Friday, October 19, 2007

Rules for penitents and priests

Fr Zuhlsdorf's rules for confession

1) ...examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly;
2) ...wait our turn in line patiently;
3) ...come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
4) ...speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
5) ...state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling;
6) ...confess all mortal sins in number and kind;
7) ...listen carefully to the advice the priest gives;
8) ...confess our own sins and not someone else’s;
9) ...carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it;
10) ...use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
11) ...never be afraid to say something "embarrassing"... just say it;
12) ...never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…. he is usually impressed by our courage;
13) ...never fear that the priest will not keep our confession secret… he is bound by the Seal;
14) ...never confess "tendencies" or "struggles"... just sins;
15) ...never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
16) ...memorize an Act of Contrition;
17) ...answer the priest’s questions briefly if he asks for a clarification;
18) ...ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
19) ...keep in mind that sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
20) ...remember that priests must go to confession too … they know what we are going through.

I would also make some rules for the priest hearing confession, it is helpful for a penitent to know a priests mind

  1. Make sure the penitent ends up by wanting to come back again

  2. Try to encourage frequent confession

  3. Remember it is God's forgiveness and mercy that you are giving, not yours

  4. Ask as few questions as possible

  5. Don't sermonise, your remarks should be as brief and few, if what you are to say is going to be remembered. If they aren't remembered it is not worth saying them

  6. Remember the penitent feels very, very vulnerable, and comes to you expecting to meet Christ

  7. Remember the point of confession is giving forgiveness, not advice or even spiritual direction, certainly not therapy

  8. Give the penitent hope, especially if an habitual sin is confessed or the sin is the result of depression and or sloth

  9. Ask for the grace to forget what has been said to you

  10. Pray for, and do penance for, the penitent

  11. Remember you are a worst sinner and have received far more graces and responded less to them than your penitent

  12. Encourage whatever good you find because light always overcomes darkness

  13. Never trivialise a penitent's sins, even if they are the fruit of scrupulosity

  14. Use gentle humour if the penitent is too serious about themselves

  15. If they come to confession frequently remember there will be future occasions to help, God's grace often takes time
  16. Try to show affection in you words

Both Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II encourage frequent confession, monthly confession is recommended to priests and religious by the code of canon law, that would seem to be an "at least" requirement, weekly or fortnightly confession should be regarded as a good for those who want to take the spiritual life seriously.

Both Popes suggest making confession available on Sundays before Mass, and if possible even during Mass. For most people nowadays traditional Saturday afternoon is the worst time possible. Here, I hear confessions after all the weekday Masses, people come seeking God's mercy, being able to give sustains my spiritual life.


Anonymous said...

Is that icon one of yours?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes, it is Rusian 18th Century, it hangs on my sitting room wall.

Anonymous said...

Father, thank you for this. I'm glad to see someone else dislikes the Saturday afternoon situation! Thanks again, Mark.

Terry Nelson said...

I wish I could have you for my confessor.

job said...

I do think that the clarity of liturgical worship is more evident when there are no confessions heard during the celebration of Mass. This is certainly one of the better gains of the Liturgical Movement from before, during and after Vatican II. To conduct the Sacrament of Penance in the same place and at the same time as Mass might be convenient for some people -- but it is obviously at cross purposes with the Eucharistic Liturgy going on at the same time.

la mamma said...

Thank you for that. Being a well-brought-up lass, I always pray for my confessor after he's heard my confession and I sometimes wonder if it is standard practice for confessors to pray for their penitents. Your number 10 would suggest that it is. Hurray!

swissmiss said...

Thank you for addressing this, Father, it gives me a chance to ask a question. When I go to confession, I start out with any mortal sins, but most of my confession, like many people, is the same thing over and over. I say something along the lines of "...and my habitual sins of X, Y, Z." I always use qualifying words to give the priest an idea of the frequency of a particular sin, but it is impossible to remember the number of time I lose my temper at my husband (kidding!). I have never had a priest ask for any further clarification. Wondering if you have any other suggestions or if what I am doing is sufficient?

Thank you very much, Father!

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think we have to balance nicety and the need to offer foregiveness, removing the burden of sin is possibly more important.

The Tradition, still in Orthodoxy is not to mix any of the sacraments or rites with the Eucharist, including weddings and funerals. "The Liturgical Movement" (not exactly sure what this is) has mixed and matched endlessy.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mortal sins, like crocodiles bites can normally be counted, if that is not possible, at least try to give rough idea. As for mice that nibble at our toes and makes us lame, we can't always count them, either because there are so many, or simply we don't notice what they have done till later, or even that their nip doesn't seem to have us much harm. and disregard it.

As for habitual sin; same old sinner same sin, same old God, same old forgiveness!
Trust in God!
Crocodiles can be shot, mice even if we try to shoot them just runaway the creep back, we have to look at the house itself to keep them out, or encourage cats (virtues).
Cats are the best way!

Anonymous said...

Fr Blake,

I can relate to the advice about staying patient while in line.

I really have a challenge controlling my anger at little old ladies who take 10 or 15 minutes in the confessional. And many times it's the case that the mass starts in 15 minutes and the priest will have to soon leave the confessional.

I certainly can understand someone needing that amount of time if they are making a confession after many years of being away from the sacraments. But some of these ladies are confessing weekly or more often..

