Brick by brick! A reader describes how the Sacrament of Penance is being revived.

It is of critical importance that we rebuild, revive the use of the Sacrament of Penance. One way to start would be to hear confessions for a few minutes before Masses.

From a reader:

I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that there has been a great increase in the amount of discussion about confession and I thought you might like to hear this story.

A few years ago I used to have to beg and beg to get the local priest to hear my confession. I won’t go into details as I’m sure you don’t want to just read a list of complaints but it was tough.

Anyway, suffice to say I had trouble getting the old priest to hear my confession. Then a couple of years ago the priest was moved (I had nothing to do with it, I think they all just move around every so often). We got a new pastor who also gave me lots of excuses why he couldn’t hear my confession. Luckily there was another priest from another country assigned to help him. He was happy the hear my confessions any time I would ask. I could just show up at some random time and if he was there he would hear my confession. He said that that pastor wouldn’t allow him to set certain hours for confession and publish them for the parish but that he would keep an open door policy for anyone. It turned out that I would usually ask him about an hour before Mass and there has never been a problem.

Then something happened. I guess the word got out to everyone else because now it’s not just me. I come to the Church an hour before Mass as usual but now there is usually a line. He’s usually in the confessional right up to about five minutes to the start of Mass. So on the one hand I feel very happy that everyone now has a chance to go to confession but I also feel a bit responsible for causing more work for the priest who was so generous of his time to hear my confessions in the first place.

Brick by brick.

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  1. Simon_GNR says:

    This is dreadful – having to beg a priest to hear your confession and a parish pastor forbidding an assistant priest from publishing regular times for confessions. I’m happy to say that the great majority of parishes in my diocese (Hallam, England) have regular weekly (or fortnightly) confessions at published times. In dioceses where there is a lack of regular times for confessions, what are the bishops playing at allowing this to happen? Administering the sacrament of penance is one of the raisons d’etre for priests: what are these priests who are reluctant to hear confessions in the priesthood for, if not to administer the sacraments to God’s people?

  2. marknelza says:

    We are fortunate enough to have more than one priest in our parish. It is a standard that they are in the confessional before each and every Mass, come rain or shine. This applies literally to each and every Mass in the parish, including the early Mass on weekday mornings.

    In addition to confession before Mass, one of the priests remains in the confessional throughout Mass to hear confession. The exception is during Holy Communion when he joins the celebrating priest to give Holy Communion. After Holy Communion the priest returns to the confessional and continues to hear confessions. Over the years the number of people going to confession has steadily increased and there is now always a queue, from before Mass until long after Mass has ended, of people waiting for their confession to be heard.

    It also has helped that the priests in the parish make no bones about reminding us, over and over again during homilies and other opportune moments, that one must be in a state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion. They also encourage the habit of frequent confession – once a week even.

    There is one annoying aspect to all of this though. Because word has got out that our priests are available for confession so frequently, people from other parishes are coming to our parish for confession, but attending Mass in their own parish. So the queue for confession is getting even longer all the time. Recently about 45 teenage girls from a convent had their confessions heard by our priest even though their convent is on the premises of another Catholic church. What a traffic jam that was!

    I sometimes selfishly think our priests should introduce identification cards so that their own parishioners can get VIP treatment and go to the front of the queue….only joking, or maybe not…? Then there is of course the matter of collection during Mass … hee, hee.

  3. sawdustmick says:

    I am in Westminster Diocese, England, and like Simon_GNR we have regular published confession times not just in my Parish, but within the Deanery and further afield.

    I would urge the reader who sent this in not to feel Guilty for creating the extra work for the Priest he mentions, but perhaps offer up some form of regular Prayer or mortification both for this Priest and for others NOT hearing confessions.

  4. ray from mn says:

    Think of the probably thousands of parishes where a persistent parishioner doesn’t exist to force the issue of having Confessions. My somewhat educated guess is that the problem most often is in parishes where the pastor is over age 50. Unfortunately, it will be 15-25 years until they all retire.

    Pray for more nagging persistent parishioners who will speed up the process of resuming regular confessions.

  5. PhilipNeri says:

    Here at St Dominic’s New Orleans we have 30 minutes of confession before each of our two daily Masses and 45 mins before the Saturday vigil Mass. Once a quarter we have a two hour evening penance service with confession. Fr. Mike and I are never left sitting along in the box!

    If you sit there, Fathers, they will come.

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  6. Glen M says:

    While I don’t think our priests need anymore work per say, I question what they are so busy doing they can’t hear Confession. Isn’t a priest’s job to help get souls to Heaven? I wonder what happens to the priest who was too busy to hear Confessions upon his Judgement Day.

