Friday, May 31, 2019

Brother priests: why aren't you hearing more confessions?

This is a post especially for my brother priests.

I've been a priest sixteen years, and as the years go by, I find myself spending more time in confession -- not so much as a penitent, I mean, but as a confessor. At Saint Remy, we have about six hours of confession every week. On top of that, we have lots of extra times for confession, for our schoolkids, in the weeks before Christmas, and in Lent, and some other extras all year long.

People always say, oh that's a lot! And it is, by comparison with most parishes (although we don't stand out so much in this area; see below*). Even then, I am not convinced it's enough, really, but maybe it's close.

Here's what I don't get: having one -- and only one -- hour a week for confessions. Or even less. Unless you're an extremely small parish, how does this get the job done?

* For what it's worth, here's the situation locally. I went to and looked up confessions in my area. Sunday: two parishes nearby have confessions (including mine). Monday: one parish, 16 miles away. Tuesday: four parishes nearby. Wednesday: three parishes, plus mine. Thursday: eight parishes, plus mine. Friday: two parishes. Saturday: a whole bunch, as you might expect. Without doing a detailed analysis, it looks to me that most parishes around here -- or "clusters," where multiple parishes share one or more priests -- have about two hours on average.

Now let's look at nearby Dayton, where we have some really big parishes.

Without naming the parishes, here's what I found:

- A lot of small to medium size parishes with an hour or two. Certainly some with more.
- Several really big ones, with an hour or less.

Now, to be fair, the information at could be incorrect. However, when I clicked through on a couple of parish websites -- those with minimal confession times -- the information was confirmed.

If you ask me to name the parishes, I won't. I know the priests at these parishes, and they don't necessarily fit the stereotypes people are always ready to provide. This isn't about "liberal" or "conservative," or even a generational thing. My purpose isn't to make anyone out to be a bad guy, just to ask: do you really think this is enough?

Think of it this way:

1. Do you really think the state of the Catholic Faith is healthy in our diocese? Are we growing or stagnant or fading?

2. Do you think we need spiritual renewal?

3. Do you think Catholics are making healthy use of the sacrament of confession? If you do, based on what, exactly?

4. And, finally, how can there be spiritual renewal without the sacrament of penance? Jesus gave us exactly seven sacraments, and exactly one that is all about forgiveness and conversion. How can there be any plan for spiritual renewal that doesn't include healthy portions of this sacrament?

Now, I know what a lot of people -- including priests -- will say: people won't come.

To which I say, yes and no.

Yes, it's true that adding more hours of confession may not make much of a difference, if that's all you do. But if you also talk about it, from the pulpit, in the bulletin, and other ways; if you talk about your own need for confession and how it's helped you; if you really go after it...then yes, it will help. You will see more people.

On the other hand, I will point out that if you can, there is a time when -- if you offer confessions -- people will come with hardly any extra effort. What is that magic time? It's right before Mass, either daily or Sunday.

Yes, it's frustrating that people seem to expect everything for their convenience. And as a priest all by myself in my parish, I realize it can be hectic hearing confessions right before Mass, and then get things ready for Mass. For that reason, I don't do this all the time. But I can tell you, it does work.

But in our largest parishes, we have two and sometimes three priests. Why not have confessions offered by the priest not offering that Mass? That way, you can offer confessions right up until Mass starts.

Sad to say, there was a lot of misinformation promoted for many years in priestly formation. A lot of priests were told that it was actually wrong to have confessions available if Mass was going on. This is false. We were told that you shouldn't have confessions during the Triduum; this is not only wrong, it's INSANE!

Yes, it's hard work, especially when you've got lots of other things to do, and that's certainly true the week before Christmas, and Holy Week. But people WILL come to confession at those times. And if you preach about (and also practice in your own life) frequent confession, you can and will make a difference. I've seen it work; I've heard people say, "I heard you talk about confession at Mass..." "You kept hammering the point, I finally came..."

Our country and our Church desperately need renewal. And that renewal cannot come without a revival of the sacrament of penance. Do you think I'm wrong? Tell me why.


