A priest on hearing confessions for three hours

I don’t know if I have mentioned it lately but… GO TO CONFESSION!

For that to be possible priests have to get into the box and hear confessions.

To this end, I point you to an amusing post by Fr. John Valenchek, with whom I once went to a Cleveland Indians game.

He talks about his trepidation about hearing confession for 3 hours straight and his reaction when finished.   Note the high tech graphics he posts!


Three hours of steady confessions flies by, Fathers.  Preach about mortal sin and the Four Last Things.  Stir up those consciences!  Put on that stole and hear confessions!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    People pay good money to go to a sports event, play, film or concert for three hours. The time a priest spends in the confessional is of infinitely more value.

  2. wmeyer says:

    From what I have read from a number of other priests, I would expect the result displayed on the right in the fine graphic. There is, or should be, a great reward from having delivered the sacrament, freeing each penitent from the burden he or she was carrying. And from what I have read, the priest doesn’t carry any of that stuff around, it’s sort of in one ear and out the other, in that regard. (I’m sure there are exceptional cases, but I’m speaking of the run of the mill stuff most of us confess, not a steady diet of the melodrama we see in movies.) And I would think that it must also bee good to see the effect on the penitent, who should be walking out bright and shining, happy and well.

  3. Simon_GNR says:

    I’m pleased to report that our parish priest hears confessions for half an hour every Saturday evening and during Lent he has had a midweek session on Wednesday evenings. I went last Saturday and I was very glad I did: a great feeling of unburdening myself,

  4. john_6_fan says:

    “For that to be possible priests have to get into the box and hear confessions.”

    Our parish has ample opportunities for confession. At least once a day, 6 days a week, and we currently have one priest. When we are blessed with two priests, it is usually twice a day. There is another parish in town with two priests, where there is only one Mass on weekdays and confession is only available for 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon. Come on! Priests are on call 24/7 and are busy in ways I cannot imagine, but when it comes down to it, there are only a handful of men in any given city who can celebrate Mass and hear confessions. Am I wrong, or should everything else come second to providing the sacraments?

  5. Kathleen10 says:

    I LOVE the graphic! That is just excellent, and I congratulate Fr. Valenchek for visually portraying a situation so well. The example on the right demonstrates in a simple way, what must be one of the rewards a priest might get in lieu of salary, to act in persona Christi and hear good confessions. It should happen more often. I often draw representations like this, and amused myself and my classmates often in my undergrad and grad program with my “illustrations”. So I love this.
    Priests are people, and get fatigued like everybody else. Spending three hours in a dimly lit booth hearing confessions would make me slither off the chair and under the desk. Thankfully for all, God did not call me to be a priest.

  6. Legisperitus says:

    Peace, not as the world gives.

  7. StJude says:

    A parish 30 minutes north of me had an all day all night ( til midnight) reconciliation-palooza, last year during Holy Week. I wonder if they will do it again.

  8. Stumbler but trying says:

    May God richly bless all the priests who devote such time to such an important sacrament.

  9. wmeyer says:

    Wow, 6 days a week with one priest? We have three priests and two days of confession.

  10. acardnal says:

    One priest at my parish. Confessions heard DAILY before Mass except Sundays.

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Nice. Accurate too, as one can hardly be a conduit of grace for others, and not be enriched oneself. A priest is holy; each time he celebrates Mass, baptizes a baby, hears confessions, under the usual conditions, he becomes holier.

  12. Joseph-Mary says:

    My spiritual father will attend conferences just to hear confessions. He has told me that he has had the grace to stay even all day without bodily needs. I am sure that is an exceptional situation but 3 hours should be possible. 3 hours of adoration is possible. 3 hours at a sporting event is possible.

    Our former bishop told our priest that 80% of Catholics coming for communion are in mortal sin!!! If so, their clergy also will have some of that responsibility if they never preach on sin and the need for confession and only offer a small window on a Saturday afternoon for it. Huge parishes with only Saturday afternoon confession show that the sacrament is really not all that important. I have seen priests refuse to hear outside of that window or refuse to hear because they have a meeting. Meetings can wait, souls cannot. I know many priests are overworked but there are still priorities and priests are ordained for the administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel as the greatest priority in service to the faithful.

