Confession: Offer It, and People Will Come

The sacramental graces flow.

Confession line.
Confession line. (photo: Unsplash)

Do you peruse church bulletins online to find convenient-for-you confession times? Do you have a “game plan” for making it to the confessional ahead of a popular Mass time?

Mary Farrow is one of the many people who find extended confession times important. 

“My confession habits have changed as my life has changed,” she told the Register. When single, she was able to make the half-hour confession times right before noon Masses at a parish near her Colorado office (she is a former staff writer for the Register’s sister wire service, CNA). 

“But as a mom, my confession needs are different,” she explained. “My ability to leave the house and get somewhere at a very specific time is not always easy with a 3-year-old toddler and a 1-year-old.”

Although it is not her parish, she found St. Mark Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, with its extended confession schedule. She is very grateful for its two-hour Saturday time because, “if something happens with my kids, or I don’t get out the door just in time, I can show up and I know I’ll still get to confession,” even though she usually finds 15 people already in line. “I show up right around 2, and I can still get to confession by 2:30.”

Farrow mentioned the possibility of going to another parish in the Denver Archdiocese for evening confession times that are, as she put it, “easier as a parent as well. Our kids are asleep, and I can switch off with my husband more easily,” she explained. And now with a second priest at her own parish and confessions offered during Masses, she is thankful, adding: “It’s much easier to be able to go. I’m grateful for priests who offer confession and prioritize that in their schedules because I know they’re busy.”

Farrow is not alone in her efforts to live a sacramental life.

Confession Guide for Adults” is perennially popular at And a 2019 poll by EWTN News and RealClear Opinion Research found that, among the “most active” Catholics (defined as those who say they accept all or most Church teachings), 52% go to confession at least once a year.

To aid the sacramental effort, during Lent, dioceses such as Cleveland have scheduled a night where all parishes will be open for confession. With the “The Light Is On” initiative, the Archdiocese of Washington and Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, have churches across the District of Columbia metro area open for confession throughout the penitential season. 

As Bishop William Byrne of Springfield, Massachusetts, said at the Feb. 8 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast about making the sacrament readily available, “If you build it, they will come.”

Holding frequent confession times during the whole year is indeed a priority, according to priests the Register spoke with.

“Demand will consistently meet supply; when confessions are available, people will come,” Father Joshua Caswell, superior general of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, told the Register. “We have observed this phenomenon in our parishes in Chicago, Springfield, and Volo, Illinois.”

From the experiences of the canons, he observed, “There are times when we turn on the green light and open the confessional doors, and, initially, there may be nobody in line. A few minutes later, there is going to be a line. It is evident that the Lord sends people to us, and we are privileged to offer the sacrament of confession as a religious order.”

They do so frequently each week. St. John Cantius has regular times for confessions on Saturday mornings and afternoons, Wednesdays and First Friday evenings, and before each Sunday Mass.

“Even before Mass begins, people express a desire to go to confession,” Father Caswell said. “Deep down, individuals yearn to be honest with themselves, recognizing the healing power of this sacrament. Once the practice of confession becomes habitual, people will return regularly.”

There are unmistakable benefits to having multiple weekly confession times. Father Caswell noted that not everyone is available on a Saturday afternoon, when most parishes typically offer the sacrament. “However, suppose there is a Mass on a Wednesday night or on Friday during the Stations of the Cross. In that case, individuals will still come to confession, and we may even see an increase in attendance.”

In Nashville, Tennessee, St. Ann Church has confession seven days a week. Father Michael Fye, the pastor, finds such scheduling encourages people in their sacramental life. 

“Making the sacrament available multiple times a week does many things at once,” he told the Register. 

“It helps form habits and makes it possible for people with busy schedules or families. It also allows me time to slow down and focus on God’s work, rather than more emails. We often pair confessions with adoration. This way, people are invited into more than just repentance, but also conversation, with Jesus. It also helps ensure someone is present while the Eucharist is exposed.”

Father Caswell explained, “People express a desire to release burdens and experience the mercy of Jesus.” 


Numbers Grow

Father Caswell also finds another benefit: numbers grow. “When additional hours for confession are offered, we observe a higher attendance at the services. From our experience in our parishes, we’ve noticed that when people attend confession, they are more likely to stay for Mass.”

Father Caswell also related “instances where we hear confessions from those who haven’t participated in this sacrament for 10, 15, 20 years, or even more.”

At St. Mark Catholic Church in Colorado, confessions are offered six days a week, 30 minutes before every daily Mass. 

Because Mass times vary — Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings, Tuesday evening, Thursday at noon — confession times vary, adding to the convenient possibilities for the faithful, including two hours on Saturday afternoon. 

“I have preached on the need for frequent confession,” explained Father Gregory Bierbaum, the pastor. “We’ve really promoted and taught about the need for regular confession. So our confession times are conducive to that for people.” He shared how, on a retreat in Ars, France, he had the opportunity to sit in St. John Vianney’s confessional seat, where the saint is widely known to have heard confessions for 16 hours — or more — a day. 

And Padre Pio also spent many hours in the confessional. 

“That always stuck with me and impressed me, that priests should be really available for when the folks want to come,” Father Bierbaum said. “Then it becomes self-perpetuating. Once people know and learn that we have regular confessions, they come.” 

Father Bierbaum further emphasized the need for confession ahead of Communion. “In most parishes you have virtually everybody going to Communion, but in most parishes not very many people are going to confession. That just doesn’t make any sense, obviously. So we’ve helped even that out a little bit.” 

Father Fye also sees a distinct benefit for himself that should apply to all confessors. 

He underscored, “Making the sacrament of reconciliation as available as possible is directly tied to my role as a priest, as well as what the faith teaches us about our God. If I want to help people grow in their relationship with God, to believe that they are loved, and that God is not merely a self-soothing mantra, then I must allow people the opportunity to receive the divine mercy. Mercy is how God loves us. If we have not met God’s mercy, then we have not known God’s love. Regular confession is the fastest way to grow in faith and freedom. How can I teach the importance of faith if I don’t reward the desire for repentance first?”


‘The People Will Come’

Churches with frequent confession times during the week also find people coming from outside their parish to take advantage of the sacrament. 

Father Bierbaum does not know those who come because all confessions are anonymous, using a wall and a curtain. 

“I do believe we get a fair number of people from the area who aren’t parishioners.”

Similarly, Father Fye noted, “Regarding numbers, when people form life-giving habits, or have good experiences, they tell others. Eventually, people from other parishes are showing up because someone recommended it.”

Father Bierbaum explained that when a pastor builds up regular confession habits in his parishioners, “Then, of course, they’re receiving the grace regularly, which is the main thing about the sacrament. It’s a part of their spiritual nourishment,” which is bolstered by the reception of Holy Communion and a strong prayer life. 

“Sit in the confessional regularly. The people will come.”