ASK FATHER: Donations for confessions

From a reader…


In NYC St Francis of Assisi on 10/28/14 I went to confession. In the middle of the area that one waits on line for confession is a solid-metal 3-ft high donation box with the laminated sign that requests donations in “gratitude for keeping confession available so many hours.” I guess it is needed, but I thought priests felt that being able to offer confession was a gift of inestimable graces for them. So my question is, should we all consider doing this regularly, to help priests?

I would like to underscore the word on the sign: gratitude.

While I think that that donation box, placed where it is, does not send a very good message, because it seems to connect donations directly to the sacrament of penance, I am going to give them a pass on this.

First, that parish has many hours for confession each day.  That means that they have to keep the doors open, the lights on, the heat up and have some people around to watch the church.  That costs money.  That church is near Penn Station.  That means not only commuters are coming in but also homeless people and perhaps some pretty dodgy types as well.  People who clean and watch the church have to be compensated.  Furthermore, confessors themselves, if they are not assigned at the parish for that task, also need to be compensated.  If I, pastor of St. Ipsidipsy, have an Advent penance service and I call my priest friends from St. Fidelia in Tall Tree Circle to come to help with confessions, I must pay them.  Dignus est operarius mercede sua.  Not only is the worker worthy of his “mercedes” (his wage), priests have the right to earn their living from the altar and by the religious services they provide.  The money is not the first consideration: they have to be able to pay the bills in order to continue to serve you properly.

Churches have bills to pay if they are going to stay open.  We know from recently controversy about the nearby Holy Innocents that not all parishes are perfectly secure.  Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that everything having to do with religion is “free”.  We have to pull our weight.  In a small way, this is observed when, here in Rome, I say Mass at a church.  The sacristan works to make my life easier.  He deserves some acknowledgement and compensation.

Sure, it is highly satisfying and edifying for a priest to hear confessions.  No question.  I am sure that most priests who hear confessions regularly will back that up.  But, it is also work.  It can be tiring, even as it is a pleasure.   I understand the piety and devotion that produces phrases like “a gift of inestimable graces” comes from, but let’s not kid ourselves: it’s work and the bills have to be paid in order to make it all happen in a way that is convenient.

Unless we want to have priests who are itinerate, sleeping under bridges and all that. They will be harder to find that way, of course.   Hmmm… am I channeling my inner “ghost of Christmas yet to come”?

People give stipends to priests to say Mass. They give them a donation for baptisms and weddings.  It isn’t a huge leap to thank Father for his time by a donation.  A donation box is far better than handing it to him.   It is odd, in a way, that we don’t blink at donations for other things that priests do, but not for confession.  It is odd, but – at the same time – understandable.  The idea of connecting confessions and donations makes me cringe inside.  There is something about it that doesn’t jive.  Perhaps it is because, while we give donations for masses, weddings and baptisms, those things are rather more rare and they involve a lot of time.  On the other hand, we need confession frequently and we are already like a raw wire when we seek the sacrament of Penance.  Confession is so necessary that when reasonably sought it should be freely provided for.

His dictis, the optics of a donation box near confessionals strikes me as less than optimal.  Perhaps near the doors would be better.  But I don’t think that there is anything in the fact of a box somewhere that is out of whack.

So, in answer to the question, yes.

If you go to a parish and partake of the services there, you should donate to the parish.  If you go to a some parish or other that isn’t your own for a quick confession, occasionally or regularly, you should make a donation for the service you received.

Finally, everyone, GO TO CONFESSION!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Like St Anthony’s in Boston, this church has several hours devoted to Confession and multiple daily Masses. Most contributions, however, are made on Sunday, so it’s likely that those frequenting this church during the week tend to contribute somewhere else. .

    I have no problem at all with the sign or its placement.

  2. Southern Baron says:

    I regularly go at a shrine, not my home parish, because the time and arrangement are more convenient. Since it is not a parish it relies largely on donations anyway and there is a box by the door, all the time, with a general sign about upkeep. I appreciate the reminder and try to make use of it.

    At St. Francis, where I have been–well, like Fr Z says–it’s NY. Subtlety gets lost in the traffic. A box you see while waiting “on” line might be the only way.

  3. Mojoron says:

    I have commented on confession (I still prefer the term ‘confession” rather than reconciliation), before. Out here in the plains, where Fr. Pat lives to take care of three parishes, where confession is a ten minute affair before Mass each Saturday, (even Fr. admits that confession is a drive-by affair) where zero people take advantage off, except for me and my wife, but EVERYBODY goes to communion, even those who have obviously missed their Sunday obligation because they had to bring in the beans instead of going to Mass, I only wish we had the opportunity for a sit-down, come-to-Jesus confession/spiritual directioning event. I would pay GOOD MONEY for that!