  7. n1tr0narc says:

    Here in Manila, Philippines, I found out that the chapels and shrines in the Business Districts and inside the major Shopping Malls (yup!) were the places to go for all-day, all-week confessions and the lines are always very long. It’s sad to note that confession schedules at parishes are usually on weekends only.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    In my parish where I am in County Meath, Ireland, there are Confessions after the 10:00 a.m. Mass weekly, only. However, both priests are very good in the Confessional. I have only seen, not counting moi, seven people or so go last week, and two this week. The sacrament is published in the bulletin. Before Christmas, there were two Communal Penance services and two extra mornings for Confession. As to age, one woman was younger than I was,but all the rest of the people were in my parent’s age group-80s. Confession, sin, purgatory and hell need to be preached again from the pulpit. Sin is not a common vocabulary word at all among Catholics.

  9. Dax says:

    I am having a very hard time digesting this. The writer says “I won’t go into details….” Did this person perhaps have something to confess that could only be absolved by a Bp.?

    Really, even in this day I find it very hard to believe that a priest would tell someone he could not hear a confession.


  10. Cincinnati Priest says:

    I am very sympathetic to comments above, and try to make confessions widely available to parishioners and encourage them to come. I have little sympathy for priests who are too “busy” to hear confessions frequently. But there is one thing I wanted to ask of priest readers. I am the only priest in the parish, and find it a little tricky to hear confessions right before Mass. For one thing, I do like a little time to pray before Mass and be recollected. I find that if I rush into Mass, it is harder to pray it well. Also, there are sometimes penitents who come in shortly before Mass and come with counseling questions or involved confessions, and I am faced with the dilemma of shorting them or being late for Mass. (I sometimes ask them to come back after Mass, but in some situations this is not ideal).

    With multiple priests in the parish, it would be easy: simply have the priest who is not saying Mass be the one to hear confessions. In this age of priest shortage, it can be more challenging.

    Any suggestions?

  11. Supertradmum says:


    I have been told in the past by an American priest that “I don’t do Confessions” and I had to ask another one. I did not pursue why he said that. I felt that it was not my business to judge him, but I was surprised. He was the pastor of my local church at the time and celebrated NO Mass and performed the other Sacraments. At another time, in Canada, I was recuperating from a serious operation and the local priest brought Communion to me. When I asked for Confession, he was surprised and admitted that he rarely heard Confessions. He did hear my Confession. Pray for these priests. In all of the seven churches at which I attended Mass in Malta over a period of time, only one, the Franciscan Church, had scheduled Confessions. One had to ask in the other parishes. I received a positive response when asking, but one had to seek out the priests after Mass. There is much work to be done in this area. I blame bad seminary training. But, thankfully, I hope that is changing. However, I know of a statewide seminary conference in the very recent past, where the young men were instructed that taking the Sacraments to old people in homes, such as Communion and Confession, was not as important as going to the Friday night high school football games and schmoozing with the youth. Such a talk to all the sems of that state was discussed and many sems agreed with this stupid false dichotomy. Some were confused. So, there are still attitudes which degrade the need for a rich and constant Sacramental Life in the Church. Pray.

  12. rcg says:

    This is a terrific story! By all means let the word out, and thank the priest with all of your heart. Ask him if he is being stretched, as the WKRPriest is. Then ask when he would prefer to hear them, then let that word out. What a blessing on your parish.

  13. Blaise says:

    Cincinnati Priest – a number of comments on recent posts about confession have referred to having confession after mass rather than before it. Of course as the only priest that depends on your schedule for masses and on a Sunday might be before the next one.
    I find it hard to believe that a priest would continually refuse to hear a confession; I can imagine a priest might consider a parishoner overly scrupulous (e.g. if they were asking on a daily basis) but the answer must be to hear the confession and advise in the confessional.
    A parish priest might be reluctant to commit time to scheduled confessions if he had other specific and more important tasks for his assistant and if he knew those times could not be kept when the assistant was away (on holiday, moved away as being temporary). However, as almost the only more important thing than hearing confessions is saying mass I doubt that was the reason.

  14. trad catholic mom says:

    How is this even licit for a pastor to deny parishioners access to confession?

    I can hear the responses now if this was posted a well know “apostolate” forum, ” the pastor has the right to run his parish as he sees fit and the only acceptable response is obedience”.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    Many of you are referring to assistants. In my home diocese, there are only two parishes out of the many where there are two priests, all the rest have one. In Iowa, most priests in the rural areas cover two or three parishes, that is one priest covering those. My parish priest in Canada was the only priest for seven, yes seven, churches. In some places in England, there is only one priest for several parishes.

    The problem cannot be solved by assistants or even sharing. The problem has to do with the priorities of priests. Get the laity to do the finances and the planning, and the social justice activities. If priests would just stick to being ministers of the Sacraments and home visiting, we would not be having these discussions. To me, lay participation is not having lay people prancing about the sanctuary,the clericalization of the laity, but the laity realizing that their lay skills are needed doing the day to day practical things in order to free up the priest to do what he was ordained to do, administer the Sacraments.

  16. APX says:

    Really, even in this day I find it very hard to believe that a priest would tell someone he could not hear a confession.

    Believe it. I’ve been there. It took me three cities and two diocese to find a priest who would actually hear my 10 year Confession.

