Sunday Low Masses it was sometimes necessary to continue into the Mass. The lines for confession were almost always long, especially before First Friday and First Saturday. During the week, confessions are also heard before Mass, but usually, the line was easily accomodated before Mass began. With over 1000 people to serve there now, three priests are needed to keep up.

  7. Fr Medley says:

    Perhaps THE most powerful experience for me in my first two and a half years of Roman Catholic Priesthood is hearing confessions BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER the main Sunday Mass at the parish where I was assisting. I would expect to sit in the confessional box for two or three hours in one sitting with a constant and uninterrupted stream of penitents. Since the parish’s evangelization team was constantly out knocking on doors during the week I would hear not only children, adults, and elderly who had developed the habit of confessing regularly, usually every two weeks, but also what we call the big fish – those who hadn’t been in 20, 30, 50 years.

    I would hear confessions BEFORE MASS so that people could worthily receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. I would hear confessions DURING MASS because, let’s face it, people just don’t have time nowadays to come on a Saturday afternoon or a half hour before the daily mass. I would hear confessions AFTER MASS because the homily had convicted people of sins that they were not aware of and didn’t even know they had to confess. I would stay there until the line was gone. What was so amazing in the design of God, is that the holiness of a priest is perhaps intimately bound to making available this Sacrament of Mercy. I encountered in the confessional, the Merciful call of God to become holy by helping sinners be washed in the blood of the Lamb that is sacramentally applied personally to the forgiveness of their sins that they confessed, in species and number. Also it helped me to understand that the faithful need to have a regular confessor, a priest whom they can grow in trust so that by a human icon of the paternity of God, they may grow in trust of the Father who was sacramentally embracing his prodigal child. Thanks be to God that he cares for his priests by allowing them to care for the flock.

  8. Flambeaux says:

    Father Medley,
    That sounds much like what the priests at our EF parish do. And the lines are LONG!

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Does anyone else recognize Montgomery Cliff in I Confess?

    The only time I have seen Confession during Mass has been in Europe. It would be wonderful here. but all our parishes in the diocese are one priest parishes.

  10. “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.”

    Father, I want to make sure that I understand the quote above correctly. Priests are supposed to provide confessions as they suit the laity’s need for the sacrament or as it suits the priest’s vision of the sacrament, even if it be a bureaucratic one?

  11. Flambeaux says:

    I thought that image was Tom Tryon in Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal. The scene where his sister comes into the confessional to declare she’s not going to repent but go her own way.

  12. Brooklyn says:

    Supertradmum, I did recognize that picture of Montgomery Clift, and I absolutely love that movie. Alfred Hitchcock was at his best. It’s great to see a movie where the priest is the hero. (I also love The Cardinal, another great Catholic movie.)

    Father George Rutler, here in New York, always has confessions going on during his Good Friday talks when he does the 7 last words. He obviously has other priests hearing the confessions, and they go on for hours, including before Fr. Rutler begins (12:00) and continuing after he ends (3:00). He then has the 3:00 Good Friday service, and if there are still people in line, which there usually are, the priests stay in the confessionals. I always try to get in before Fr. Rutler begins just because I don’t want to miss anything he says.

    I remember as a kid back in the 60’s when confessions were still heard on Sundays before Mass, they would often spill over into Mass time. That was when the majority of people still viewed the sacrament of confession as important. I miss those days.

  13. ikseret says:

    I think the issue should be the availability of confessions “before” or “after” Masses on Sundays.
    While I am not against confessions during Mass, the problem is that we have to remember that even practicing Catholics can become lazy and take things for granted. Surely, parishes shouldn’t make it difficult by having confessions from 4-5 on Saturday only, but the problem with confessions during Mass (esp. Sunday) is that some people come to rely on it, arrive 5 minutes before Mass or later, and expect they’ll be able to go to confession sometime during Mass.

    If you need to go, make some effort to act as if it is not your right, but God’s mercy – which he might justly refuse!

    I don’t mean to be harsh, but I attend Mass where confessions are heard during Mass and it seems to me incongruent that people are practically ignoring the consecration because they are on line for confession!

    Perhaps confessions should no longer be heard after the homily?

    Most parishes need to reevaluate their confession schedule so confessions are heard on Sundays too and other convenient times.
    But, parishioners must also make an effort to get to confession at those times.

