Over the last three months or so I have been reading and re-reading a remarkable trilogy. Peter Tyler is a Professor at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. This is his second series of three books. I am working on a longer post about all three, but particularly the third on Mindfulness. However, re-reading his book on Confession I have been thinking recently of my own practice of Confession both as a penitent and as a priest hearing confessions.
I made my first confession when I was seven in preparation for my First Holy Communion. As a family we went to confession every Saturday morning until I was 12 or 13 when we were told we could choose how often we went. As an adult I have experimented with going a few times a year (sort of termly, ie three times a year) or just when I saw my Spiritual Director. For over a decade I have had a separate Confessor, just because of geography and have separated Confession from Spiritual Direction. This has enabled me to make my Confession much more frequently. For me, weekly really works. Although the list doesn’t change a lot that is the benefit of receiving this sacrament frequently, a reminder of the hardness, stubbornness, impenetrability of my self-centredness. I really am the most sinful person I know, the final five words of the rite below are very beautiful, and very important.
For most of my priestly life hearing Confessions has been at Walsingham or the occasional parishioner who has asked me. As a school chaplain I had a policy of not hearing confessions from staff or pupils but referring them to another priest. Over the years as the number of people coming to me for Direction has increased I have heard more Confessions and some people come to me just for that.
For most of the time I have heard Confessions I have used the A4 laminated cards for the Rite of Confession produced by the Additional Curates Society. These are very simple and very good.
However, particularly when people are coming to see me just for this ministry it has felt that something else was needed. The Catholic Truth Society recently produced nice little nearly A6 booklets in laminated card (pictured above with the ACS card), I tried those just once but decided they were too complicated. So in the lead up to Christmas I have been using a very slightly adapted version of the Common Worship Form 2 Rite for Reconciliation. It has an emphasis on baptism which I think is good theology. I have produced a little card, produced below and linked as a PDF.
I always try and find a chapel or proper place of worship for this ministry. Tyler makes the point that there is a horizontal-psychological aspect to Confession and a vertical-transformational aspect. I think the latter is harder to find when Confession is made in armchairs in a sitting-room or office, but it is not always possible to avoid. The silence at the start can be a good way of making the transition from conversation or Direction. The putting on of the stole marks this moment. I think it best to make the dismissal just that and not spend time chatting afterwards. If possible I leave the penitent to pray and make their penance.
Rite of Confession (PDF)