  13. Ben Dunlap says:

    We are very blessed to have the confessional open six days a week. It’s sobering to note, though, that in order for everyone in our moderately large parish to follow the advice we hear often from our priests and bishop — that is, “go to confession at least once a month” — a confessional would have to be open for more than three hours every single day.

  14. Random Friar says:

    As one of the cadre that sits in the Confessional waiting for you, I ask one favor:

    If you choose face-to-face, please speak at a soft, but intelligible volume, so Father can hear you. Imagine yourself trying to work at a desk for three hours, with your torso leaning way forward as you sit. Your body will let you know that you have sinned against it by contorting it so. I’ve also had confessions where it was almost impossible to hear anything, and I had to keep asking the person to repeat him/herself and lean at a most unnatural angle.

  15. Random Friar says:

    Oh, and if someone asks, yes, I did ask them to speak a little louder. They invariably go back to “one” on the volume setting after a sentence or two.

  16. Carolina Geo says:

    At my parish they hear Confessions 3 times a week for an hour each time. During the school year they add another 1-hour time slot. During Lent they also hear Confessions during Stations on Fridays. Lines are always long. The parishioners appreciate it, Fathers! Thank you!

  17. maryh says:

    Just a comment on going to confession. Not everyone experiences the emotional results from going to confession that many people here describe. That doesn’t mean the confession wasn’t sincere, and it certainly isn’t an excuse not to go to confession. Sometimes the only reaction you’ll have is, “well, that’s done now,” which is my usual reaction.

    I wanted to say that because I don’t want anybody to be discouraged if they go to confession and don’t “feel” the grace they’ve received.

  18. Lucy C says:

    We are so blessed at my parish. Our priests are very generous with their time. Confessions are heard for a half hour before each Holy Mass, and we have at least 3 every day. On Saturdays there is also another longer block of time available for confessions.

  19. pseudomodo says:

    Almost didn’t have confession today. When I got into the confessional, the old priest was fast asleep sawing logs!! I knocked on the frame of the screen and called out to him but to no avail.

    I exited the confessional and stood around for a few minutes cautioning other penetents to wait.

    I decided to give it another go and this time he WAS awake.

    Obviously he WAS hearing confessions for 3 hours (maybe!)

  20. happyCatholic says:

    I just wanted to thank all the priests who read and/or post here, as well as all priests, for their saying “yes” to God to the call to the priesthood and for bringing me the Lord in the Eucharist and in the Confessional. Truly, and humbly, thanks. You sacrificed much of earthly goods to be a priest, and the older I get, the more and more I am grateful and realize how desolate this world would be without our dear Catholic priests.

  21. MangiaMamma says:

    I really enjoyed this post! My 20 yo #2 son is discerning the priesthood. We have talked about the different aspects of being a priest. I asked him what he would look forward to the most-thinking probably celebrating Mass, but he told me it is the awesome responsibility of being about to hear confessions. Not too bad for a young man who’s only been Catholic for two years this coming Easter!

  22. APX says:

    We have confessions 7 days a week at our parish, though our new priest strongly discourages people from waiting until Sunday before Mass to have their Confessions heard because “it’s the worst possible time for a priest” because it’s so busy with getting ready for Mass. I understand for the people who come in from out of town, but given that we have multiple times on Saturdays for Confession (morning, late afternoon, and evening times), as well as five other days of the week both early morning, just before lunch, and even evening times, there is really no excuse to wait until Sunday morning when there’s only one priest to hear like 20+ confessions “30 minutes” (which is closer to 15-20 minutes) before Mass. He wants to make himself available after Mass on Sundays to actually meet parishioners, not be stuck in the confessional because people waited until the last minute to go to confession. Understandable considering our prior priest would be in the confessional for anywhere from an hour to an hour and half hearing confessions after Mass. I never really met him until right before he left because he was always hearing confessions.

