Many of us have been there: Standing in the confession line, waiting our turn, wondering what’s taking the people in front of us so long to confess their sins. It should go without saying that situations like this are no excuse to become impatient or angry at anybody, but frustration and confusion are perfectly natural responses when the duration of somebody’s confession prevents others from receiving the sacrament.
A Catholic father and professor named Daniel O’Connor went viral recently for documenting his frustrating experience in a confession line, and Cale broke it down on an episode of The Cale Clarke Show.
O’Connor tweeted the following on November 7th, 2023:
“Dear priests: you’ve got to get a hold on this. I just spent almost half an hour today waiting for one woman to get out of the confessional (while I was desperately trying to keep the 2 youngest of my 5 kids quiet in Church).
Obviously I could not hear the words (I would have moved further away if I could have heard them), but no one present could avoid hearing non-stop laughter, giddy conversing, and in general a coffee-shop atmosphere emanating from the confessional the whole time—from both the priest and the ‘penitent.’ (I am sure the ‘penitent’ instigated this approach, but the priest was obviously going right along with it.) For half an hour. With a line of people waiting. And this is a common occurrence.”
O’Connor went on to say that all his life he has encouraged people to go to confession. Confess your sins, be freed from Satan’s grip, and return to the state of grace. He exasperatedly explained that this incorrect use of the sacrament of reconciliation is not only inconsiderate, rude, and inappropriate, but it is actively preventing people from growing closer to God. Without confession, there is no absolution. Without absolution, nobody can return to the state of grace. Without the state of grace, many souls will be doomed.
O’Connor implored priests to help their parishioners remember what confession is for and what it is not for. Confession is not for chit-chat, jokes, venting, therapy, a time to complain, an opportunity for lonely people to converse with a captive audience, nor a time for lengthy spiritual direction. He clarified his point by saying that if somebody has been away from the Church and is now returning to the faith beginning with confession, “he or she should always be accommodated regardless of circumstances.”
While it is the responsibility of the penitents to avoid broaching casual, extra-reconciliatory topics in the confessional, it is also the responsibility of the priests to hold those confessing accountable. O’Connor offered solutions, saying placing confession etiquette sheets near the line and in the bulletin might help parishioners remember that this is a sacrament and should be treated as such. He also linked a confession guide from St. John Cantius in Chicago, highlighting several points that he thought most pertinent to the discussion.
“Fifth, the Sacrament of Confession is for the confession and absolution of your sins. Although the priest may give some advice in regard to your sins, it is not the time or place for in-depth spiritual direction. Unduly extending your confession by asking questions and discussing your spiritual life may indicate a lack of charity to those behind you, who will have to unnecessarily wait longer.
Sixth, confession of your sins should be fairly concise, specific, to the point, and well-prepared. Lengthy, detailed explanations of what you did and how you came about doing it are not necessary and only make those behind you wait longer. It also may even be a subtle way of justifying your sin. Simply confess your sins concisely, and if the priest needs more information, he will ask you.”
How long should your confession be? As long as it takes for you to do the following steps: Enter the confessional, honestly confess your sins in a specific yet concise way, make a sincere act of contrition, receive absolution, and exit the confessional to do your penance.
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT