ASK FATHER: Why no confessions on Good Friday or Holy Saturday?

From a reader…

I would like to know why many parishes do not offer the Sacrament of Penance on Holy Saturday? There’s only 1 parish in my area that hears confessions on Holy Saturday and I often wonder is there a law forbidding the Sacrament of Penance on Holy Saturday?

In answer to “why”, I have no idea.  It’ll depend on the parish priest.

In answer to “is there a law against hearing confessions”.  NO!

Each year one sees confusion about the Sacrament of Penance during the Triduum.  Confusion is rarer now than before because there have been official explanations and also changes to the wording in the Roman Missal.  But, the less than informed and some liberals who don’t care to keep up to date, cling to their past errors.

Some priests, liturgical experts, and even diocesan liturgy offices wrongly claim – or claimed – that the rubrics of the Missal (or in the old, obsolete editions in English, “Sacramentary”) forbade the sacrament of Penance.

However, this claim was and is incorrect.

Here is what the texts really say.

The previous, obsolete 1970 and 1975 editions of the Missale Romanum (the Novus Ordo) said of Good Friday and Holy Saturday (BTW… the language of this rubric goes back to Pope Innocent III +1216):

Hac et sequenti die, Ecclesia, ex antiquissima traditione, sacramenta penitus non celebrat… On this and the following day, the Church, from a most ancient tradition, does not at all celebrate the sacraments.

However, since this is in the Missal (the book for MASS), sacramenta refers only to the Eucharist, Holy Mass, and not to the other sacraments.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) clarified this in its official publication Notitiae (1977 – no. 137 (Dec) p. 602).

In the 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum at paragraph 1 for Good Friday all doubt is removed.

The above cited text has been amended to say (the change with my emphasis):

Hac et sequenti die, Ecclesia, ex antiquissima traditione, sacramenta, praeter Paenitentiae et Infirmorum Unctionis, penitus non celebrat…
On this and the following day, the Church, from a most ancient tradition, does not at all celebrate the sacraments, except for (the sacraments of) Penance and Anointing of the Sick.

Priests can indeed, and probably should, hear confessions on Good Friday and on Holy Saturday.

john paul confessions good fridayWho can forget the image of the late Pope – Saint – hearing confessions in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday?   Who can forget Pope Benedict?  Pope Francis?  Francis even made his own confession on Good Friday!

So, it is absolutely FALSE that it is forbidden to hear confessions during the Triduum.

That said, there may be other reasons why the priest has decided not to hear confessions.  It may be, for example, that he has been hearing confessions every day during Lent before Masses.

PEOPLE: Go to confession.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  In my 20 Tips I recommend that people go to confession at the time confessions are scheduled to begin, not a few minutes before they are to end.  Why?  So you don’t lose your chance to go.  Similarly, go to confession now, before the Triduum.

Here is a bonus tip, speaking of confessions.

As I have posted before, it is both permitted and appropriate in many instances for confessions to be heard during Holy Mass on other days of the year!

Want proof?  Try the CDWDS document Redemptionis Sacramentum 76 and also the Congregation’s Response to a Dubium in Notitiae 37 (2001) pp. 259-260.

Having a priest in a confessional before and even during Mass on Sundays and feasts could be a way to revive the use of this ailing but essential sacrament.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    When I was received into the Church, we were told that confessions were forbidden on Holy Saturday. [That was wrong. And the situation is now perfectly clear.] I was terrified that I would commit some mortal sin between Good Friday and the vigil mass and that I wouldn’t be able to receive communion and confirmation.

  2. padredana says:

    As a priest I usually don’t schedule confessions on Good Friday or Holy Saturday, not because I believe they should not be heard on those days, but because those are busy days for me as a priest who has three parishes and monastery of cloistered nun. Generally I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off getting ready for the various liturgical celebrations. I would beg you not to assume that because there are no scheduled confessions on those days that Father is in the rectory with his feet up watching television. No, he is probably quite busy preparing for the liturgies of Triduum.

    [Exactly. The reason might vary according to the local circumstances. However, if a priest ever says that he can’t, that he may not, he is wrong.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. APX says:

    I agree with padredana.

    We only have one priest and he hears confessions every day of the week, on Saturdays, for at least one hour in the morning, and one hour in the evening. Even on Sundays he hears confessions a half hour before each Mass. If we have a visiting priest, confessions are heard during Mass as well. What happens is people don’t show up until 10 minutes before Mass and a huge line up results. Following Mass, our priest will hear confessions of those who were in line before Mass but didn’t get in. However, more people will jump in line. Saturday evenings, hardly anyone shows up (and if they do, at the last 10 minutes), but they all seems to show up for confession before our principal Mass when our priest is running around busy and doesn’t always get in 30 minutes before Mass. He has repeatedly told people to come on the other days of the week. Nevertheless, he still hears confessions 30 minutes before Good Friday and Easter Vigil for those procrastinators.

