Pope hearing confession

Priest: servant or boss?

Enrico Finotti

During the holidays I went to the church for confession. A young priest, completely secularized, demanded that those present, confess by sitting next to him in a common pew of the nave. There was no way to get a more suitable place and so I went to another church … But, I mean, confession is a sacrament and where is its dignity … and respect for the faithful?

A questioning penitent

Unfortunately, we must recognize that too often the faithful and Christian communities find themselves subjected to a liturgy somewhat disfigured by abuses, which does not correspond to the authentic form established by the Church in its liturgical books. The fact often provokes an unjust accusation against the Second Vatican Council as the cause of such ambiguous liturgical applications. In reality, it is this abusive custom that strikes the Council and greatly obscures the goodness and balance of the renewed liturgy. In particular, there is a dangerous superficiality in abandoning the celebratory places established for the ordinary administration of the Sacraments, making the exception the norm.

The Sacrament of Penance has its own specific and traditional place of celebration, the Confessional, which maintains its validity while paying attention to making it as suitable as possible for a worthy administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It not only guarantees the confidentiality of the minister and the penitent, allowing secrecy and reserve, but also confers sacred dignity to the sacramental act. It is no coincidence that tradition has decorated the Confessional with admirable art, making it a holy place and mirror of the supernatural mystery, which is celebrated there. It is therefore necessary that the sacrament be administered in its proper place and that the minister wears the prescribed clothing over the ecclesiastical habit. Confession, in fact, is not a friendly dialogue or a therapeutic consultation, but a sacrament, in which the priest in persona Christi welcomes with mercy, listens with charity, pronounces a judgment, imposes a penitential itinerary and absolves with divine authority: receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any they will be forgiven and if you do not forgive them they will remain unforgiven (Jn 20, 22-23). This mystery cannot be perceived in a spontaneous and secularized context but requires specific signs of the ‘sacred’, which reveal and recall outwardly the presence of the Lord and his saving intervention.

The grate, so reviled by some, nevertheless retains its value in respect of the sentiments and the gaze of the penitent as well as of the priest. It too can help to create that ‘veil’ that envelops the mystery and distracts from an overly human consideration, both of the minister who absolves, and of the penitent who accuses himself. The tendency to remove every ‘veil’ in the holy liturgy certainly does not represent progress, but leads to a growing superficiality, both in the relationship with God and His mystery, and in respect for the person and the unfathomable secret of the soul.

It will therefore be necessary, on the one hand, to restore and use the historic confessionals in continuity with tradition; on the other hand, the creation of new confessionals, which are not only functional and comfortable like any other place of welcome, but have the shape and signs of a sacred place, which arouses prayer, promotes silence, allows the penitential gesture of placing oneself on their knees and allows them to celebrate the sacrament in a way that conforms to liturgical norms. 

(From La spada e la Parola. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)