Anonymous said...

I have a question, Father - my husband came into the church recently, and our pastor gave him the impression that confession is really for the serious sins, and that all the people who come to confess the same venial sins over and over are wasting everyone's time.

I have always found that getting into the "habit" of confession both keeps my sin level (more) aimed at "venial" and makes it easier to go once I hit the 'really-really-need-to-go" level. Plus, the process of "how to go" becomes way less of a hurdle.

Can you point me to anything I might share with my husband, other than my own experience, to highlight the benefit of frequent confession even when you don't have anything mortal to confess?

M. Prodigal said...

Where I live, I go between two parishes. Both have TWO weekday Masses with confessions at each one. Often, at one parish (both parishes have two priests) one of the priests will hear confessions during Mass. So, both parishes have confession opportunities at least 11 hours a week and often more. And there are penitents for every single time. As a movie once said: if you build it, they will come. Any priest truly concerned for the holiness of his people will offer multiple times for confession.

Jonathan said...

Pardon jumping in, but this book has been very important to me: Benedict Baur,Frequent Confession Its Place in the Spiritual Life. As a convert (almost 3 years ago--thanks be to God!) I have found what you said to be very true. Frequent confession is such a gift of grace. I think there needs to be Sacramental Penance Congress to help folks rediscover the love of Christ in confession.

rcg said...

When I was in the military, we would be inserted several miles from our final contact with the enemy and carry our heavy equipment as close as we could before the encounter. Just before engagement we would drop the burden and enter only with what was essential for success. How light it felt when that burden was gone! Light as a feather and tireless! Drop the burden, prepare for contact with the Enemy; the Chief has found the wicked snares and marked them for us to avoid and our Captain has our shields and ammunition. Go to confession and drop the useless burden that slows you down and makes you an easy target. Confession is like leaving behind a radio transmitter the enemy can detect. You are marked now for God alone.

Costanoan said...

I was recently a visitor to Phoenix, Arizona, and decided to attend Mass at the SS. Simon & Jude Cathedral there. When I picked up their bulletin, I was astonished to see that confession is offered there for fourteen hours a week! Nothing similar to that is offered in my home area in California, where forty-five minutes a week is common. That level of commitment to the sacrament approaches the Cure d'Ars or the Padre Pio level; granted, there appear to be three priests assigned there, not just one. One of the two hours on Sunday begins one half-hour after the 11 AM Mass begins, and I can testify that the line of penitents waiting for that particular opportunity was long indeed. Phoenix Catholics are blessed, in their Cathedral parish.

Anonymous said...

Replying to Anonymous and the situation where the Priest told your Husband about confession only being for mortal sins and venial sins a wasting time etc
While its certainly sad as a new
Catholic into the Church Congratulations! your Husband having to hear that from the Priest but you can also point out to
Your Husband that St Padre Pio who is a Cannonized Saint counseled to go to Confession no more than every 8 days and St Pio said we are to look at our souls as a room and every week dust collects in the room and the room needs cleaning. Just as our souls need to be dusted off and cleaned up every week.
Frequent Confessions of venial sins the Chatechisim teaches helps us not to fall into mortal sins. Frequent Confessions of venial sins are encouraged by the Chatechisim . Plus it gives us graces every time we go to confession that will help us. I use to confess once a month as a good Catholic Priest said in today's society and culture and what were faced with should be goin to confession 12x a year. Then I started going every 2 weeks. Then when I learned St Padre Pio s counsels I go every week. St Pio also said we should make an examination of conscience every Day and even different times thru out the day to keep us on track and remind ourselves how we're doing
Im sorry your Husband got that kind of information from the Priest. Maybe He didn't have a good Seminary training background and thats what He was taught but remember also as Catholics we are all responsible to have an informed conscience so we need to check the chatechisim and see if what Father is saying is what the Chatechisim/
And the Magisterium and Church Documents are saying and making sure its the same if what the Church is teaching. I know the chatechisim teaches frequent Confessions even venial to help keep us out of mortal sin. That's the beautiful mystery of the Catholic Church
We all follow the same teachings and have easy answers to if something doesn't seem right if we're given information that's not sitting right with us or confused about something. We can all look for the teachings available to us. Hope this helps and your Husband will go to frequent Confessions for venial sins because they are just as important to work thru conquering them even tho not mortal sin and not breaking off our friendship with God but they are still sins on our soul that we need to confess