    I think it’s also on the parishioners’ end to actually show up when confessions are scheduled to be heard too (ie: nothing actually says that Confessions are heard after Mass. It’s just something our priests do and people know this. I had no clue, and was driving into town the night before to make sure my confession was heard.). Our new priest started extending the time he’s in the confessional before Mass to one hour rather than 30 minutes, but people won’t show up until 20 minutes before Mass and want to go to Confession. He has now informed us that he will only hear confessions after Mass if it was because there wasn’t enough time to hear Confessions before Mass. I understand where he’s coming from, but I have mixed feelings about refusing to hear someone’s confession without a good reason. People should just be considerate as to not abuse priests who are overly generous with their time to hear confessions, so that hearing confessions outside of unscheduled times isn’t a multiple hour ordeal every week while scheduled times are almost vacant.

    When we happen to have an extra priest (a rarity, as we only have two priests from the FSSP, and the other one is away on weekends) we have confessions heard during Mass.

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    I have been really fortunate to be in a couple of cities at parishes that had confessions every day of the week (or 6/7). It is strange (or perhaps not), but I have never seen a parish that had daily confessions that weren’t thriving. I’m sure other parishes thrive, but at a well-confessed parish, there is a quietness and a holiness among the congregation that allows the spiritual order within it to blossom. In todays crass world, mega-parishes have to shout for their spirituality to be heard. The well-confessed parish merely smiles at the world and heads turn.

    The Chicken

  24. robtbrown says:

    Three hours hearing Confessions. For both priests in my hometown that take six weeks.

  25. Nan says:

    @APX, confessions prior to Mass so your soul is all shiny and clean for Mass. People don’t always realize their sins so may compound mortal sins by receiving w/out first confessing.

    My parish has confession 6 days a week. Holy week will be weird; I’m used to late shift confessions being added M-W, but we have a new pastor and instead of that will have confessions on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

  26. APX says:

    I realize that, Nan, but in my parish there is also the unofficial rule that those who only have venially sins to confess, shouldn’t be confessing before Mass, as to take away the opportunity for “those who actually need it”.

  27. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    At my parish (St Anne’s, Fall River), my assistant and I hear confessions Monday—Friday before the 11:30am Mass and on Saturday 3—3:45. I seldom have time to catch up on my Breviary in the confessional; there’s a steady stream of penitents from the minute I sit down. (It was this way long before I came here, so I’m not claiming credit for myself—although I do preach about sin and mention the sacrament of Penance whenever it seems opportune.) This week, I’m leading our parish Lenten mission (theme: Faith, Hope & Charity) and making myself available for confession each evening; again: they’re coming. Fr Z and others have said it many times, and it’s true: Make yourselves available, Fathers, and they will come. Just do it.

  28. Giuseppe says:

    Fr. Thomas – on my computer under the your comments section, your comment got cut off at this point: “At my parish (St Anne’s, Fall River), my ass…”
    Needless to say, I couldn’t resist reading the full post!
    You and your ass… do great work at your parish!

  29. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Giuseppe: From now on, I’ll be sure to use the proper canonical term “parochial vicar” — lest I invite serious misunderstanding! ;-)

    Also, in case anyone was wondering, Fall River is in southeastern Massachusetts. The diocese extends from the Rhode Island border east to Cape Cod (inclusive) and is bordered on the north by the Archdiocese of Boston.

  30. Fr. Thomas Kocik: “parochial vicar”…. pffft

    The rectory of the late Msgr. Schuler of St. Paul was a kind of “Casa del Clero”. Priests came from far and wide, and so the supper table was pretty interesting, given the often distinguished guests, both local and traveling.

    One day a visiting priest asked if, in St. Paul, we said for the helper priests “assistants” or “associates”.

    Without missing a beat, Schuler responded, “The first three letters are the same.”