    Confession is more of a habit than it is a punishment. Children need to go to confession if nothing else than to say hi to Father and to pray an Act of Contrition. THAT’s where it needs to start.

  4. If I were at my regular parish, or visiting another one, I’d be annoyed if the Saturday afternoon confession line came with a shakedown for donations. St. Francis is indeed a special case, though. It is a shrine of sorts that goes above and beyond the normal sacramental schedule. As one of the weary Penn Station commuters, I am indeed very grateful that their friars are willing to give me absolution at 8:15 am on a Tuesday, and so I’ve put money in the box a few times.

    To add some context, there are many donation boxes throughout this particularly large church. Most are for the church’s services to the many homeless people in their neighborhood.

  5. Sonshine135 says:

    My first impression was that offering a collection box was tacky, but after Father’s explanation, it became very clear why this was important. Thank you Father Z, and should I encounter this situation, I will readily give.

    This is my family’s week in our Parish to pray fervently for vocations. We have even offered up our own children to God for him to do with them what pleases Him. I was watching a video last evening on St. John Vianney and heard that he spent up to 18 hours per day in the Confessional! If only Priests were able to do such things today. Nothing to me more clearly illustrates the need for Priests than the infrequency of Confession. It has become a sobering reality for me over the past few years that much of the abuse and neglect we see in liturgical and teaching matters stem from a lack of vocations. To prevent people from just automatically coming up for Communion, one must reinforce that receiving Communion in mortal sin is in itself a very serious mortal sin. If Father preaches this though, he better be ready to open the Confessional up more frequently. Sadly, other obligations make it nearly impossible for him to do this. Vocations are so very important to making sure that we can extend this valuable sacrament to more people.

    Also, thanks to Fr. Heilman for being creative with Confession availability. I know you have reported on him before too Father.

  6. Elizabeth D says:

    Fr Z if you are ever itinerant and sleeping under a bridge you can store your vestments and stuff at Vinnie’s Lockers where I volunteer; you get 2-30 gallon Rubbermaid tubs worth of storage space. You cannot store alcohol, nor weapons nor cured meats, MREs, nor any other type of food because that’s the rules and the SVDP director does not want mice etc to get in there. I am way more likely to be homeless than you!!

  7. frahobbit says:

    @Southern Baron:

    The thought of NY’ers missing out on the opportunity to donate unless it is right THERE really fits.

  8. frahobbit says:

    It is a good thing, and since this church doesn’t technically have a geographic parish anymore, it makes sense. Also, gratitude is something I’ve always needed a nudge for, I’m sorry to say. So I’m glad to have reinforcement in that area. Thanks to Fr. Z for the

  9. frahobbit says:

    Ooops…thanks to Fr Z for that recall to gratitude.

  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I agree with Fr. Z. Of course. And it’s still tacky.

  11. ppb says:

    Perhaps the wording on the sign could be different. There’s a downtown church in my city that has a similar situation – the priests offer daily confessions, which are obviously frequented by many people who don’t actually belong to the parish. They have a donation box too, but it says something like, “we serve many commuters during the week and appreciate your donations.” Thus the suggestion of a direct connection between money and the Sacrament of Penance is avoided.

  12. acricketchirps says:

    The only thing I think I would want to be sure of is that the metal box were far enough away from the wooden box that the confessor could not hear it well enough to associate a particular clink of change with a particular penitent.

  13. Netmilsmom says:

    I’m so tired of the idea of asking Catholics to pony up for support being called tacky.
    If everyone would donate their “one hours wages” or 10%, they wouldn’t have to ask.
    The reason why the Protestant communities don’t do this is because they give FIRST. Before taxes, before the movies or the cellphone. Giving to the Church is Biblical and Catholics tend to forget that the “Precepts of the Church” include “Support of the Church”.
    That being said, we have SO few confession times available to us, I would pay a set donation to have them available for my family instead of feeding my gas tank to drive downtown. If someone thinks it’s tacky, fine. But having to face Our Lord with sins on your soul because of lack of confessions, is a whole bundle of nasty.

  14. Charles E Flynn says:

    The literature for the industrial design field sometimes uses the expression “from the Devil’s workshop” to describe product designs that are not simply not user-friendly, or user-indifferent, but which are downright user-hostile.

    From the Devil’s workshop, we could expect to see a confessional with a sliding screen, one that is coin-operated.

    I go to confession at the St. Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center, Boston. There are several opportunities to support the chapel, from votive candles, to perpetual mass remembrances, to the purchase of good Catholic books and DVDs. When the priest is in the confessional, someone else must be staffing the small but excellent bookstore.

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