April 13

Monday, April 13th

 Good morning, Good Morning. 

 Just a note to let you know that the contractors arrived at the church just before 6:00 AM this morning.  Our Confessional project is underway.  The construction program will start at 6 AM each morning and conclude each afternoon at 2 PM.  I enclose a few details for your review.

WRITTEN BY: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

Confessional, in Roman Catholic churches, box cabinet or stall in which the priest sits to hear the confessions of penitents. The confessional is usually a wooden structure with a compartment (entered through a door or curtain) in which the priest sits and, on one or both sides, another compartment or compartments for penitents. The latter compartment is separated from the priest’s by a partition with a latticed opening for the penitent to speak through and contains a step on which to kneel. By this arrangement the priest is hidden; the penitent may or may not be visible to others. Confessionals often form part of the architectural scheme of the church, but they may be movable pieces of furniture.

“The Confessional,” oil painting by Giuseppe Maria Crespi; in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin, ItalySCALA/Art Resource, New York

In its present form the confessional dates no farther back than the 16th century. Before that time, the priest normally administered the sacrament in its private form while seated on a chair in some part of the church, and the penitent stood or sat beside him and knelt for absolution. St. Charles Borromeo first ordered the use of a metal grill between priest and penitent in Milan in 1565. Some modern churches provide a room where priest and penitent may be face-to-face for the sacrament of reconciliation.

 The article on Confessions/Confessionals in Wikipedia is quite interesting but can seem a little anemic since little credit is given to the Church’s sacramental experience and practice prior to the Reformation.   The confessional in its modern form dates no farther back than the 16th century, and Du Cange cites the year 1563 for an early use of the word confessionale for the sacrum poenitentiae tribunal. Originally the term was applied to the place where a martyr or “confessor” (in the sense of one who confesses Christ) had been buried. There are, however, instances (e.g. the confessional of Church of St. Trophime at Arles) where the name was attached to the spot, whether cell or seat, where noted saints had a habit of hearing confessions. In the popular Protestant view confessional boxes are associated with the scandals, real or supposed, of the practice of auricular confession. They were, however, devised to guard against such scandals by securing at once essential publicity and a reasonable privacy, and by separating priest and penitent. In the Middle Ages stringent rules were laid down, in this latter respect, by the canon law in the case of confessions by women and especially nuns. In England, before the Protestant Reformation, publicity was reckoned the best safeguard. Thus Archbishop Walter Reynolds, in 1322, says in his Constitutions: “Let the priest choose for himself a common place for hearing confessions, where he may be seen generally by all in the church; and do not let him hear any one, and especially any woman, in a private place, except in great necessity.”

     I am usually the one who quotes and recommends Wikipedia but not in this case.  On the other hand, in this case I recommend the article from the Catholic Encyclopedia as the author seems to be better rooted in the Catholic Church’s understanding of the sacraments and sacramental practices of the early Church, long before the Reformation.  It gives a great deal of credit to the testimonies of the Church Fathers from the earliest centuries.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm.

Why do we need a confessional?  For privacy, anonymity, and confidentiality.  It is that simple.  Do we need to have a screen in the “Box?”  It is preferred for the three reasons stated above.

Is it absolutely necessary to have a Box? Is it absolutely necessary to have a screen?  In both cases the answer is, “no.”  I have heard confessions in open airports or quiet hospital rooms neither locale with a screen.  I have heard confessions for members of the hierarchy and collegians in the parking lots.  Two Protestant ministers who used to attend our 6:30 Morning Mass at St. Raymonds, separately asked to go to Confession and I told them, “No.” They needed to get the whole package for the Church.   So the Presbyterian minister became a Catholic.  A very good Catholic… and there is a story in that for another day.  But the Box and Screen are preferred for the three reasons stated above. 

One of my favorite stories on hearing confessions took place one night, at thirty thousand feet.  It was on Midway Airlines, which no longer exists, on Super Bowl Sunday… Joe Montana was playing for San Francisco.  Hence, the sacred Sunday of the Super Bowl left me West bound on a fairly empty plane. 

Please know, the hub for Midway Airlines was Midway Airport.  Smack dab in the heart of the South Side of Chicago that was more Catholic than the Vatican… but I digress.  The point is that many, if not most, of the employees for the MAL were Catholic.  Now, back to the story.  The flight attendant stopped by and mentioned she had missed Confession before Christmas and asked if I would hear her confession… absolutely.  A short while later the co-pilot showed up.  Same story, same request, absolutely.  And a short time beyond the co-pilots visit… came the captain of the plane.  Same story, same request, absolutely.   Did I wonder if there was something wrong with the plane… yes.  Did I ask… no.  As I was the only priest on board a very sincere Act of Contrition was in order.

The co-pilot returned a second time and apologized that we had already had dinner and asked if there was anything I would like.  I mentioned that I would like to hear the Super Bowl.  Not a problem.  He set the game on the speakers in the back of the plane.  The section was empty.   Off I went, surrounded by a few gentleman who also wanted to listen to the game as much as I did.  In proper fashion a few of them offered to buy me a beer for the pleasure of hearing the game.  I thanked them but declined since I don’t drink.  One leaned across the aisle said, “Good for you father, we are not even Catholic, and we think you did a great job.  So did the former quarterback from the Golden Dome in South Bend.  He also did a great job that night.  Let us pray for one another.   


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