Something we never see, but should

Something we never see, but should December 10, 2011

It happened recently at our parish mission, and it was something I’ll never forget.

The mission had an extraordinary turnout: what started with a couple hundred stalwart souls on Monday grew night after night, until the closing liturgy had a packed church of, I’d guess, close to a thousand people.

But the most memorable of the four nights, for me, was a penance service on the third night.  The presiding priest, who gave the mission, explained it simply.  There were going to be eight stations set up around the church, with a priest at each spot.  (It was out in the open, no confessionals.)  We were to approach any one of the eight stations, tell the priest how long it had been since our last confession, then confess our sins.  He would offer absolution and then we would move on.  In anticipation of this, the presiding priest had all of us pray the Act of Contrition together, and he pronounced our penance in advance.  (It obviously had a big effect on me; I can’t remember now what the penance was.  But it struck me at the time as being both creative and meaningful.)

Anyway, the entire process took a little over a half an hour, accompanied by a couple dozen hymns that we sang together.  But this is what struck me: after all the people had been to confession, the final ones to go were…the priests.  Each priest went to another of the priests present, confessed his sins and received absolution.

I found that unexpected moment powerful, and moving, and inspiring. I couldn’t remember ever seeing a priest go to confession (or at least, seeing someone I recognized as a priest…maybe they go incognito?).  The only time priests talk about confession is when they want to encourage us to do it.   But that simple act — seeing a penitent priest, confessing his sins to another priest — spoke volumes.  There was grace, and humility, and humanity.

It made me think: maybe if more people saw their priests in line at the confessional, they’d be more inclined to join them.

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32 responses to “Something we never see, but should”

  1. Amen!

    A little boy in our parish once asked his mother why “x” was going to confession since they “run the place.” The mother wisely explained that no one one was above God, or above confession, and that “x” had to go to confession, too. I was so moved when the mother shared this with me. What that child could clearly see spoke volumes.

    “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.

  2. I would guess many priests go to confession privately or if they are standing on line they are not wearing a collar.

  3. As a priest, I never make it to confession when others are usually going (Saturday afternoon or evening; or at area Penance Services) since I am celebrating the sacrament at my own parish (which I will be doing in a few minutes) or at that very service. In many diocese the houses of religious priests make confession available throughout the week for priests and many of us also make us of a regular confessor or spiritual director. In addition, many diocese offer days of prayer for priests when confession is available. Please God all of my brothers are making use of this wonderful sacrament.

  4. I’m sure that’s the case, RomCath. But seeing a priest going to confession was, for me, a powerful witness.

  5. I agree that the greatest witness is a priest along side those of us in the pews. Once in a while I will be in a parish where the priest will come back to the pews after mass and pray in silence for a bit, or visit the Blessed Sacrament. There is nothing he could ever preach that would be more powerful.

  6. I have seen this, more than once. I also know that priests (even cardinals) often come to confession in my parish, which is staffed by a religious order with a special charism for the spiritual care of priests. There is a special confessional in the rectory lobby for this purpose.

  7. Why are you not sure? Do you have a low estimate of priests?
    RomCath is right. In the ArchNY, at least, priests (and even bishops) often go on their day off during the week to churches like St. Francis or St. John the Baptist in lay clothes. Above the city there’s Trinity, the Salesian shrin, or certain priests known as good confessors. The Archdiocese also has periodic days of recollection at the seminary when numerous confessors are brought in.

  8. Why weren’t confessionals used? There should be the option of anonymous confession. Forcing everyone to confess face to face seems eminently unpastoral.

    Also, wouldn’t it have been more encouraging to the lay penitents if they’d seen the priests go to confession first?

  9. APF:

    Read my comment. I said I’m SURE that’s the case — that they DO go to confession in other places, without their collar.

    But what I witnessed was something I’d never seen before. It was a great witness.

    Dcn. G.

  10. If the Reconciliation Service was all about showing the people that priests go to confession, too, then their celebration of the sacrament before the congregation would seem appropriate. I have no doubt, though, that was not the case! I can only imagine the uproar that would cause: they tell/invite us to go… and then they “barge in” and go before us.
    Having seen this happen on more than one occasion, and not believing it to be pre-planned, I’m inclined to think that the priests chose to avail themselves of the sacrament while sufficient confessors were available, and while not inconveniencing anyone else.

  11. Our pastor has talked about it – about him needing to go when he reveals that he’s had a less than acceptable response to a parishioner, or whatever – so I’ve always taken from that that he does go to confession and think that’s great.

    We have a communal penance service like this coming up this week – and my husband is *this close* to coming – he had been away from the Catholic Church for a LONG time thanks to his Mother leaving the faith right after his confirmation. He’s been coming to Mass with me and our children for the last two years – but not communion. He says he’s not good enough to receive. Please pray for him. This is something I pray about but do not push him on because I don’t want to push him away. I give him little snippets of information like ‘there’ll be lots of priests there, ones that you don’t even know.’ I feel like he’s very close- and would love for him to feel like he can come back into full communion with the church.

  12. Wouldn’t deacons in collars going to confession be a similar good witness (that is if one’s diocese allowed/asked deacons to wear the collar while doing parish work.

  13. I did go to confession in my alb and stole back in October when I was presiding at an XLT night for our Life Teen community. I was presiding at the exposition/adoration/Benediction while the parish priests were available for confessions. It was a good opportunity for me to go, and hopefully good witness for the people present. In my Archdiocese we are not permitted to wear the Roman Collar or other clerical dress. We are allowed to wear a lapel pin of a cross with the deacon’s stole on it, or wear a deacon’s cross necklace as long as it will not be confused with the pectoral cross worn by the bishops.

  14. No, for the hardened or bitter sinners this would not do a lick of good. They’d simply accuse the priest of having done something so bad that he needs to go to confession.

