A Debate Online About Confession

This morning a friend of mine posted a photo regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was a photo posted to a confessional door in a church that said something along these lines: “Keep your time brief and ‘confess only your sins and offenses’ there’s no need to explain why you did them.” I don’t know if the photo was real or if it was from a real parish. But it stirred quite a debate.

 I definitely fell on one side of the debate. 


I understood that there would be a shortage of time for confession and that there would have to be a cutoff time—say, when Mass started, for example. But to tell people they couldn’t have their proper time with a representative of God in what I think is one of the most intimate of sacraments made me outraged. If I saw a sign such as that, I would walk away, feeling hurt and rebuffed.


I imagined going in there and reading my sins like a grocery list, and having them washed away like I was at a car wash—running through as quickly as possible for the next one to go through. There was a time during the Middle Ages when sins were read like a list—and the corresponding penance was given—also off a list—sometimes those sins required payment. That corrupt practice didn’t last long.


Sure, perhaps there are people who spend a great deal of time in confession, but maybe they need that time! Who knows what is going on in his or her lives?


What do you think of the sign? And do you think confession should be given a set time or do you think people should be given as much time as they need as determined by them and their confessor?


6 thoughts on “A Debate Online About Confession”

  1. I think the sign could have been better worded. The priest should, rather than put up a sign, go over how to make a good confession from the pulpit some time.

    People should be given the time they need to confess properly. That said, a proper confession shouldn’t take an enormous amount of time. The wording “no need to explain why you did them” suggests a potential problem. Confession is an opportunity to accuse oneself plainly before God now and obtain mercy, rather than he having to accuse us at the judgment. If people are explaining why they sinned are they accusing or excusing themselves? Now, maybe people want help dealing with the causes of their sin in great detail, that’s called spiritual direction and the public confession times are not best for it. If there is a line, one ought to be considerate to those behind them. I have personally missed opportunity for the sacrament as a result of someone a couple of people in front of me in line taking 20 minutes (when 35 were allotted for confessions).


  2. Perhaps there are some people who take advantage of this form of “free counseling” because they don’t have it in them to seek out or pay for a psychiatrist. Even representatives of God might lose their patience after a bit, no?


    1. I’ll have to ask a priest, but I think at that point they can suggest counseling or spiritual direction. But to have a sign like that on a confessional is off-putting before people even step into a sacrament that is supposed to be one of the most intimate and, in a way, open and vulnerable, experiences in the Catholic faith. At least that’s what it feels like to me. It’s a complicated sacrament, that’s for sure. Where do you draw the line between confession and counseling?


  3. This looks like a classic case where perception and intent didn’t match up. The sign certainly sends a message that can be interpreted in many ways. But, there are probably perfectly legitimate reasons behind its intent.

    From conversations I’ve had with priests and other parishioners about reconciliation I’d like to offer the following for consideration:

    1. At many parishes reconciliation is immediately before Saturday evening mass. The priest has a hard stop time he must abide by in order to get ready to conduct mass.
    2. Most priests ask me when I go to confession, “How many people are behind you?” They want to hear everyone’s confessions and absolve their sins. But, if it’s been a particularly sinful week for people and there are 20 people still in line and only 20 minutes before time is up, well…they need to know.
    3. Many penitent souls go to confession not so much to confess but to seek justification for their sins. They spend a lot of time explaining why they sinned and giving excuses, hoping for sympathy. These folks have missed the point. What God wants is for us to spend time before we go into the confessional, on our knees and truly sorry for offending Him, working through the reasons why we sinned and trying to figure out how to keep from doing it again.
    4. For some folks who have deeply rooted issues that make it particularly difficult to change their behavior, #3 just isn’t possible for them to do on their own. They do need counseling and there is an avenue for them. Every priest I know will schedule one-on-one time during the week for reconciliation for those who ask. In this way, there is ample time to explain the reasons for one’s sins and seek ideas about how to change. It’s not like Saturday afternoon mass is the only time God is listening. But, they might have to be inconvenienced and accept the priest’s schedule.

    This was a good subject and thank you for posting it. I like your blog, you go a good job. I’d like to invite you to stop by and read mine, reflectionsofalaycatholic.com, if you get a chance.


  4. I think the sign is OK. This time they only had one priest and they want to give as many people as possible the oportunity to confess. And it is a good reminder of the essence of confession. Name your sins Get forgiveness. But long talks with the priests are available by appointment.


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