Can you imagine having to make a public confession in front of all your loved ones? Picture yourself having to share your sins with complete strangers! Talk about shame and embarrassment! The privacy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation wasn’t always there. How did it become this way?
Fr. Richard Simon explains that in the early Church, confession was a public affair. People confessed their sins in front of the entire congregation, particularly for grave sins like adultery, idolatry, or murder. This public acknowledgment was followed by a lengthy public penance, often including exclusion from communion for extended periods.
Fr. Simon notes that the shift towards individual confessions began after the persecutions ended and more people sought to rejoin the Church. The need for a more convenient process led to the practice of private confessions with a priest, a practice that started to take shape around 350-400 AD. He also mentions that the practice of confession evolved over time, citing an example of old European confessionals with grills that provided separation between the priest and the female penitent. For male penitents, however, it was more of a face-to-face confession.