instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The light is on for you

The associate pastor parochial vicar of my parish had holy cards printed for his ordination last May that concluded, "Open for Confession 24/7."

While I have no doubt of his commitment to the Sacrament -- not least because he mentions it again and again in his homilies -- I would be surprised to learn that many parishioners take him up on that offer. Surely only a tiny fraction of American Catholics would ever call to make an appointment for Confession, and I'd guess most of those would be Catholics who have been away from the Church for a while.

The rest of us make do with the parish's regular hours for Confession, perhaps the annual parish penance service -- or perhaps we make do without the Sacrament altogether.

The typical American parish seems to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation for one hour each Saturday afternoon. There's not much original to say about the inadequacies of this system, so I'll settle for this: Between the time I get off work on Friday and the time I start work on Monday, it would be hard to pick a consistently less convenient hour for me to go to church than late Saturday afternoon.

Of course, convenience is a pretty light counterweight to forgiveness of sins, objectively speaking. But however we might speak, most of us live practically, and if it's a practical nuisance to break off what you're doing to go confess some venial sins that, objectively speaking, will be forgiven the next time you bless yourself with holy water, it's unlikely that the custom of regular confession will take hold any time soon.

For that matter, the more it does, the more inconvenient it will be as the lines get longer. (As it is, it seems to me there are usually enough penitents to fill the hour.) In this way, the demand for Confession might increase the supply of regular hours -- if, that is, the current supply doesn't cut off the demand before it grows enough to increase the supply.

All of which is why I am happy to see, in Archbishop Wuerl's pastoral letter on the Sacrament of Penance, the following:
...during this Lenten season, beginning with the Wednesday of the first week of Lent until the Wednesday of Holy Week, priests will be available in every church throughout the Archdiocese from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in order to hear confessions. The name given to this pastoral initiative is "The Light Is On For You," highlighting that the light will be on churches throughout the Archdiocese as a beacon of hope, reconciliation, and absolution.
I am, perhaps, too optimistic, but I hope the people of the Archdiocese of Washington prove equal to this initiative, and meet the increased supply with enough demand that it become a new custom. If in each deanery, there were one church where confession was available from 7 to 8:30 one night every week -- the church could rotate, and the schedule become a common part of every parish bulletin -- who knows but that we might become an archdiocese habitually made new and restored to the fullness of union with God and each other.