  4. Imrahil says:

    In fact, Good Friday and Holy Thursday afternoon and evening, and, to a less extent, Holy Saturday are rather typical confession days, around here. Even some priests that otherwise have these “confession upon appointment” practice will sit in the confessionals then.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    I can understand Father with three parishes not being physically able to hear confessions but my usual parish with THREE priests living next store cancels confessions for days before Easter. Explain that.

    But our campus parish adds extra confessions and pretty much all day on Good Friday. I recall that in a former parish, the pastor would hear confessions after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and since there was only normally Saturday afternoon confessions, confessions on Holy Thursday would last past midnight.

  6. lmgilbert says:

    It was many years ago now, on Holy Saturday of 1964, when I returned to the Church by going to Confession late that afternoon and to the Easter Vigil that evening. What a graced moment that was, and it breaks my heart to think of anyone attempting to return to the Church on Holy Saturday and finding the doors locked. Was it not that weekend two millenia ago that the gates of Heaven were opened to sinners? To me it has always seemed like the day of all days of the year to go to Confession.

    James Joyce had been my hero and I was James Joyceian in my life in my late teens until the Providence of God poured out His salvific wrath on me and brought me to my knees. So God was real after all, for no one else could have slapped me that hard. And if He was real, then so was the Church. So I returned to Him interiorly, but knew that despite my pride I had to make public profession by returning to the Church. Instead of going with my parents to Confession and Mass in our home parish, still keeping my conversion to myself I went to a parish in another town. At supper that evening, I could not understand why tears were streaming down my father’s face and I left the table. My mother stopped me in the living room and asked me if I had returned to the Church. “Yes, but how did you know?” On leaving the Vigil that night in our home parish, they looked at one another and in that instant just knew. I say all this by way of encouraging the parents of fallen-aways, for just you gave your child life in the first place, by your prayers you can restore him to life-if only you will believe, if only you will persevere.

  7. iamlucky13 says:

    It’s a distinct possibility I’m mistaken, but I thought there was a document issued 5-10 years ago by the USCCB or perhaps just the local diocese I was living in at the time directing that confessions not be held during Mass in whichever the jurisdiction was. What I do know is that a parish in my area run by a Dominican community had as long I remembered continued to allow confessions after Mass began if there was still a line. Then one day there was a sign indicating confessions would cease when Mass began, and from then on, whenever the bell rang at the start of Mass, the priest would turn off the light indicating a confessor was available, finish the current confession, and leave.

    Confessions on Good Friday and Holy Thursday seem extremely valuable to me, but not often available in my area. I find the devil often working harder than normal to tempt me during Holy Week.

  8. Panterina says:

    Is it possible that someone misread/mistranslated that sacramenta penitus as sacramentum Paenitentiae, the sacrament of Penance?

  9. Fr Richard Duncan CO says:

    In my first Easter as a priest (2013), it just so happened that I had no duties during the Vigil. I had planned to sit in choir, but I went out into the Church half an hour or so before the Vigil was due to begin and saw that the Church was filling up. It occurred to me that some of them might like to go to confession, so I sat in the box, intending to slip out just before the start of the liturgy. I didn’t get out until about communion time, a couple of hours later! Some of the confessions I heard were of people who had “been away” for a long time, and not a few of them were of people who, shall we say, “needed” to go.

    I had a similar experience last year on Good Friday. I had just sung Christus in the Passion and was making my way towards the choir when someone grabbed me and asked if I would hear their confession. This time, I didn’t get out until the liturgy was over.

    I have no duties during the Passion Liturgy and the Vigil this year, and have every intention of doing the same. If the liturgists don’t like it, that is just too bad. Let them live in their ivory towers, and let the rest of us get on with what we were ordained to do, provide the sacraments to God’s people at a time and in a way which suits them, and not according to some a priori notion of when the sacraments “ought” to be celebrated.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. thomas777 says:

    However, since this is in the Missal (the book for MASS), sacramenta refers only to the Eucharist, Holy Mass, and not to the other sacraments.

    I was very glad to hear (does this apply on-line?) you say this for a reason you would not expect. You see my first wife was given her burial mass on Good Friday. The Mass for her soul was the Easter high mass. She was a very good friend of the priest who would have it no other way. The symbol was simply too perfect given that she died on the Wednesday before Good Friday. He moved the world to fit it into this space. I had wondered about that but deferred to the good priest in question now I have my answer.

