The Case for Sunday Confessions

Having Confession on Sunday should be a priority if we want to bring the Lord’s mercy directly to the people who are most in need.

Cardinal József Mindszenty hears Confessions during the 1938 Eucharistic Congress in Budapest
Cardinal József Mindszenty hears Confessions during the 1938 Eucharistic Congress in Budapest (photo: Fortepan)

Confession offered at the parish on Sundays has been a normal part of my experience, but I do not think this is the case for most people. My home parish in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, offered Confession during Sunday Mass throughout my childhood; it was a normal practice during my study abroad year in Poland in high school, as well as other places I’ve visited in Europe; and two different parishes I have attended in Littleton, Colorado, offer it as well during Sunday Mass.

I have recommended the practice to some other priests and have gotten an almost violent reaction. Some priests contend that Confession during Mass is a distraction that takes our focus away from the Mass and the Eucharist. They argue that we should not confuse the sacraments. I respond that the current practice since Vatican II is to unite the other sacraments to the Mass more closely (as Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage are now celebrated during Mass). Also, receiving Confession during Mass shows the application of the Paschal Mystery, which is made present at Mass, especially in the outpouring of the Precious Blood, to the forgiveness of sins.

Significantly, in 2001 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments weighed in to clarify that the practice of hearing Confessions during Mass is permitted. After noting that Congregation for Rites had encouraged accustoming the faithful to receiving Confession outside of Mass (which largely has not happened), the response suggests the following:

Nevertheless this ought to be understood as a counsel directed to the pastoral care of the faithful, who ought to be encouraged and helped to seek health of soul in the sacrament of Penance, and have recourse to it, as far as possible outside the place and time of the celebration of Mass. On the other hand, this does not in any way prohibit priests, except the one who is celebrating Mass, from hearing confessions of the faithful who so desire, including during the celebration of Mass. Above all nowadays, when the ecclesial significance of sin and the sacrament of Penance is obscured in many people, and the desire to receive the sacrament of Penance has diminished markedly, pastors ought to do all in their power to foster frequent participation by the faithful in this sacrament.

Given the fact that an overwhelming majority of Catholics do not seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I think we need to bring the sacrament to them as much as possible. This does not necessary mean Confession during Sunday Mass (which would not be possible at a parish with one priest, of course), but it does mean trying to reach people with the sacrament when they are already present at the parish.

A family member recently noted to me that a priest was preaching on the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but that at the same time was not providing adequate times for the faithful to receive it. We encourage people to go Confession, but then do not go out of our way to help people receive it. Many large parishes of thousands of families offer only one short Confession time a week. I know from experience that people walk away from these short Saturday Confession times, because of long lines and people taking a long time in the confessional (which many times is a result of the priest giving lengthy counsel). If roughly 10 people or less can receive the Sacrament during these half-hour to hour Confession times, how could we think we are serving parishes adequately with Confession times?

I am very happy to see more parishes offering daily Confession before or after Mass. I think this is a great step to making the sacrament more available, but I also note that most of the people who receive the sacrament at that time are daily communicants (which at least frees up weekend times). Once again, the average parishioner will not seek out these daily times. Further, most Catholics receive Communion every time they come to Mass, whether or not they have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation within the last year (which many have not). This situation creates a sacramental crisis, where large numbers of Catholics receive the Eucharist without adequate preparation and/or without being in a state of grace.

If we are serious about getting a lot of our parishioners to Confession, especially those who have not gone recently and would not plan on coming another day, we need to make the sacrament as accessible as possible for them. At my home parish I was able to get a family to go who had not been to Confession in decades simply because we walked by an open door on the way in to Mass. Having Confession on Sunday should be a priority if we want to bring the Lord’s mercy directly to the people who are most in need.