  15. *sigh*

    Bogus communal penance and no opportunity for anonymous individual confessions. The pastor should be ashamed of himself for not having the confessionals manned and the mission preacher corrected on his poor sacramental praxis. Being a good preacher is no excuse for bad behavior (cf. ex-Msgr. Fushek and ex-Fr. Corapi).

  16. It is too bad – but alas a bit common – that your Archbishop denies your canonical right to wear clerical dress. A canonical right can only be denied by means of penalty (punishing an individual cleric for a serious action). The clause in canon law usually referred to permit this abuse of canonical dress allows a bishop to state when he wants his permanent deacons to NOT chose the option of opting out of such dress. It reads: “Permanent deacons are not bound by the provisions of canon 284, 285 ßß3 and 4, 286, 287 ß2, unless particular law states otherwise.” (C. 288) Thus you can clearly see that this is directed to those times when a bishop does not want his deacons to make us of this option of non-clerical dress (“states otherwise”). Our archbishop respects canon law and each deacon’s maturity to decide and leaves the choice of such dress as to when and where up to each one of us as per canon law.

  17. Diakonos09…

    We don’t wear the collar in my diocese, either. I don’t even own one.

    Dcn. G.

  18. The way I’m reading it, both confession and absolution were individual; I’m not really seeing how the pastor or preacher did anything wrong. I don’t know how it is in Dcn. Greg’s parish, but in mine there are always regular times posted for confessions apart from penance services; these would be in the confessional with the option to stay behind the screen.

  19. When I went to the Pope’s Mass at Yankee Stadium a few years ago, there were Priests stationed in different sections hearing individual Confessions out in the open before the Mass – no one was behind a screen.

  20. Canon 284 says that clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb according tot he norms issued by the conference of bishops and according to legitimate local customs. Canon 288 says that canon 284 does not bind permanent deacons. So there is no conflict with canon law regarding what we have been requested and allowed to wear as permanent deacons.

  21. Melody…

    We have confession six days a week at my parish, at regular times. Using the confessionals. The reconciliation event was an exceptional one, with exceptional circumstances and exceptional number of people — offhand, I’d say 700-800 people.

    Dcn. G.

  22. It only conflicts with canon law if you are directly and strictly forbidden to wear the collar. Canon 288 grants you as deacon the freedom to make us of this exemption if you wish to claim it. It grants to the bishop the authority to decide when his deacons may NOT make use of this exemption. It’s one of several clerical things got waylaid during the advent of the restored diaconate when many tended to emphasize the external life of a deacon (what he has in common with his lay peers) over the interior reality of who he is (an ordained clergyman no longer living his faith as a layman).

  23. Obviously, that was a unique situation.
    But, at a “penance service” in a “church,” there should be opportunity for an anonymous confession.

  24. All the more reason to respect that a good portion of the people might prefer anonymity. After all, why give people extra anxiety if they haven’t gone in a long time. And for those who might be skittish having no confessionals only gives an excuse not to go.

  25. Deacon Greg:

    The number of people present does not affect the use of confessionals or not. No reason why 2 or 3 of the priests could have been in those while the other priests were in the open. Canon 964 addresses this situation: penitents have a right to an anonymous confession.

  26. Fr. Michael:

    Yes, they do. And if that’s what they want, they also have the right to visit our church on any of the 300 days during the year when confession is heard anonymously.

    I don’t know why this service was handled in this way. I’m sure the organizers had their reasons.

    Dcn. G.

  27. Let me see if I have this straight:

    –Deacons are being chastized because they follow the direct order of their bishop and do not wear a clerical collar except with permission.
    –Priests are chastized because more folks do not see them go to confession.
    –Lay Catholics are chastized because they do not go to confession enough (Look in previous blog-streams here.)
    –Parishes are chastized because they do not provide confessionals for anonymous and discreet confessions during Penance Services.

    Have I missed anything?

    Now, will someone please explain to your humble blogger why any of this is so controversial.

    I have no real reason to care about any of this.

  28. You missed that bishops are chastised because they violate canon law by forbidding deacons to wear clerical attire.

    Generally, when I don’t care about something, I don’t comment on it. You should maybe give it a try.

  29. “I’m sure the organizers had their reasons.”

    I’m pretty sure that they did, and those reasons unduly and unnecessarily violated the rights of the penitents to an anonymous confession.

  30. Thank you for that insight. I was simply voicing how tedious I find many of these comments. Perhaps it is only in this stream or maybe that I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!.

    Now: you wrote “You missed that bishops are chastised because they violate canon law by forbidding deacons to wear clerical attire”

    Your point is really rooted in the well-known conflict between an English/American view of the role of law versus a Roman/Latin view of law. This also helps explain why very few civil lawyers become Canon Lawyers and vice versa.

    –In the US, law is always the highest authority and everyone must obey it. That is because of a long legal history of that concept dating way back to the Founding Fathers. That is the essence of the idea of “English Common Law.”

    –“Roman/Latin Common Law” has no such pretensions of supremacy and that notion is well established in both the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the 1983 edition we currently use in the Catholic Church. The Pope can and does change provisions of Canon Law fairly regularly (last time that I recall was in December 2009) and local bishops can decide when and if the published Canon Law “applies” in their own dioceses.

    In other words, Canon Law sections are “abrogated” by individual bishops all the time and that IS one of their permitted “perks” once they are canonically invested with a genuine home diocese (not a “titular” one). I can think of many examples of this inconsistency.

  31. Particular Law (local or national) only trumps Universal Law (Canon Law) when and if a canon grants this exception or clause to the local ordinary or national conference. The only time they have this “perk” is when canon law or the pontiff grant them this exception. But yes…there is indeed a difference in meaning, style, application and understanding between canon and civil law.

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