    My permanent territorial parish where I’m registered never did have regular scheduled Confession times. Now that the parish has become the new Cathedral, I’m curious if the Bishop will require the priest to set regular Confession times.

  17. tealady24 says:

    Here in the dioceses of Scranton PA, at our little brown church in the country, our 80+ yrs. priest hears confession for 30 minutes before our EF mass, every Sunday. Every Sunday.
    It will make all the difference once you make this a regular practice.
    A blessed New Year to everyone!

  18. Joseph-Mary says:

    Our pastor, for some reason, who is on vacation dissallowed the parochial vicar from hearing confessions this week which are normally offered daily. And there were lines for confession too but the vicar said it would be disobedient for him to hear the faithful.

    Today we had them again and they went for well over an hour as I made a holy hour after Mass and they were still going. I got in line early. Folks were denied these past days.

  19. Rev. Mr. Stephen says:

    Cincinnati Priest: You invited comments from other priests and I’m not a priest, but I have always thought a workable way of making confession more available would be to schedule confession 60 to 90 minutes daily, regardless of Mass schedule, and publicize it widely. Recognizing all the busy administrative tasks of the priest, Father can do his daily spiritual reading/Daily Office in the confessional during this period when he is not hearing someone’s confession. If folks show up for confession, then take a break from the reading (and maybe, depending on how long confessions go, resume it later in the day).

    I don’t live in a large city but I have always envied those who do, because they can go downtown and almost always find at least one parish with confessions right before a noon Mass.

    I too find it appalling that a priest would refuse to hear a confession, but I don’t know all the circumstances. In my parish an associate we had a few years ago refused to hear a man’s confession one weekday after the noon Mass. When the poor guy pleaded with him, he repeatedly stated: “Saturdays, 3:00 to 4:00.” I though to myself what a pity if the man died that night or was getting ready to engage in some dangerous activity and wanted the certainty of absolution before the coming Saturday.

    Supertradmum, you are spot on–it has to do with the priorities of priests.

  20. tonyballioni says:

    At my home parish, which is run by the Capuchin friars, confession officially runs from 4-5pm on Saturday, with the Saturday vigil Mass starting at 5:30. If you get there at 4pm on the dot, however, the line is already backed up from the confessional to the door with both of the friars assigned to our parish hearing confessions. One of the friars leaves around 5:15 to vest for mass and the other will continue to hear confessions until the line is done, often until around 5:45, which is after the mass has started! I took my grandma to mass a few weeks back and she remarked “Look at all the little kids going to confession.” and sure enough about 25% of the penitents were under the age of 16.

    It is such a joy to see the Sacrament of Penance blossoming again. If everyone would say a prayer for our friars, they work hard and staff a parish of 2700 families with just two of them and need all the prayers the can get.

  21. asperges says:

    I have never personally come across a priest who would not hear, or be pleased to hear, a confession. It is one of those touchstones of a good priest: if it’s not there, there’s something wrong.

    I do know of one lapsed son of a friend, who after much persuasion, knocked on the door of the presbytery asking to come back to the Church and was sent away. Unfortunately he never returned to ask a second time.

  22. The Sicilian Woman says:

    My young (34) pastor, who, for most of his 4.5 years here, has been the sole pastor, regularly and strongly encourages confession. He’s had to expand the published, weekly confessions from 4pm-5pm Saturday before Vigil Mass to 3:30pm-5pm. If there are still some who need confession before Father ends them to prepare for Mass, he’ll finish hearing confessions after Mass. Plus, on First Fridays, he has confessions at different times during the day; he usually isn’t done with confessions until 8pm-9pm, totaling six hours minimum. He’d be grieved if he heard of any priest denying confession to anyone.

  23. In the diocese of Albany, NY priests have been forbidden to hear confessions during Mass (not just the Consecration- which wasn’t happening anyways). It is not an issue of a priest hearing confession and celebrating Mass at the same time. I find it very troubling that gross liturgical abuses, etc are considered perfectly fine but the diocese has a zero tolerance policy on something that Rome has said is definitely licit and intentionally limits access to the Sacrament. There those of us who have to drive over an hour to Mass and can not make it to confession at other times/ places and so can not avail ourselves of the access to the Sacrament when necessary. Counting down the remaining 2 or 3 years.

  24. APX says:

    I had a random thought occurred to me in my sleep that I think would be a good reminder for those priests who turn people away from Confession or refuse to hear Confessions outside of their scheduled time; the prodigal son never made an appointment or called beforehand when he returned to his fathers house, nor did his father tell him to call and make an appointment. I’m just saying…

  25. The Egyptian says:

    our “cluster” has some times listed, and states in t he bulletin, confessions by appointment, Right I’m going to call the parish office and ask Sheri the parish admin for an appointment with father for confession, blabbermouth has never kept her mouth shut and never will, she runs everything no one crosses her. I go elsewhere where I can have a proper confession with a proper confessional with screen. Hate the hand holdy happy clappy face to face farce confession

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