I never could understand how some Catholics could only go on Christmas or Easter only
I would never be able to remember everything I did all year! As it is trying to remember weekly! If we don't think we have any venial sins we can just ask the people who live with us especially our family and people who live with us every day. They're more than happy to help tell us what some of our venial sins are!!

Fr Martin Fox said...

Anonymous from June 1...

There are so many books and pamphlets that encourage frequent confession, that I can't really recommend anything particular. Try an Internet search, I'm sure you'll find a lot, including good information online. Or simply look at the Catechism, which is also available for free online. It talks about the value of frequent confession.

It puzzles me why that priest would have said that to your husband; all I can hope is that there was some misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

* I agree with Fr. Martin that priests should offer more hours of confession and write and preach about it often. I am trying to do just that. However, it does get challenging when there is only one priest for multiple parishes (the case in many dioceses, including parts of Cincinnati). That's why, for example, a Cathedral parish with multiple priests assigned can offer so many hours, but your own parish might not be able to do so. Penitents should remember that it is not necessary to go to your own parish. If there is a parish nearby with multiple priests (such as a cathedral), why not go there, instead of complaining about the limited hours in your own parish? This is one of the many (unfortunate) adjustments people may have to make in the era of priest shortage. Not every parish can offer everything, especially if the pastor is "riding the circuit" across multiple parishes.

* It is a great practice to go to confession monthly. However, also important to keep in mind that it is not just the quantity that matters ("just showing up") but making a good confession with careful preparation. (Similarly, we receive more grace from Mass if we are spiritually prepared for it). I say this because many priests get a confession saying something like this, "I haven't been for months or years, but my only sin is that I was a little impatient to my spouse" The priest can help you along if you don't know what to confess, but really the penitent has to do most of the spiritual work in advance. There are a ton of good (and thorough) aids to examinations of conscience to help in this.

-Fr. Reutter

Lee Gilbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Gilbert said...

Several years ago I interviewed separately about ten "old timers" and daily communicants. My question was, "Over the course of your lifetime what have your heard from the Church ( in grade school, missions, sermons, etc.) is the recommended MINIMUM frequency of going to Confession? To a person they said, "At least once a month."

So then, with that number, I did the math for a parish of 1000 penitents, with the average confession being 4 minutes long. It came to about 17 hrs per week of available confession time.

Safe to say we are falling short. Yet, here is the problem it poses for Jesus Christ ( one would think), "If my people will not avail themselves of the sacraments, why do they need priests?" In other words, this lassitude is likely contributing to the "vocations crisis."

Fr Martin Fox said...

Lee Gilbert:

I think you are on to something. Without letting bishops and priests off the hook, the shortage of priests is to some degree about the "lassitude" of many laity. When you read about the saints, how often you see mention of the parents trying to talk Thomas Aquinas or Mary Magdalene di Pazzi out of their vocation; and it continues to this day. Without excusing priests from their duty to offer confessions and promote the sacrament, it remains within the agency of laity to make things change simply by asking.

What would happen if someone came to a parish priest and said, "Father, if you can manage to hear confessions for another hour or two, I predict people will show up. I know, because I belong to a prayer group that is praying for this to happen, and all X of us have pledged we will show up?" Such a group could also promote the sacrament without the priest having to lift a finger.

And if father needed prodding, what if a group of lay folks simply starting parking themselves in the pews of their parish church, near the confessional, say every Wednesday at noon. Nothing rude or disruptive; they form a line and they pray quietly. After an hour, they leave. Father asks, what are you doing here every week? "Praying for you to be able to offer more confessions." If the parish church is locked, they could pray on the steps. You get the idea.