  11. Fr. W says:

    We do not schedule confessions on Holy Saturday for practical reasons. During Lent we conduct our parish mission over a 4 day period with hours of confessions every day in addition to to the usual confessions after the 6:15 AM and 9 AM and 6:30 till 8 PM confessions every Wednesday. We also offer confessions every Friday evening from 7 PM until 8 PM and Saturday afternoon from 3:30 till 5 PM, confessions twice Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week. We also have a penance service with 20 priests present for individual confessions on Laetare Sunday evening. The three parish priests are also “in the box” for 5 hours on Good Friday. With the rehearsals and prep needed for the Easter Vigil and just the human need for a little “downtime” we do not advertise confessions Holy Saturday….although no person who approaches us for confession would ever be denied the sacrament. Think this fulfills the Code of Canon Law’s requirement that confession be available in a “reasonable” fashion. Remember friends that priests are people too.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. frjim4321 says:

    If Lent is a season of preparation for the celebration of the Easter mysteries during the Triduum why aren’t people actually prepared by the time the Triduum begins? Bishop Griffin (COL) years ago issued a wonderful pastoral letter on the Triduum clarifying that there should be ample opportunities for the Sacrament of Penance during Lent, as in prior to the Triduum. He also made it clear that confessions are never prohibited during the Triduum but the norm should be celebration of the sacrament during Lent itself.

    We don’t have confessions during the Triduum here but there are amble opportunities during Lent including a popular Communal Penance Service and other times. Nobody is deprived. And I never refuse if someone asks for confession at any time. If someone is going to preside at the entire Triddum plus three Easter masses, that’s pretty grueling. That’s why I favor carefully educating the parish so that everyone has an opportunity for confession but according to a realistic schedule that does not impose an arbitrary exhausting schedule for the priest.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If all people were sufficiently perfect to go to Confession before the Triduum, they would be sufficiently perfect never to have sinned in the first place.

    Realistically, a season of penitence is a season of temptations and failings, as well as a season of triumphs and strengthenings. And Good Friday and Holy Saturday are days designed to soften the hearts of sinners. That is a feature, not a bug.

    Sure you have stuff to do, but the fish are biting!

  14. acardnal says:

    Fr Richard Duncan, thank you for what you wrote…especially the last paragraph!

  15. JamesM says:


    Would you be so kind as to explain what you mean by “Communal Penance Service”?

  16. Gail F says:

    I went to Confession at a downtown parish during lunch here a few years ago. There was a long line all the way through noon Mass for the Confessional, and as I understand it that is always the case. People come for Mass or Confession on their lunch hours, sometimes one or the other, sometimes both. Why would that be a problem? I’ve heard that in Italy there are generally Confessions through Mass. But they are quite relaxed about all of Mass there, from the stories I’ve heard. We are more “start and end on time,” rules-followers here. That’s a custom, not a rule.

  17. Absit invidia says:

    We had the misfortune of having the Holy Water Fonts emptied throughout Lent in the Archdiocese of Portland. Why? I was told it was a penitential tradition. Not sure about that, but I DO know that holy water is a sacramental and serve as an aid to salvation.

  18. Volanges says:

    Absit invidia, Rome has already spoken on the removal of water from the fonts. It’s not to be done until the proper time, after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

    When it comes to Good Friday, the Church, in the document “Paschale Solemnitatis”, says:

    58. On this day, when “Christ our passover was sacrificed”, (63) the Church meditates on the Passion of her Lord and Spouse, venerates the Cross, commemorates her origin from the side of Christ on the Cross, and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world.

    59. On this day, in accordance with ancient tradition, the Church does not celebrate the Eucharist; Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful during the celebration of the Lord’s Passion alone, though it may be brought at any time of the day to the sick who cannot take part in the celebration. (64)

    60. Good Friday is a day of penance to be observed as of obligation in the whole Church, and indeed through abstinence and fasting. (65)

    61. All celebration of the sacraments on this day is strictly prohibited, except for the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. (66) Funerals are to be celebrated without singing, music, or the tolling of bells.

  19. frjim4321 says:

    James: Form B.

  20. Volanges says:

    I like Form B of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If I had my way, there would be one every month. Unfortunately, in many parishes they tend to be reserved for Advent and Lent which is what led our late Pastor to refuse to use that form in our parish: “It leads people to think they only have to confess twice a year, rather than whenever they aren’t in a state of grace.”

  21. frjim4321 says:

    “I like Form B of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If I had my way, there would be one every month.”


    SC makes it pretty clear that whenever a communal form of a sacrament is provided for in the Rite that is the preferred form.

  22. JamesM says:


    Do you commit general absolution?

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  24. FrJohnDowney says:

    I am Pastor of a very large parish near Los Angeles. We have several Penance Services during Lent and offer the Sacrament Tuesday and Thursday morning, as well as Saturday afternoons. While I do not forbid the Sacrament of Reconciliation on any occasion I find that those who have waited until the last minute for “Confession” are in two groups; those who forgot about it until the last minute and those who actually need the Sacrament because they were making a good Lent and something horrible happened and they committed a mortal sin. Most Catholics who are concerned about mortal sin are probably not going to commit a mortal sin, I cannot imagine a person who loves the Lord and His Church accidentally committing a mortal sin between Palm Sunday and Easter. It may happen, but it would be extremely rare. Can you imagine Pope John Paul II worrying about accidentally committing a mortal sin? See the irony? On occasions when someone says “Father, I know you’re busy, but is there any way you can hear my confession right now?” I have said “certainly”, only to pelted with cotton ball sins which would never approach the serious, let alone the mortal. So, hearing Confessions for hours on Holy Saturday has always been an exercise in the tedious art of telling people “Well, that’s your husband’s sin, not yours” or “Yes, it was bad for you to take that toy away from your little brother. But worse than that is the fact that your parents only take you to Mass on Christmas and Easter. Go now, and tell your mom and dad that they have to take you to Mass EVERY SUNDAY! It’s not your fault that you aren’t here, it’s theirs!” or “Yes, Mrs. Brown, you have a lovely daughter. But that’s not a sin.” There is a lot of abuse of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We Priests are at fault for that because we’ve been teaching people for years that God just loves you no matter what you do (see any modern Catechism book for children with images of sunshine and rainbows and perhaps even a unicorn). We’ve not taught them what mortal sin really is and that regular Confession is far more important than running in last minute on Holy Saturday to list other people’s sins or tell the Priest that you almost forgot to say your prayers.

  25. Elizabeth D says:

    Fr Downey, although some who do not want to confess their grave sins may produce only “cotton ball sins” in the Sacrament of Reconciliation thus failing to actually make a valid confession, those who do go to confession regularly may actually have only “cotton ball sins” to confess because the grace they receive from confessing venial sins regularly and having a regular prayer life is of immense help in staying away from mortal sins. Some priests are really indifferent to the need and desire of those who are probably stably in a state of grace who approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation understanding it to be a great help in their continued growth in the life of Grace. We are NOT supposed to go through life continually backsliding into mortal sin but actually meant with the help of Grace to progress in all the virtues, which are stable habits. There is nothing improbable about even someone who is a saint seeking confession during Holy Week.

    But people are at different stages, there are certainly some who do fall in and out of a state of Grace; they have not yet fully made a fundamental conversion to Christ and to protecting the life of Grace in their soul that they may never be separated from Him. It is not difficult at all to think that there are sincere people who have some love for God who nevertheless are rather enslaved by their sin and not at the stage where they have gone cold-turkey on habitual grave sins such as masturbation or pornography, fornication, contracepted marital intercourse, drunkenness, etc and therefore sin mortally between Palm Sunday and Easter. There may be many who egregiously and knowingly refuse to fast and abstain on Good Friday because they deny the Church’s authority to bind them to such a precept.

  26. acardnal says:

    “Most Catholics who are concerned about mortal sin are probably not going to commit a mortal sin, I cannot imagine a person who loves the Lord and His Church accidentally committing a mortal sin between Palm Sunday and Easter. It may happen, but it would be extremely rare. ”

    Dear Fr. Downey and other priests,
    please know that no matter how many special penance services you have arranged or weekend confessions times, people commit mortal sins every day. . . even since their previous confession last weekend! Sexual temptation is everywhere. . . especially via one’s cell phone, computer and TV. Mortal sin happens . . . easily and frequently in today’s world even for those who love the Lord.

  27. acardnal says:

    Elizabeth D. said it very well: “It is not difficult at all to think that there are sincere people who have some love for God who nevertheless are rather enslaved by their sin and not at the stage where they have gone cold-turkey on habitual grave sins such as masturbation or pornography, fornication, contracepted (sic) marital intercourse, drunkenness, etc and therefore sin mortally between Palm Sunday and Easter. “

    Folks who have been away from the Church for years and have developed entrenched sinful behavior during those years often have difficulty overcoming these grave sins. They are trying to become holy but they need time. They need grace. That’s why they come to confession . . .often. That’s why they go to Mass every Sunday. They fall, they get up again, they go to confession. As often as necessary.

  28. acardnal says:

    May God bless the priests who hear confessions DAILY! Our Lord has a special place in heaven for them.

  29. Seppe says:

    As essential as the Sacrament of Penance is for all of us, it’s a wonder that the Church has not yet compiled more of an “official resource” for penitents, especially containing some of the wise counsels of the saints who offered guidance. Maybe Fr. Z or other Readers are aware of some resources that might be helpful. One example that comes to mind is a quote from St. Augustine:

    “Many sins are committed through pride, but not all happen proudly. They happen so often out of ignorance and out of human weakness. Many sins are even committed by people weeping and groaning in their distress.”

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