  14. Jerry says:

    @Cordelia – The commentary for canon 986 in New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law clarifies that “their” refers to the penitent:

    [T]he otherwise appropriate practice of scheduling appointments for individual confessions does not excuse from the requirement of the designated “days and … times established for their [the faithful’s] convenience”

  15. cresci says:

    An exercise for this now (the situation is real and happened with myself, not with someone else, and the priest is long deceased):

    Around 10 years ago (when I was still member of the Charismatic Renewal), I was serving mass (alone with the single priest present) on a retreat (that was in preparation for a big charismatic renewal event in the diocese).
    It happened that, on one of those “inventions”, “they” (the leadership) invented that on the offertory, the participants should go two-by-two to the front of the altar and “offer themselves” while kneeling and the leaders of that section of the movement would be imposing hands and praying “in tongues” over them.
    No need to say that with about 200 people there, this offertory took about 1.5h alone (mass endured 4h in total).
    After the first half hour, I noticed that it would take LOOOONG. The altar was already set 20 min before. The celebrant was sat down in the cathedra almost sleeping while waiting for that to finish. I had no opportunity to confess before mass (he arrived directly to the chapel). Thus, adding A+B, I requested and he obviously granted (since I was already beside him in the altar) to confess. We peoceeded to confession (me kneeling beside him on the cathedra, with my back to the people so they couldn’t lip-read). I finished confession, contrition, all the hail mary’s and our fathers imposed, and the offertory stuff still took ages to finish.

    Quaeritur: The act was Illicit in toto? Illicit in parte? Or was a Reasonable and Weeeird Exception?

  16. Banjo pickin girl says:

    cresci, I vote for “RWE.”

  17. Grabski says:

    My wife is a European She never heard of Confession outside of Mass Time
    I used to go @ St Agnes or St patrick’s in NYC – during Mass

    Meet the people where they are.

  18. Brad says:

    Just last night I dreamed out of nowhere that I and my militantly atheist aunt were strolling along a sort of farmers’ market under a loggia and we came upon a priest celebrating Mass alone (he was ready to distribute the Body but no communicants were there). Without a moment’s hesitation, she sidestepped over to him and confidently yet inappropriately declared “Bless me father for I have sinned…!” in a very energetic, only half-sarcastic sort of tone (she was aware of her sarcasm but also of her own buried sincerity). I saw his hand withdraw the host as he realized he needed to take a few steps to the side of his makeshift altar in order to hear her confession. At the moment his hand was still in the air, holding the host, while he was hearing her words, I saw a bad figure behind his shoulder. Man-sized, really just a very thin man, bordering on emaciated, floating in the air with his feet at the height of the priest’s shoulder. The entity was not good. He looked like a black shadow (I don’t mean he was the shadow of the priest, though). As my aunt was speaking her sentence, he had mirrored the priest’s own arm motions by violently shoving his own false host toward my aunt’s face, only to jerk his arm back in glee. The dream ended.

    Much to ponder as I received ashes at 7:30am.

  19. My parish, St. Peter in Volo, IL, is administered by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. We almost always have one of our two priests hearing confession beginning about 20 minutes before mass, and continuing until the Our Father is completed. The lines are long. Sometimes we have a second visiting priest, and so we’ll have both confessionals open. But lines can still be long even so. After the Our Father, the priest hearing confessions will leave the confessional, vest, and assist with distributing communion (we don’t use the Emergency Holographic Lay Eucharistic Ministers) at the altar rail.

    It is such a wonderful grace to have so ready and easy access to this sacrament.

  20. Father Z can a bishop prohibit a local diocesan priest in good standing and with the necessary faculties from hearing confessions during Mass? Though I suppose it wouldn’t matter since the parish priest would prohibit another priest from hearing confessions in his parish since the bishop’s intention is very evident.

    We used to have confessions before and during Mass in my parish for years. Recently we were moved and the resident priests will not hear confessions on Sundays and now the bishop has forbidden it during Mass. We now have an elderly priest who hears confessions only a few minutes before Mass and then is forced to leave the confessional and sit there during Mass. Before and after Mass now virtually no one goes to confession anymore. Its impossible for him to hear all the confessions before Mass so most people do not bother to go to confession anymore and no longer go to confession after Mass. There used to be a line- often even after Mass.

    Since it is a local TLM many people drive long distances to attend and often are unable to go to confession during the week (personally I live in an area where the nearest Catholic church is at least 15 min by car but the problem is I no longer have a car on the road for now). Not only that but many elderly have trouble getting out during the winter. This is more than an inconvenience for a good number of people.

    Can anything be done?
    Thank you.

  21. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:


    The situation that you described seems to me to be the exact one forbidden by the infamous and commonly mis-interpreted instruction in the GIRM, that you should not have confession *during* mass. But it sounds to me like this particular disobedience to the GIRM was not the worst liturgical abuse to occur at this mass. I can’t imagine that it invalidated either sacrament, but it was surely not licit.

  22. I have been to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. John Cantius a couple of times while visiting family in Chicago. I was so pleasantly surprised and greatful that confessions were being heard before and during the Christmas Liturgy. What a smart thing to do. There are certainly fallen away Catholics who come to Mass on Christmas and I imagine that at least one would be moved by the beauty of the Liturgy at St. John Cantius to make a long overdue confession. In contrast, I have never experienced confessions on Christmas in Phoenix, AZ.

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