From the Pastor: Please Help With Confessions!
How can lay people help with confessions? Only priests can hear confessions, after all. Well, that brings me to problem number one for which I need your assistance. Anyone, not just a priest, can hear confessions. Only the priest can absolve you after your confession, but anyone else can certainly hear it! For instance, people who sit or stand too close to the confessional may, indeed, overhear confessions, especially if the person confessing is loud. (People who are hard of hearing often speak loudly without realizing it. Also, a priest who is hard of hearing may need you to speak loudly so that he can hear and understand your confession.) Anyone who, for whatever reason, overhears someone else’s confession is bound to the seal of confessional secrecy. But people trust the priest to keep secrets a whole lot more than they trust the “average Joe” who is standing outside the confessional door. I bring this up because people have been noticing (and worrying about) people who insist, for whatever reason, on sitting in the very last pews right outside the confessional door on the left (looking to the rear of the church) or even in the choir stalls on the other side of the church. Can you hear what is said from there? It doesn’t matter! People think you can! Be cognizant that privacy is a very important part of confession and you shouldn’t sit close to the confessional, for even if you cannot hear what is said, people may make bad confessions if they are worried that you can.
That leads to the second way I need your help with confession. Because confessions are heard during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and people rightly don’t want to turn their back on Our exposed Lord as they wait for their turn in the confessional, we have our confession line start in the pew in front of the choir area rather than having you stand in the aisle looking towards the confessionals. This keeps you a nice distance from the confessional so that you cannot hear what is said and it allows you to face Our Lord in the monstrance (most of the time) or the tabernacle as you prayerfully prepare to confess. But it also means that you cannot see when the person in front of you leaves the confessional and they often “sneak out” without you knowing it. Please, if you are the next one in line, turn around and watch so that you know when it is your turn. It is not disrespectful to Our Lord if you do so. Very often the priest (Fr. Mangiafico and I are the usual priests hearing confessions) waits many minutes between confessions even if there are twenty people waiting in line, all because the next person isn’t paying any attention. This is also a reminder that sometimes there are two priests hearing confessions, so watch both confessionals!
This also leads to a third way I need your help with confessions. Please be in line for confession. Very often when there are two priests hearing confessions one will be done before the other. He will leave when the line is finished. But then twenty more people come who were not in line and the other priest is there for another hour by himself. We also get chased down quite often, after we have left the confessional, by people who were eating donuts rather than lining up. Not too many Sundays ago I had five people race up to me begging for confession when I was between the confessional and the sacristy. That is, I left and returned to the confessional five times for five different people who caught me as I was walking through the church or social hall on my way to the sacristy. Five! I would like to just say “tough luck, try again next week” (remember, I am a grouchy old priest) but I don’t want somebody in mortal sin (which may or may not be the case) to have to wait for absolution just because demons managed to convince them that donuts were more important than confession for just a few minutes. Please get in line if you want confession!
Finally, spend your time in line actually preparing for confession! It seems like a no-brainer but it must not be. Many people, after confessions have been going on for quite some time so I assume that they have been in line, come in quite unprepared. “Just a minute, Father, I’m not done, I’m just thinking of my sins!” Oh, what a terrible thing to say, since by it you are basically admitting that you just spent the last 30 minutes in line just grumbling about how long the people in front of you are taking rather than praying that God would allow you to remember all of your sins and to be truly sorry for them!
And, as a bonus request, parents, once again I beg you to see if your children have any clue whatsoever about how to confess! Test them! Priests cannot tell you (remember the seal?) that your children (and not just the youngest ones!) are coming in not knowing to make the sign of the cross, not knowing to say “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been this long since my last confession,” not knowing if they have committed any sins, or not knowing the act of contrition (or even how to read one), but it happens all too often! Don’t assume that just because they go into the confessional regularly that they are actually confessing!
Thank you for your help with confessions!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka