Betty Bova wishes priests talked up the confession of sin more. She feels that Catholics who bypass the confessional are forfeiting the good that the sacrament of reconciliation can bring to their spiritual life.
She remembers how, at her first Scottsdale parish, two priests “made it so appealing, and they talked about how many graces you get from going to confession and how the pope went to confession every day — so it’s not something to be sloughed off.”
Bova, now a member of St. Bernard of Clairvaux parish in Scottsdale, said she prefers face-to-face confession with the priest, while her husband, Nick, chooses it from behind the screen. She said her wait in line for confession is never more than 20 minutes.
“You are supposed to be praying and examining your conscience to make a good confession as you stand in line,” she said. “To tell the truth, I always talk to someone, probably distracting them from praying.”
After confession, she feels blessed with graces. “I feel like that is what I am supposed to be doing, and it just makes me feel great to receive a sacrament,” she said. “I just wished it was more readily available and talked about more because I go to daily Mass, and I receive the Eucharist every day, and I am so aware that it is a wonderful sacrament.” However, she said, the sacrament of penance is not as readily available, just 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays or by appointment.
Bova tells of an elderly priest in Pinetop “who really believes in confession” and readily announces “we are having confession before Mass.” What could be easier for the sacrament of reconciliation? she asked.
For Bill Wagner of Tempe, “confession is usually not at a convenient time,” 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays. He last went about two years ago at the same time as his son’s first reconciliation rites. “I went mainly because he did,” Wagner said. But he regularly attends Mass and finds meaning there regarding forgiveness.
“My belief doesn’t go with church teaching but, at the beginning of every Mass, we are asking for forgiveness in order to prepare us for the rest of the Mass,” he said. “So, as a weak way out, I kind of look at it as a way that I can go to confession every week.”
That’s not unlike what regularly takes place in the liturgy of Protestant churches in which there is a period for confession in which believers often read together a historical or contemporary confession statement, pray silently and then hear clergy tell them they have been forgiven.
What defines the confession in the Roman Catholic Church is that believers state their sins through a priest confessor, standing in as a surrogate for Christ through the authority of the church, who then prescribes penances, or punishments and penalties to be carried out by the sinner. The priest then declares absolution, or release from guilt.
Wagner said he struggled with confession and finds that taking part in communal penance services during Lent and Advent, with outside priests, more compatible with him.
“Maybe it is a fear,” said Wagner, who attends All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe. “Maybe you assume if you went to your priest — he is so bogged down in life, he is not going to remember what you talked about. You always wonder when you look at each other on Sunday what he is thinking. . . . Do they really have the ability to blank it out of their minds? We assume they do, but we all end up remembering certain things in life, and, Lord, I don’t want my confession to be remembered.”
Eileen Esch, a member of Holy Cross Catholic parish in Mesa, said her generation has been most earnest about confession. “I think the old generation feels that they feel better if they do go once a month,” but she said if you do not commit mortal sin, it is not necessary to go often.
“Like they say, confession is good for the soul,” Esch said, “and I feel that the older generation still goes by that.” Sometimes, she noted, people don’t have anything to confess, but “they just want to talk about certain personal things to a priest, and they feel better.”
Mary Douglas said she witnesses steady activity for confessions at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Chandler, starting 5:45 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 3 p.m. Saturday. “They are really lined up. It is much easier now than it used to be because you can do it face to face if you want to,” she said. “You can talk rather than just follow the formula with a screen between you and the priest — or you can do face to face. Some people prefer to talk out their problems in that way. It is much more open and free. You have some choices, rather than just one way.”
Bova said penitents should remember that “priests are just human” but that during confession, “you are not really speaking to a human, you are really talking to God through the priest, and you know the priest can never reveal anything he hears. You are just supposed to pretend that he is just the instrument, and you are really talking to God.”
Deacon Frank Garza of St. Margaret’s Parish in Tempe remembers the same thing was stressed to him as a child. “I was taught I was not supposed to go to a man for confession, only to God,” and as he studied his faith, he understood the reasons.