My point is NOT to suggest being obnoxious or unreasonable. I understand what Father Reutter said above (and knowing him, I know he's trying to be generous). My only point is that the faithful can -- in very respectful, faith-filled ways, make things happen. Didn't Vatican II say the laity should be engaged and active?

Lee Gilbert said...

Pursuing this same line of thinking, but in a different vein, practically everyone in the Church knows, I think, that to be a daily communicant is a good thing. When we say of anyone, "He is a daily communicant," it is co-terminous with "He is an excellent Catholic." He is devout, close to Jesus Christ, disciplined, holy. Am I wrong?

So then, here is my question. Why do priests not promote this practice to the max? We had an excellent Dominican priest several years ago, who, without fail would mention in every sermon directly or as an aside that the Eucharist is "the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ." Here I am talking about the rhetoric of repetition. Could a priest not end every sermon with something like, "And, beside that my dear people, getting to Mass every day is a wonderful practice."

I say this, because I read several years ago of a priest who had one third of his parishioners coming to Mass every day. He promoted it to the max. It is a truism of salesmanship (and an area where the children of darkness have more wisdom after their own kind than the children of light) that if you want the order, you must ask for it. Or, to put it more scripturally, "You receive not, because you do not ask."

If a pastor were to ask, seek, knock in his prayer to his people, would they not awake from their sleep, and open the door to their hearts and to the church, come in and receive from him the bread of life? If they did so, they would be telling Jesus Christ that yes, they want priests. It is principle of theology that God speaks to us not only with words, but with things. That also is in our power. We pray with words for more priests. Far more effective, I would think, would be to pray with our bodies, to show up every day at Mass, at the communion rail.

IF we want a priest at our death bed, what better prayer could we offer for a happy and a holy death than to beg priests of God by what we say to Him every morning of our lives?

Fr Martin Fox said...


That's an interesting suggestion, and one I will keep in mind.

What I will say now -- with obvious lack of reflection -- is that there are a great many things a priest would do well to emphasize in his parish. When everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Also, the harder truth is that if I really want a great portion of my parishioners to attend daily Mass, how will I go about accommodating them? What hour of the day will work for that? It is far from obvious.

Let me give you another angle on this. I am currently weighing moving one weekday Mass earlier from 8:15 am, for those for whom this is simply too late in the day. I'd be willing (if not eager) to have Mass at 6 or 6:30 am. But here are some considerations:

- I have no idea who would show up; I might not know for some time. It simply takes time for such things to catch on.

- Many of those who currently attend daily Mass at 8:15 am would not be able to come. This is not a reflection on them; many people find it hard to get things "going" in the morning. And darkness is an issue for many.

- Put these two considerations together, and I might find, in a year's time, that it's a net loss.

- Finally, when I travel, it is likely I would not be able to get a priest to cover such a Mass. Canceling and moving Masses around may seem an easy expedient, but in practice it doesn't work out that way. Certain things need to be reliable. People won't know -- won't think to verify whether -- the Mass is still at the same time, or moved, or called off. It would be very frustrating to people to get up and drive to a 6 am Mass, only to discover it's been moved or cancelled for whatever reason.

This last consideration weighs on me the most. I don't like scheduling Mass in such a way that the schedule can't be reliable.

All that said? I'm still thinking about what I might say or do to encourage more daily Mass attendance. Thanks for the suggestion.

Lee Gilbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Gilbert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee Gilbert said...

Thanks for thinking about it. Of course, it is easy enough to make suggestions, but putting them into practice is something different altogether.

One thing, though, I myself am an old-timer of 76, but it is a pet peeve of mine that virtually all the parishes in the area have daily Mass schedules geared to retirees. Yet, who has more leisure to adjust their schedules?

Meanwhile, people in their late twenties, thirties and forties who have many demands on their time, who are in the throes of raising children, who have demanding work schedules, and because of their age are subject to many temptations, cannot find a Mass to attend of a weekday to get the grace they need to keep their head above water. In my view at least they should have preference.

And I think, perhaps, if this were explained to the older crowd, they would see the need for it.