  31. New Sister says:

    A useful reminder from an Opus Dei email:

    Whatever you conceal from your Confessor, you’re sharing with the Devil.

  32. MaryAlice says:

    It’s really, really good to read about the many good priests who are hearing confessions. Our good priests hear confession 30 minutes before each of 2 weekday Masses and on Sunday, one hears confessions during Mass as well twice a day. Often, there are people who must be turned away but since these priests are so generous, they will hear confession after Mass as well. Our parishioners come from long distances since we offer the Extraordinary Form exclusively so you can imagine the disappointment of having traveled 3 hours with screaming children only to find the confession line was long.

    Have a question for Fr. Z. – are nuns generally required by their rule (I realize rules differ from community to community) to confess faults and tendencies which are not sins? Thanks. MA

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    I am not Fr. Z., but I thought I would take a shot at the question: are nuns generally required by their rule to confess faults and tendencies which are not sins?

    If the fault is against their Rule, then, perhaps, but most faults of this sort do not bind under pain of mortal sin (unless one breaks the law of chastity by having an affair, for example – then one is guilty of two mortal sins: one against chastity and one for breaking a vow)). If the fault is a fault or tendency that anyone could innocently commit (forgetting to put the silverware in the sink to soak or the tendency to grimace whenever you hear, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at Mass, for examples), these are not sins and what is there to confess? One can only confess a tendency if it actually leads to sin and then, one must confess the sin, itself, in kind and number. If one successfully resists the tendencies, even though one has them, this is actually a good thing (it gains merit) and is grounds for rejoicing rather than confessing.

    Just my thoughts. I may be wrong. Willing to learn. Teach me.

    The Chicken

  34. Once a week confessions in most churches around where I live (and almost exclusively on a Saturday), except for the cathedral, where you can go 6 days a week, although on 3 only if you are free during the time most people are at work. Where I normally go for confession you actually have to seek out the priest after Mass (or he has to see you at Mass and know that you are there for confession), otherwise nothing happens. But to be fair to him the church is a weird building and no one would see if he was sitting in the confessional anyway.

    I would also like to thank the priests posting here for accepting the call to the priesthood; and for devoting their time to hearing confessions. If it weren’t for the Sacrament of Penance, we would all be cut off from the grace of the Lord sooner or later.

  35. MaryAlice says:

    Confessions of devotion – as I understand them, are confessions which may exclude any venial or mortal sins being stated but rather faults and weaknesses being stated followed by “I am sorry for these and all the sins of my past life especially for _____________” which is the “matter” for forgiveness. Any correction to this will be greatly appreciated. ;)

  36. Ben Dunlap says:

    MaryAlice, I think that any time someone goes to confession without any mortal sins on his conscience, he is making a devotional confession. There’s a fine book on this topic from the 1940s called “Pardon and Peace” by the English Passionist Fr. Afred Wilson.

    He covers the question of sufficient matter for those whose examination of conscience does not reveal any sin whatsoever since their last confession. As I recall his recommendation is similar to what you’ve mentioned above (mentioning a sin of one’s “past life” and identifying it as such).

    I think he recommends against discussing non-sins (i.e., faults and weaknesses) in the confessional, at least normally. Better to keep it as objective and concrete as possible.

  37. nemo says:

    We are blessed to have confession available every day at two churches in Sarasota, St. Martha (11:30-noon Sun-Friday and 2 hours Saturday. During Lent also 5-7 Friday evening.) and Christ the King (FSSP–30 minutes before every Mass). What more could we ask for?

  38. APX says:

    The Masked Chicken,
    Applying what I have learned from my confessor, grimacing at the sound of On Eagles Wings, while may seem sinless in and of itself, the root of what causes one to do so is likely rooted in the sin of pride and the expectation that Mass should be conducted to one’s liking.

  39. The Masked Chicken says:

    Applying what I have learned from my confessor, grimacing at the sound of On Eagles Wings, while may seem sinless in and of itself, the root of what causes one to do so is likely rooted in the sin of pride and the expectation that Mass should be conducted to one’s liking.

    Perhaps, or they could just have a highly developed aesthetic sense and a profound understanding of the purpose of music in the Mass :)

    We had a priest at a parish, once, who would, on many occasions, tell us about some laity who complain about what they think is wrong with the way things are done. While I am sure that he partially meant to peg these people as bring prideful, there also seemed to be a certain distain for laity being too, “uppity,” and actually reading the Church documents. We live in the most educated era in history (although that is not always evident in the choices many people make) and there is an old saying, “what one fool can know, so can another.” Many of the laity have studied theology and know enough to have informed opinions. Yes, there are a lot of ignorant suggestions made by the laity on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide, but not all suggestions or comments are either prideful or ignorant.

    Sometimes, the way a person likes Mass to be conducted just happens to be the way the Church likes the Mass to be conducted. As for, On Eagles Wings, I was trying to choose a non-controversial example. Perhaps, I should have said something like a polka. I suspect most people would grimace at hearing that at Mass.

    On the other hand, I suspect that if there were to be a Mass for musicologists and, On Eagles Wings, were played, one would see a lot of grimacing. That would not be pride nor expecting the Mass to be conducted to their liking. That grimacing should, instead, be seen as a caution to the person choosing the music that, perhaps, they may be less informed than they know.

    This post is on confession, not music, but some Church musicians can make boneheaded choices of music that can amount to pride or wanting the Mass to be to THEIR expectations, as well. Grimacing, in that case, would be a form of fraternal correction and rather than be a sin, actually be an act of mercy. Certainly, when I grimace at the music at a Mass, I have a good reason. The music doesn’t have to be Chant or Mozart, but it has to meet certain criteria. This doesn’t always happen with the Disneyfication of what passes for some Church music, today. Still, this is a post about confession. Sorry for going a bit on a tangent.

    The Chicken

  40. Imrahil says:

    Dear @APX,

    I doubt it is by a general principle rooted in the sin of pride.

    I though pride was defined by St. Thomas as “disordered seeking to shine out”, specifically by, according to St. Gregory, 1. reckoning one’s virtues and actual successes as one’s own (rather than accounting them to God’s grace), 2. accounting them to God’s grace but as to a merited grace merited by a merit of one’s own right, 3. posing as if having good points one does not actually have, 4. showing off one’s good points with smugness or disdain for others.

    To merely believe that one has good points is not pride, but the duty of self-respect rooted in the duty of self-love.

    To wish to do something not forbidden is not pride, but the very essence of freedom. (And that includes wishing for something you need to ask an authority for a dispensation first.)

    To wish that the Mass should be conducted according to one’s liking is not pride, but natural (and “nature fought against revenges itself”). We always wish anything to our liking and cannot but do so. Our Lord himself in His holy humanity wished the Passion to be conducted a bit more according to his liking. He obeyed, but obedience is an entirely different thing. It can be uphold (indeed it is true) that we have an authority to make sure that from the fact we all wish according to our liking does not follow chaos. It can be upheld (indeed it is true) that the authority must issue commands according to someones’ linkings and not others’. Some wishes are not rightful. The authority must act according to its “informed liking”, so to say. But still… to wish something “in itself not sinful” is, well, not sinful. (Except in circumstances, which to throw against the wishers without an actual suspicion amounts to a mere demonstration of power [“I can preach to you and you cannot to me”] to say the least.)

    Put shortly, I have a inclination (which I consider to be a healthy inclination) against this sort of thorough search for hidden faults presumably never rising to the level of consent of mind (which alone produces a sin). What is the good of preaching people into self-despair?

  41. MaryAlice says:

    Thanks Ben and The Chicken.

  42. MaryofSharon says:

    As a regular follower of Fr. Valencheck’s Adam’s Ale blog, I was delighted to see his cartoon on your blog! Through his weekly Monday “comic strip” he regularly offers rare and humorous insights into the life of a priest that lay people simply don’t consider. Check back often. I’m hoping he compiles his comics into a book!

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