A Proposal for the Year of Mercy

For the past decade or two, a highly successful initiative of the New Evangelization has arisen in many dioceses.


Specifically, during Advent and Lent, a number of urban dioceses have instituted diocesan-wide schedules when parishes are required to offer confessions for about two hours on a specific weeknight (often Wednesday).

This is so important, because the currently widespread model is simply not working.

In many, many parishes, only a miniscule portion of the People of God avail themselves of the Sacrament of Mercy. The Sacrament is rarely a subject of most parishes’ preaching. It is not promoted in any way. It is only offered within one of the most family-intensive hours of the week, between 4 and 5 pm on Saturday. It is almost never offered at the time when most Catholics are likely to be in church, on Sunday mornings and afternoons.

The dioceses that sponsor Advent and Lent confessions outside of this time are providing a wonderful opportunity for people to repent, to increase in the life of grace and charity, and to reconcile with God.

Other parishes go the extra mile, and have daily confessions. This does not need to cost an enormous amount of time. A great method is this: schedule the starting time only. If people would like to go to confession, they should come at that time or a little before. The priest will leave when the line is gone.

A couple of years ago, I was in the confession line during Holy Week. Although I don’t think the confession line is a good place for chatting, the man next to me had some questions and I spoke with him. Turns out he had not been to confession in thirty years and wasn’t sure what to do.

If the parish had not been generous with confession times, how many more years would it have been?

Some parishes excuse themselves from making adequate times for confessions by saying that anyone can “make an appointment” for confession times outside of the small weekly window of opportunity. But anyone who has spent time in or around a rectory can easily see the problem with this.

  • Parish Secretary: St. Stanislaus parish, may I help you?
  • Penitent: Yes, I would like to make an appointment with one of the priests.
  • Secretary: May I ask what this is regarding?
At this point of the phone tree, only the boldest will persevere. Let’s not put the People of God through this or any other rigamarole.
For the Year of Mercy, parishes should make confession a natural and easy and convenient part of the sacramental life.

13 Replies to “A Proposal for the Year of Mercy”

  1. One of my pet peeves – the paucity of scheduled confession times. And no. Saturday afternoon at supper time does NOT work for me. I am fortunate to know of a priest who schedules confession between 11:00 am and noon on Saturdays and another priest who schedules confession at 7:00 pm on Mondays. To take advantage of the Saturday confession time I have to drive 20 KM. As for the Monday time, I admire the priest who is taking time out of what is normally considered a day off for priests. Between the two of them I am covered but confession times in most other parishes in my city is really very poor.

  2. These are my thoughts about how to do confession during Advent and Lent. Start off with vespers, have the blessed sacrament exposed after vespers during which times confessions may be heard and then close with compline. Do it weekly throughout Advent and Lent. People may not come out just for confession but they may come out for any one of vespers, exposition or compline. Add the fact that some people need to work at screwing up the courage to go to confession and I think the logic of doing this over several weeks makes sense. The first time somebody comes they may not have the courage to go to confess but they will still benefit from liturgical prayer and sitting quietly in the presence of the Lord. The second time, they still might not go to confession but again they will benefit anyway. Eventually though they may end up in confession. They will end up benefitting from all 4 activities and all 4 activities (vespers, adoration, compline, confession) will have been encouraged and promoted.

    Will this work? I don't know. But I think it is worth a try.

  3. The "appointment" system may be suitable for people with a special need: e.g., returning to the Church after a long absence. On the other hand, it does not provide the faithful their right to confess anonymously.

  4. Todd, it is a courtesy to preface your premise with IMO, in my opinion. As you know, I'm part of a so-called megaparish merge, and our receptionists and our priests' secretary are most definitely instructed to ask something like "And this in regards to….?" You've conflated a basic business tack.

  5. Richard, I didn't take in your response prior to seeing Todd's. It is difficult to codify an ideal response for any sort of inquiry taken over the phone for appointments. That aside, let's be realistic. Church staffers should be trusted enough to reply, if and when someone responded to said inquiry, "I'd like Father to hear my confession," "Yes sir/ma'am, I'll be happy to help you schedule that." If a penitent is direct enough to call for such a request, one should assume they're prepared to see that through.
    Last I checked (a week ago tomorrow), confession is a good thing.

  6. I'd have to disagree with your parish's procedure. Honestly, I don't remember working for any priest who didn't keep his own calendar. The preference in my last few parishes is that a caller goes to voice mail if the priest isn't in the building or is occupied elsewhere. I don't get Richard's comment about anonymity. People who wait in line at church aren't very anonymous either.

    That said, Saturday afternoon, plus an evening or two a week, plus availability for appointments sounds about right to me. Covers all bases, eh?

  7. More opportunities for confession are a fine thing: Saturday afternoon, Wednesday evening, additionally by appointment: all the better.

    I am surprised to read that "catholicsensibility" doesn't get my comment about anonymity in confession, so I shall clarify. It referred to the ability of the faithful to make one's confession with a grate or screen between the confessor and the penitent. This practice provides anonymity for the penitent with respect to the confessor.

    While confession may be heard outside a confessional for a "just cause", the Church has specified that a church or oratory is the "proper location" for the sacrament, and the faithful who wish should have the possibility of using a confessional equipped with a grate. [Here I am summarizing Canon 964.]

    Occasionally I come across a parish where the pastor seems to think that confession by appointment is sufficient, but that doesn't seem to live up to the practice the Church has called for.

    <<Can. 964 — § 1. Ad sacramentales confessiones excipiendas locus proprius est ecclesia aut oratorium.

    § 2. Ad sedem confessionalem quod attinet, normae ab Episcoporum conferentia statuantur, cauto tamen ut semper habeantur in loco patenti sedes confessionales crate fixa inter paenitentem et confessarium instructae, quibus libere uti possint fideles, qui id desiderent.

    § 3. Confessiones extra sedem confessionalem ne excipiantur, nisi iusta de causa.>>

  8. All a believer has to do when speaking to the priest is to make an appointment behind the grille at a certain time. I can't think of a priest who wouldn't make an appointment with an anonymous penitent. In fact, the appointment method is likely the only time a person might have a guarantee of absolute anonymity. Or at least a likely experience of it.

  9. Once again, an insistence upon your lived experience that implies a healthier pastoral practice than others ought to be prefaced with either an "IMO/IMHO," "YMMV," or the disclaimer "I could be wrong." I've been inside rectories for 45 years and the days of Fr. Flanagan and Fr. Bing Crosby are long gone, if for no other reason of the sharp decline of priest populations. Disagree all you want, but the point is to facilitate the meeting of penitent to confessor. Having a call go to voice mail, IMO, is more likely to go unanswered than a documented memo from a staffer just stating the basics. I don't know why it's necessary to quibble and nitpick over "I take the high road, you take the low road" methodology of communication. I can well imagine many parish staffers would rejoice quietly that a needing soul had called for such an appointment, as confession "lines" disappeared long ago in that church. I won't comment further on this kerfuffle. I'm happy that Kathy has again pointed to a positive way to "flesh out" how each of us could truly participate in the Year of Mercy. At the risk of discrediting myself, I'll quote Sy Miller: "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

  10. I'm trying to envision this working practically.

    a) IF the penitent knows which confessional in the church where the priest will meet him or her, and IF it is an old-style confessional with separate doors for the penitent and priest, and IF they do not both arrive in the church at the same time, then there is the possibility of anonymity.

    But if, as is more likely the case, there is a "reconciliation room" in the church with one door for both priest and penitent, with the penitent closer to the door,

    b) The priest will walk around the penitent who is waiting behind the grille.

    c) The priest will see the penitent waiting in the church for the priest to arrive.

    d) The priest will arrive first–but the penitent does not know this when making the appointment,


    e) The penitent will lurk in the shadows to avoid being seen when the priest arrives.

    Option e) is a perfect symbol of what sacramental penance looks like in many parishes these days. Why? Because we make it difficult.

    The point of the post is: make it easy, make it normal, make it private, make it available.

  11. And the best way to do that is to provide options.

    In your theoretical situation, the anonymous penitent makes an appointment to meet the priest in the reconciliation chapel (not a room) at, say, 11am. The confessor comes to the chapel five to ten minutes early, knowing the person insists on anonymity from their previous conversation. If there is a booth instead of a chapel, the "light" is on. The only unforeseen bit is if somebody is lurking nearby.

    Good confessors with sensitivity have this stuff all planned out. It's rarely a thoughtless thing where good liturgy is concerned.

    As for anonymity, people waiting in line or loitering in church have no seal of confession. They can gossip without regard for privacy, I suppose.

    By the way, I blogged about this last year and also received a note from an anonymous parish secretary who does schedule her boss's appointments. If you do a search for "appointment" on my site, two posts from 2 & 3 April of last year are relevant to the discussion on this.

  12. Charles, thanks for responding. You know, I could be wrong. I suppose that my exposure to different parishes and clergy are biased in favor of liturgically sensitive guys who hire a liturgist. It's not just places I work, but also other confessors I approach for the sacrament outside of my parish. Twenty parishes and/or confessors isn't a huge sample. But it's not peanuts.

    I suppose there are clumsy pastors and even an occasional secretary who blunder about where privacy is concerned. I do know that a counselor's secretary (for example) wouldn't ask a client what the request is about. If church secretaries do screen calls for the pastor, it's far more likely to be people she or he knows to be bothersome, not anonymous penitents. A secretary could, I suppose, write a memo, "Anonymous penitent, reconciliation chapel, 9am tomorrow."

    I'll leave with my insistence that confession-by-appointment is a common, effective, and pastoral way to make the sacrament available as a supplement to regular hours. I believe I've also said that two or three times a week in a parish is also a good idea. My sense of Kathy's suggestion is positive, with one simple addition. If church secretaries need to be cautioned about these things, so be it.

    Thanks for a good conversation. Lord have mercy.

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