QUAERITUR: Confessions during Mass – revisited

From a reader:

This past Saturday, I experienced several of the issues you have written about regarding going to confession. Seeing it was getting late in the afternoon, I attempted to go to confession at the parish nearest where I was at the time rather than risk arriving too late to my own parish. The parish I went to begins at 3:45 rather than 4:00 so admittedly I was already a bit late when I arrived but as I learned from one of the 5 people waiting, there had been someone who had taken over half-an-hour.

When the person before me left the confessional, so did the priest saying I was welcome to arrange to come back at another time but that he couldn’t continue with confessions because Mass was ready to start. I asked if he was serving in the Mass because I had already seen a priest vested standing at the back of the church waiting for the entrance hymn to process in. He replied no but that confessions cannot be heard while Mass was going on. I said that yes they could to which he replied not in that parish. Naturally, I was not going to argue the point and left.

Feedback – Was it wrong of me to challenge his assertion that confessions could not be heard during Mass?

Advice – Should I reach out to the priest in any way to follow up? If it makes a difference, he is a young immigrant priest (in US about 5 years) who just completed his 1yr anniversary of ordination.

First, confessions CAN be heard during Mass.  The Congregation for Divine Worship has reaffirmed this.  I have written about this more than once (HERE for example).

Of course if this young priest is not the pastor (parish priest) then he is not in charge of the schedule.   Life could become difficult for him were he to buck the pastor and hear confessions during Mass if the pastor is too thick to get the point.   I was once literally screamed at – in the sacristy in front of lay people – by the pastor of a parish I was assigned to because I heard confessions for 5 minutes past the ending time.  Life with him was hellish.  Thus, you can imagine that an immigrant who is newly ordained is not going to want to bring the world down on his own head even when it is a matter of something that is good.

If you were to follow up, I would preface anything you say to him or give him with something like “I understand that the pastor probably doesn’t want you to do this, but it may be that you didn’t know about this….”


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  1. moon1234 says:

    Where does this come from? The want to NOT hear confessions during Mass. Is this some type of myth started from somewhere?

    I know when I travel I keep a smartphone with me so that I can look up the closest ICRSS, FSSP or other parish to attend. After one incident with my children and LOTS of questions, we just schedule our trips around destinations we know will have Mass without the problems.

    I feel for the person who wrote in. I felt like I was lost in a wasteland before SP came out and we got some really good Priests. Hang in there, pray for the Priests in question that God may lead them to a better understanding of their mission on earth (the salvation of souls).

  2. Matt R says:

    I sympathize with the reader. Not having your Confession heard before Mass tends to leave you in a state which is improperly disposed to receive Holy Communion.
    On First Friday, we have Confessions at 5:00. This past Friday, there were about 14 people in line, but the Passionist hearing Confessions took 10-12 minutes with each person. As a result, he wound up leaving at 6:00 (the start of Mass) and left everyone hanging…our pastor was frustrated when this was explained to him, as the CR priests who used to assist with Confessions would stay as long as necessary (this would include 2-3 hours on Good Friday; keep in mind, the reason we are without them now is because one is terminally ill, and the other is aging as well). Oh, and the sacristan who noticed the problem said if he was able to stay, then we should make a very general Confession (meaning brief, because the request to be quick was ironic considering what a general Confession actually consists of…) even though we should confess all mortal sins in number and kind, and any applicable venial sins, and the way he tried to prioritize us meant exposing your state of mortal sin. Needless to say, our pastor was frustrated with that part of the story…
    I do understand why a priest might prefer not to hear Confessions during Mass, but it’s allowed, and should be done if necessary.

  3. tzard says:

    I understand that formal confession times can be organized per the pastor – yet I wonder whether he can control ad-hoc confessions. In the spirit of being flexible and using your God-given creativity, why not ask the priest if he can hear your confession in his office, on a bench outside, or even as he walks back to the sacristy?

  4. Bryan Boyle says:

    I may be thick…OK, I am. But if (within temporal bounds, ok?) two of the greatest things a priest does is confect the Eucharist and forgive sins in personna Christi…why is the latter treated as a time-bound event? Have we so complicated these poor clerics lives so much that sacramental activity is a scheduled event that runs by an entry in their Outlook (or Thunderbird) calendar?

    St. Pio spent all day in the confessional. What could be more pleasing to God than seeing a soul wiped clean by the salutary effects of one of His sacraments? Making sure the parish council approves the purchase of picnic tables? Or making sure another soul, for however long, is pleasing in His sight?

    What keeps me going back..is the Fatima prayer. Just my $.02.

  5. wmeyer says:

    Bryan Boyle: St. Pio probably did not have 70+ committee chairs trying to consume his time. And each of them just certain that theirs is the ministry that makes the parish run.

  6. Mary Jane says:

    @ wmeyer – lol. :)

  7. wmeyer says:

    Mary Jane, at my parish it’s actually 90+, and was, I am convinced, a factor in our former pastor falling off the wagon. As one of my fellow Knights observed: Too many of them think they own it.

  8. mamajen says:

    In my former parish where we had two priests confessions would carry on through mass (usually just the very beginning) if needed. I personally would not want to go to confession during mass unless my (after)life depended on it because 1) it’s difficult enough to hear the priest as it is and 2) there are pews located right by the confessional that always fill up and privacy would be an issue. So, I could see how some parishes might come up with such a policy, but I don’t think anyone who is in dire need of a confession should be turned away.

