Pastors: Would you like to improve confessions? Increase the beauty of the Mass.

Today I attended a particularly beautifully celebrated and sung Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Truly, it was poetry in motion. It “preached” in a way that even the best homilies could never do, about the joys of the Kingdom, where all is beautiful and all is rest.

People who are able to attend such beautiful Masses in either form of the Rite, or an equally well-done Liturgy in one of the other Rites, are very fortunate as Christians. The beauty of the Liturgy can and should exemplify the great hope to which we are called.

The beauty of these Liturgies stands in stark contrast, not to the poor (as beauty’s critics often claim), but to sin. In order to examine our consciences, to see how we are doing, we first have to see what we are supposed to be like. Our lives are supposed to be beautiful and good enough that joining this iconic Liturgy seems not only attractive, but right. In such a context, it is easy to see that none of us, including the ministers, are yet purified and holy, which accounts for the many confessions of sin and need for grace in the Mass.

As with most of the EF Masses I have attended, this morning there was a confessor with a confessional actively at work. People rather easily left their pews and went to confession during the first half hour or so of the Mass, and then went right back to their pews.

In contrast, most pastors have the experience of low usage of the confessional in their parishes, and this is one of the liturgical tragedies of our times. It does not have to be this way. In one parish where I worked, confessions were heard 21 times every week. Most of these times were brief: the priest would arrive at the time posted in the bulletin, and leave when the line was gone. Often there were 2 or 3 penitents, but just as often  there were many more–daily after the second daily Mass, and on Sunday mornings. The Liturgy was beautiful, the charitable works of the parish were excellent, and confessions were heard every single day.

The sacramental life is an integral whole, and a critical weakness in one aspect should lead us to wonder whether the rest of the system is sound. Confession, in almost every parish, is in a desperate state. There are many reasons for this, from the rise of pop psychology and its denial of guilt, to sometimes poor catechesis, to the “4:00 pm to 4:15 pm Saturday afternoons and by appointment” minimalism of parish offerings of the sacrament.

Another reason, I believe, is the lack of beauty, and thereby of hope, presented in the average parish Mass.

17 Replies to “Pastors: Would you like to improve confessions? Increase the beauty of the Mass.”

  1. Well said, Kathy. The stark contrast of the beauty of good liturgy with sin (as opposed a constrast with the poor) is an excellent point. The sadness of today's situation is that far too many people do not have the opportunity to experience the true beauty that well done liturgy has, and hence they cannot hold themselves up to what is good, beautiful, iconic and see that there is something transcendent to which they can strive.

  2. ' … this morning there was a confessor with a confessional actively at work. People rather easily left their pews and went to confession during the first half hour or so of the Mass, and then went right back to their pews. '

    — Is this within the rules?. Surely it is at least inappropriate to have confession during Mass.

    Would anyone disagree that M. Guimont's psalm setting: 'Here am I, Lord .. 'is beautiful. (As is Dan Schutte's 'Here am I Lord'?

    Whatever the merits of the EF Mass, it can never come close to the beauty of increased scriputure in the traditional Mass.

  3. "Here I am, Lord" is entirely too much about the "I". It's sentimental melody is, in my view, awful.

  4. If you go to confession during Mass, does this count as "attending Mass"? Do you have to be present by the reading of the Gospel? By the time the chalice veil is taken off the chalice? …? We were taught that we had to be both physically and mentally present to receive the graces of Mass and that if we came late or left early we did not "attend Mass." The rubrics today forbid a priest from being a concelebrant if he arrives late. Is this the same for Mass-goeers?

  5. We might ask similar questions about other brief activities. If you go to the bathroom during Mass, does it count as Mass? If the thurifer goes into the sacristy to light a coal for the Offertory, has he been present? If the priest announces that a car with your license number is blocking a driveway, and you go to move it, did you go to Mass? If parishioners arrive late for Mass, must they stay for another?

    Confessions were finished before the Offertory in this case. I don't know myself whether there is legislation on this point.

  6. The lyrics of most if not all compositions by Schutte, Haugen, Daas are self-referential, to use a pharsed poularized by Pope Francis. And while I can admit to an occasional melody by any of them as having some limited appeal, I cannot think of one right now – probably because NONE of their work constitutes authentric beauty. There's a huge chasm between authentic beauty which must exist on an exalted plane and that which is merely pleasing in some lesser way.

    Also, alleged scriptural purity cannot compensate for the mostly flawed lyrics associated with these songs (one struggles to consider them hymns). As another commenter suggests, these lyrics and typically that of most of the Gather Us In musical offerings are written in the first person.

  7. Perhaps it's excaped your notice, but we humans spend the entire week away from Mass living in the first person. Is it even possible to drag ourselves away from us so we can address the First Person for only an hour each week? Is it that hard to fast from a focus upon ourselves for a short time?

    If it were within my power I'd ban all three of those guys from use in the Catholic Church, along with the rest of the Gather Us In "hymnals" and then set about the work of repeatedly exposing the faithful to true beauty in the Mass. It would take time topenetrate, but with good preaching on the Mass the light would come on in the eyes of the faithful.

  8. Yes. It was common practice for centuries until Catholics were misled by false Vatican II reformers who de-emphasized any sense of sin and guilt. The "God loves you just the way you are" mantra conveniently excluded the most crucial part: "and He loves you to much to leave you that way."

    In parishes which have restored Confession during Mass the results have been astounding. Folks who know in their hearts they are in need of the Sacrament will avail themselves to it during Mass so they may receive worthily. These same folks won't tear themselves away from their "important" lives for Saturday confession would ordinarily receive unworthily on Sunday. But if the Sacrament is made available on Sunday the honesty about their situation comes to the fore and they do what they know they need to do.

  9. Which do you think is more important: particpation in Sunday Mass, receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin, and therefore eating and drinking your own condemnation? "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." ~ 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

    Or going to Confession during the early part of Mass and receving the full graces from BOTH Sacraments which the subsequent interior disposition fosters? If you miss the Liturgy fo the Word but encounter the very personal Word of Absolution by Jesus Himself, what is it you are missing?

  10. Good reply, Kathy. The question seemed to me to be rather scrupulous. Going to confession is a sacramental step above reciting the Confiteor, which we do at Mass. Therefore, going to confession can be considered part of the liturgy for those in mortal sin (and it should be only for them — during Mass time, that is). Venial sin, however, can be forgiven by many of the Ordinary Prayers at Mass, if prayed with contrition and purpose of amendment.

  11. Yes, it is within the rules, according to the CDWDS. They even go so far as to recommend that, at a Mass with many priests, some withhold from concelebrating and hear confessions. Of course, the two sacraments must be separate. That is, confessions must be heard in the confessional. Or Reconciliation Room. Or whatever. And the celebrant of the Mass must not hear confessions during the Mass.

    And I most vehemently disagree with your comment that, "Here I am, Lord" is on the same level as the Traditional Latin Mass

  12. I believe the general rule is that confessions end when the Offertory begins. There is no set rule on this, though, similar to the question of how late is too late to fill the Mass obligation.

  13. Gather "hymnals"…the humanity. I honestly can't stand them. Yes, they have their token traditional songs, but most of it is just self-referential, wishy-washy mush. As is almost all of OCP's publishing. Give me a CCW Vatican II hymnal any day

  14. If "Here I am Lord" is too much about the "I", then I guess you think Isaiah was wrong to use those words in Ch. 6. As for the melody, we all have different tastes, and many people love it.

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