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16 May 2006


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Bernard Brandt

Actually, I suspect that the one reason why some of these guys are removing the confessionals is to be more in line with Eastern liturgical practice, kinda like reception of communion standing and other such things.

Unfortunately, if that's the case, one could wish that these liturgicizers could go all the way, instead of such non-Eastern practices such as confession in the office or in a private room. Most importantly, confession is not done as a conversation between priest and penitant.

The way we do it in the East is for both priest and penitant to stand in front of the icon of Christ near the front of the church on the right side. The priest bids the penitant to confess his (or her) sins, "while he, an unworthy priest", stands aside. At the end of the penitant's confession, the priest bids the penitant to kneel, while the priest covers the penitant with his stole, and absolves the penitant.

While all of this quite literally takes place "in front of God and everyone", the confession is whispered, no one else can hear, and everything that goes on between the priest and the repentant one is entirely private.

Having done things this way for the past score of years, I have found this to be a most comfortable way of confession. I wish that if the West were going to try to do things in an Eastern fashion, that they could at least take the trouble to do them right.


With all due respect, Bernard, I don't for one minute think that in removing the confessionals the architects and parish decision-makers are trying to be more Eastern.

If they're trying to make it more like anything, I'd guess a psychotherapy session!

Most Western Christians are pretty ignorant of the Eastern traditions (and I count myself among the ignorant). Besides, as you note, what they've replaced the private confessional with is something even more alien to Eastern sensibilities.


maybe the sex-abuse scandal will help bring back the confessional

actually, this is precisely why the box confessionals were invented, by, if I'm not mistaken, St. Robert Bellarmine. In his time there was a serious problem with priests propositioning women (and vice versa) in face-to-face confession. I suppose it was not just women either, but the unnatural vices were not considered mentionable then.


Intersting implication of the architecht's. "very, very open, inviting, with all kinds of imagery of reconciliation."

no idea at all that the crucifix is the first, last and ultimate image of reconciliation. No idea at all, clearly, of what the Reconciliation is, or how it was effected or by Whom.

No wonder there is nothing being done to solve these problems. It's not new architecture that's needed, its a renewal of the Catholic Faith.



the Roman Church is not the Eastern Church. Let the east be the east and keep their customs, and let the Romans be Roman and bring back our own. It is foolish to excuse such desecrations by invoking the allmighty excuse of ecumenism.


My parish, which is very traditional, has the "reconciliation room" too. I doubt it's original to the church which is Gothic in design. The church was "renovated" in the 70's and I suspect the original confessionals were removed at that time and replaced with a wide open room with a glass wall. Anyone can see in. Like most "reconciliation rooms" the penitent has the option of sitting in a chair and facing the priest directly or kneeling on a pre-dieu with a screen. Most people choose the screen option which should tell us all something. It's funny though because the way the door is situated the priest can probably see you as you enter the room anyway!

Eric Scheidler

Erin and Friends,

As another Eastern Catholic, I had much the same response to Erin's post as Bernard. But I think there's some misunderstanding of what Bernard was getting at.

First, the Eastern practice illustrates that we should not jump to the conclusion that anonymous confession is inherently better. Maybe this is a "hypersensitive Eastern Catholic" thing, but we do tend to be on the look out for blanket statements by Romans that seem to leave out consideration of the other Rites of the Catholic Church.

Secondly, Erin, it's entirely possible that the move to face-to-face confession (which is not actually at all what Byzantine's do, which is another point I think Bernard was making) was inspired by an appeal to Eastern practice. So many other sacramental innovations were. Unfortunately, much of this appeal failed to take into account the whole ethos of Eastern Christianity, and often it seems it was nothing but a flimsy excuse to overturn ancient Western practices.

Having grown up Roman Catholic, I can tell you I never liked face-to-face confession; even when I thought I like it, I didn't like it. Anonymous confession was a great innovation in the West that befits, and facilitates, the Western practice of frequent confession very well, and it is very ancient indeed.

Finally, Erin, you're forgetting the key to the whole face-to-face concept, why it actually works just fine in the New Church: You have to simultaneously eliminate all sense of real sin! Then it's just a matter of rattling off your most recent negative vibes or whatever. Easy.

Patrick Laws

Incidentally, canon law requires that confessionals with grilles be made freely available, and permits either priest or penitent to insist on anonymous (behind the screen) confessions.

Does anyone else recognize the absurdity of the notion of a penitent approaching his priest and insisting on "anonymous" confession?


Patrick: "Does anyone else recognize the absurdity of the notion of a penitent approaching his priest and insisting on "anonymous" confession?"

Depends how he approaches the priest. He might call anonymously for a confession by appointment and ask to meet the priest in the confessional rather than in the foyer, or in the office, or whatever.

Or someone --- perhaps a woman or child --- might insist on using the confessional rather than the priest's office, not for anonymity, but because of feeling that it's inappropriate or even risky to meet any man, priest or no, alone in his office.

Thirdly, some people feel more comfortable behind the screen. Even if the priest knows who you are, it's perfectly reasonable to ask to use a confessional, assuming there's one available. Anonymity isn't the only reason for the screen --- which is why I added "(behind the screen)" as a parenthesis to describe the kind of confession that either priest or penitent is allowed to seek.



It used to be that there was a time for confessions (a particular time on saturdays or before all Masses...) so a certain degree of anonymity was possible.

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