Is it in the male character to make a short and straightforward confession, while women want to ramble on and on?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, father, for such an excellent analogy on such a difficult subject. Visualising the crocodiles and mice - and attempting to cultivate the 'cats' will make remembering your comments on the Sacrament easier. Very sincere thanks.

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

We hardly get to Confession. It's driving me mad. I want my children to form the habit, but my PP offers Confession for half an hr on a Sat.
So. The car is being crip adapted on Monday and then I will find a church we can drive to during the week. Of course that means dh will have to shift for himself.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous asks:

Is it in the male character to make a short and straightforward confession, while women want to ramble on and on?

This middle-aged lady says NO! In my experience, the lengthiest penitents are men in their 20's and 30's, not little old ladies (or little old men).

I was very impatient with these young guys, assuming they were "V2 generation people" in there looking for "therapy," until recently. One day, while waiting in a long line, it occurred to me that they are probably struggling with sexual temptations and sins a lot more than we older folks are. I suddenly felt very ashamed for having been impatient, thinking how hard it must be for young people to resist all the porn and other sexual temptations in today's society. God bless them for caring enough to seek God's forgiveness and help through this wonderful sacrament!

Fr. Blake, your suggestions for priests were excellent!

swissmiss said...

Thank you, Father, for the kind words. Our parish does offer the Sacrament fairly often and many parishioners do take advantage of it.

I have managed to keep the crocodiles at bay (and have always mention the number of these in my Confession), but the mice are the ones doing the damage. Good thing I am fond of cats ;}

Great analogy and advice!

The Woman of the House said...

Father, thank you so much for your thoughts. My husband was much consoled by hearing what the priest is supposed to do in confesssion. (He's had a few bad experiences)

I have a question about spiritual direction (I know it is supposed to be outside of the confessional). All the spiritual books seem to say that if you want to make any progress, you need a spiritual director. This seems to be practically impossible here or most places I have lived... then, there is my part of the equation where I don't seem to be able to explain myself... or feel like I'm not important or "holy" enough to have one.

Maybe I'm just meant to go through life without one and that is OK? Do you know any monasteries that do spiritual direction via email? Thanks for any ideas.

God bless you,

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not too sure everyone needs a spiritual director, so often it is difficult to find a good one. The term nowadays can mean a variety of things.
What every soul does need is a friend, someone with whom one can speak about being a Christian, and who will help us grow in love of God and neighbour.
For married people this can often be one's spouse, for others, anyone that you can open up to, and be honest with.
The whole point of spiritual direction, classically, was to stop someone becoming complacent.

Augustus Minimus said...

Your parishioners are lucky to have you, and I suspect you get visitors too from other parishes if the neighbouring priests are not as committed to the confessional as you are.

My blog today mentioned the difficulty of finding a priest to confess to on a Sunday (see It is also hard enough to find somewhere to confess on a weekday.

I know a lot of parishes say that confessions are available on request, but it is not always easy to phone a priest to ask for the sacrament as you feel you are imposing upon their time. My suggestion is for priests to have time scheduled for confessions DAILY, say for 20 or 30 minutes each time. If nobody comes, then the priest can use the time profitably praying or doing some spiritual reading. By demonstrating the importance of the sacrament by making themselves available for it, it is possible that priests find their services are in fact wanted.

As someone who far too often experiences the burden of sin, I greatly appreciate those priests who know the importance of being available for confession.

Anonymous said...

May I add that penitents should not present themselves 3 minutes before Mass and decide to launch into a long confession. It makes it very difficult for the priest who is only too aware that there is a church full of people waiting for Mass.
Please plan ahead.

Anonymous said...

I do not think it helps to the notion of the so called sancity of the confessional if u start these discussions on your blog.

Fr Ray Blake said...


Petra said...

Thank you very much for your advice - and especially for mentioning that priests should not talk such a lot in the confessional! In my own experience, priests rehearsing their Sunday homily in the confessional is among the most unnerving and time-consuming things there is. I especially noticed this among more liberal priests who feel awkward in the confessional and somehow assume they must talk a looong time. But in fact, they're only robbing the time of the penitents (of the actual one and of the others waiting) and don't add anything spiritually uplifting.

Fortunately, I've been going to a regular confessor now for more than a year. He's an Opus Dei priest and their extremely well trained for hearing confessions. He always offers short and to-the-point spiritual advice - but never drones on and on...

William said...

Confession is so very, very important in order to help the soul recover from the vile corruptness of sin. St Alphonsus said that most Catholics go to Hell and that most priests go to Hell too. It is wort bearing in mind the three children of Fatima who were clearly very shaken by their vision of Hell. This is authentic proof that Hell exists and that as Our Lord said we should choose the narrorw gate as the broad road is crowded with those destined for Hell.

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask why does Benedict carry that awful bent crucifix with the emaciated demeaning looking wretched figure depicting Christ on the cross? It is not a traditional straight crucifix with the full figure of Christ which most of us know and are familiar with.I ask this as I meditate on the crucifix before I attend confession and have done for some years as it helps me focus on my sins because if you turn the crucifix over you will see that it is the blank back of the cross that is reserved for you and I if we want to attain Heaven and something is not right about a bent cross in my opinion.

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