For many years I’ve had the clear sense that most parishes allot an inadequate amount of time each week for Confession. In my experience, most parishes set aside one hour per week for scheduled Confessions, some set aside two hours, and very few set aside more than that.
What does that all that mean in practical terms? Well, I decided to dust off my calculator to see if there really is a “Confession shortage.”
First, let’s assume a large parish of 2,000 families, such that there are more than 4,000 people who have made their first Confession. This number can be somewhat validated by adding up the number of people at all the weekend Masses that satisfy the Sunday obligation, virtually all of whom receive Communion. Certainly there is always going to be a fair number of nominal Catholics who really do not participate in the sacramental life of the Church. But let’s assume that in our parish there are 4,000 people who consider themselves Catholic and who have already made their first Confession.
Second, let’s assume that the average person needs to spend 15 minutes per year in the confessional, whether it’s 15 minutes all at once or perhaps three five-minute Confessions over the course of the year. I’d suggest that the average adult Catholic needs to spend much more than 15 minutes per year in the confessional (I know I do!), but let’s go with this very conservative number.
If the 4,000 parishioners spend on average 15 minutes in Confession per year, the parish needs to allot 1,000 hours per year for Confession. This amounts to 19 hours per week. Since our parish is on the large side, let’s say we have two priests instead of one, which in many places is an unrealistic luxury. If both priests hear Confessions for two hours on Saturday, that’s still only four hours per week. Even allowing for a certain amount of “catch up” before Easter and Christmas through special Penance services, and taking into account that a handful of people do make appointments for Confession outside of the normally scheduled hours, we can quickly see that this sacrament is drastically under-utilized.
Sacramental Confession is an awesome encounter with the mercy of God. Without regular recourse to the sacrament, our sinful tendencies will likely get the better of us, dragging us and our loved ones deeper into darkness and away from the Lord. Further, this lack of Confession combined with frequent Communion is a deadly mix, as receiving Communion in a state of mortal sin in itself is a mortal sin that drags us down even farther.
There are many reasons for the current situation, and it’s not my intention to here to single out any particular group for criticism, as all of us need to take responsibility for our own spiritual well-being and for the spiritual well-being of those entrusted to our care.
One reason why parishes don’t schedule more Confession hours is because people don’t show up. Maybe we weren’t catechized well, or our pastor doesn’t encourage Confession enough. And maybe our diocese is suffering from a shortage of priests and just doesn’t have the ministers to meet the needs of the faithful. These are all likely factors, and surely there are many others.
But priests do draw encouragement from lay people. I remember how edified my parish priest was twenty years ago when our young adult group showed up en masse for the Saturday evening Confessions. This unanticipated demand led the priest to call in reinforcements (i.e., the pastor) and to stay an hour longer than the scheduled time.
I mention this topic because this situation was the driving force behind our new Faith Basics product. Faith Basics is our new parish-based resource that strives to provide sound adult catechesis on the grass roots level, in a way that’s accessible and even appealing to the average Sunday Catholic.
The first four issues of Faith Basics are now available at www.emmausroad.org. These four issues are devoted to the subject of vocations, and include testimonies, questions and answers, facts and figures, and also short teachings from top-notch bishops such as Archbishops Chaput and Burke, and Bishops Olmsted and Carlson.
The next set of four issues will be on Confession. Once again we have lined up some really good bishops to provide sound catechesis, such as Bishop Finn on examining one’s conscience; Bishop Galeone on the Bible and Confession; Bishop Slattery on being ambassadors of reconciliation; and Bishop Perry on the ABCs of making a good Confession. Msgr. Charles Mangan will again do the questions and answers, and of course there will be several other interesting testimonies and features.
That’s where you come in. We still need a testimony or two to complete this set. Do you have a Confession story to tell? Were you away from the Church for a long time and had a life-changing experience involving Confession? Are you a convert, and found Confession to be much different from what you expected? If you have such a story, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re looking for testimonies in the 300-500 word range. If we use it in Faith Basics we will pay a $50 stipend and also send you a complimentary set of all four issues on Confession.
The point in all this is to stress that we need to teach (and pray) about vocations, and teach (and get to) Confession. Our faith is rooted in our personal relationship with the Lord that begins at Baptism, but those two topics are crucial when it comes to living our Baptism as effective Catholics in the world. We need ministers of God’s mercy. Even more to the point, we need God’s mercy.