In connection with this business, maybe another, preliminary sale to make is the spiritual utility and beauty of early rising, even for retirees. For many it would make a prayer life possible. The Chinese evangelical Watchman Nee has a small book called "Early Rising" available from Amazon for $3.00. Since ( as I recall) virtually all of his arguments are scriptural, there is no reason why Catholic pastors cannot purloin them.

As it is, for most the rhythm of daily life is very hectic. We blame a great deal on "the culture of death, etc.," but perhaps a significant underlying problem is "Hurry sickness." The alarm goes off at 7 and we are off to the races, soon in traffic with the radio on, buried in work till 5, hurry home in traffic with the radio on, then dinner and three hours of TV with the family, put the children in bed, perhaps an amorous interlude with the spouse, off to sleep at midnight, up at 7 . . .and on and on. Where is God in all this?

Yet, with going to bed an hour earlier, and up an hour earlier, a spiritual life becomes possible, with daily Mass in reach, if it is available.

Honestly, I think many people would be receptive to this argument, Father, even retirees.

rcg said...

This is an awesome thread. Frequent confession can lead to a more contemplative life and more persistent yearning for and pursuit of God’s will. Even small things can assist us reflect on and confirm our reason for being

John said...

If priests are available before Mass on Sundays to hear Confessions (e.g., Fr A says Mass, Fr B hears Confessions) then Fr B might also appear to distribute Communion, which was the way most parishes functioned before we discovered a need for armies of Eucharistic Ministers. THe parishes' padres were dispsensed from the Third Commandment's "no work on Sundays" rule: Sunday morning was time for EVERYBODY to be circulating around the Church (which doesn't seem to be a bad thing for priests to do). But I think we have created a post-Vatican II mentality that undermined that vision and, to the degree that your practice counteracts it, more power to you!

Catholic Dan said...

One thought missing here is that at most parishes, I think, priests are available anytime for confessions. One has only to call the rectory and make an appointment. Most parishes have a priest on duty, and one of his roles is confessor when people drop in without appointment to confess.

John Johnson said...

St. Theresa of Calcutta went to confession once a week. St. John Paul the Great is known to have gone every day. Confession confers forgiveness, but it also confers grace so that the venial sins do not turn into mortal. I spent four years in the seminary, but I left and married. And I am glad of that, but I recently had a dream that I had just been ordained and I was running through the vestibule of the church shouting: "I can forgive sins! I can raise my hand and forgive sins!" I don't understand why some priests think the Sacrament of Penance is a burden on them.

Anonymous said...

Like you Fr.Martin I am the only priest assigned to my parish. I am at a parish with 4400+ active families. In my diocese this a medium sized parish. Supply priests help me with weekend Masses but I do everything else and if we cannot find supply priests then it is not uncommon for me to celebrate 4 to 5 Masses on Sunday (the most I have done is 6). We have confessions for 2 hours on Saturday. I have preached extensively on the examination of conscience because I have found that many people do not do this and they end up confessing things that are not sins. I understand that people have to vent but when you have 30+ waiting for you it really is not the time to do that-I have taught from the ambo and in the confessional. As I see it it is an act of charity to make a good confession and to not confess anything that is not- an act of charity for the priest and for our brethren waiting to confess. Teaching the examination has helped a lot with the preaching on the sacrament. I would love to offer more confession times because I genuinely love hearing confessions but there is only so much my body and my brain can take and I need to be relatively well so that I can offer myself again the next day. We need more vocations to the priesthood. We need to pray for holy and hardworking men who have a life centered on Christ, love the Church and love its people. I need help. WE need help Fr. Martin. Thank you for your blog!

Anonymous said...

I a long time I was going to confession weekly which was fine, but to me it seemed I was going through the motions and not really thinking about what I did since my last confession so I changed it to every other week. (2X a month). Sometimes if I feel compelled, then I will go yet again.

Like you said Fr. Martin, how on earth can you only go twice a year or even once?! At my parish they offer confession during mass, so I go then if I get out of my routine. I find if I go frequently, it is not difficult to confess.