  9. magister63 says:

    I think that one of the greatest impediments to going to confession today is… face to face confession! It naturally turns into a conversation or counseling session. I have spent many Saturday afternoon waiting in the confession line for someone who goes into the confessional and comes out 15 minutes later or more giggling while ten people are waiting in line. My worst experience was when I went to the closest novus ordo parish (I don’t normally attend the new Mass, but do go to confession at the local parishes because our Traditional chapel is 70 minutes away). Confessions were from 3-3:45 on Saturday afternoon. The Shabbat Mass was at 4. I got there right at 3. There were only three elderly ladies in church, two in line, one praying, so I figured I was fine. I knelt down and said some prayers and made a good examination of conscience. I was distracted by the guffawing of the priest emanating from the confessional. He was laughing away. The third lady got up and got in line. I figured I should also get in line, so here I am at 3:15 behind two elderly ladies waiting to go to confession. The one comes out, priest still giggling, fanning herself. The next one goes in, after a while I hear the laughing again. The priest is really laughing hard. I am looking at my watch knowing very well that he would not go past 3:45. That lady comes out nodding her head and giggling. Next lady goes in. Repeat. It is now 3:40. I was very upset that I left my family to get to confessions right at 3, and 40 minutes later I am still waiting after 3 elderly ladies and not sure I would make it. I knelt behind the screen, made my confession, and was out in a couple of minutes, then he came out and got ready for Mass.
    I live in a conservative novus ordo parish, and go to confession there when I am able, but the same situation ensues- not the loud laughing, but the inordinate amount of time that folks are in the confessional when there are 10 or 15 people waiting, and you just know that the odds are it is people going face to face.

  10. dominicansoul says:

    I usually plow my way through a long line as the time for confessions is coming to an end and whisper loudly, “Mortal sin coming through!”

  11. frjosh says:

    Here’s the problem, though:

    You ought not go to confessions during the Mass you came to, especially when that Mass is set to fulfill a Sunday obligation. Meaning, you don’t just leave the prayers at Mass to get up and go to confession. You should participate in both fully.

    What these policies in various parishes are set up to guard against is precisely this from occurring, where far past the Gospel, the priest is still hearing confessions for folks who came for the Mass.

  12. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    There is another side to this issue, as often, and perhaps a need for balance. I remember attending a traditional Paschal Vigil one year, and thinking it was a tad strange that for the high point of the liturgical year, during the bulk of the service…right through into the Communion and Lauds…there was a stream of penitents at one confessional. Did all of those penitents need to be standing in line for confession during the greatest liturgical action of the year? Probably not.

  13. JaneC says:

    On one occasion, I was the last person in line for confession, and it was one minute past the official ending time for confession. The priest came out of the box and said, “No more confessions!” I said, “Please, Father? I’ll be quick!” He rolled his eyes and replied, “Is it serious?” I was dumbfounded. I may have been the only person in line, but there were people nearby saying their penances and preparing for Mass. I nodded, and he did hear my confession, but for that and other reasons I never went to that parish for confession again.

    The cathedral here has confessions on weekdays, for half an hour before Mass. On Monday, confessions started about five minutes before the usual time, and ended barely before the end of Mass. It’s a real blessing to have confession available during the lunch hour at a downtown church–it is obviously needed!

  14. jlduskey says:

    Isn’t it true that confession is not the same thing as spiritual counseling? [No hard and fast rule, no. But when there is a line it is a good idea to BE BRIEF.] I thought that was made clear some time ago, here. Confessions should take a few minutes, but should not be overly long. It is particularly important for priests to remember this when there are a lot of people in line. A penitent could be referred for extended spiritual counseling, if that is needed.
    Also, anonymity is important. Not everyone needs it, but it would be a shame for a penitent to be uncomfortable, or even avoid going to confession when a large number of people would see the person in line, and may notice how long the confession takes. And some confessionals are not soundproof. In such cases, people nearby can hear what the priest is saying. That is another reason why it is best not to have confessions scheduled immediately prior to or during mass time.

    In the parish where I grew up, confessions were on Saturday morning, after the last Saturday morning mass, and on Saturday afternoon, 3 to 5 pm–but in those days there was no such thing as a vigil mass at 5pm. When confessions are scheduled, it should be for an extended period of time, not for just a half hour. The situation of having a brief confession session, where there could be 10 people in line when the priest starts, should be avoided. As long as there are no other church functions that immediately follow the confession session, confessions should continue until all are heard. And if there is a confession session scheduled and few penitents show up, the priest should use that time to read the Divine Office for the day.

    Also, in the parish where I grew up, the two confessionals were located on the west wall of the transepts (as the church was facing east). This meant that, as you entered the church, and in most of the body of the church building, you could not see who was in line at the confessional.

    I think many times lay people fail to appreciate the stress priests are under on Sundays. It is not just a matter of vesting for mass and saying the prayers and preaching the sermon. There are people the priest needs to talk to, problems to be solved, arrangements to make. Hearing confessions well requires a change of focus and considerable attention. It would be better if priests could concentrate on Mass and pastoral duties on Sundays, and hear confessions on Saturdays.

    Some people think the priest should hear confessions on Sundays because that is the time when they can get to church. Catholics who want to follow the traditions of the Church ought to consider Saturday as the day to go to confession. If it seems difficult because the nearest FSSP or ICRSS church is several miles away, that difficulty can be avoided by seeking out the sacrament of confession at any nearby parish. There are many good confessors out there, and the newer rite in the vernacular is equally valid. If there are greater difficulties, the option for extended spiritual counseling, as stated above, remains in place.

    Certainly, it would be ideal if confessions were available 24/7. But there are limits to what a priest can do. And people attending their mass of Sunday obligation should not interrupt their participation in the Mass in order to fit a confession into their schedule. The problem the reader poses can be resolved by some give-and-take on the part of both priests and laity.

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