Tuesday 24 January 2012

Anonymity, with extra Anonymity

As far as I am concerned, Confession must not only be in a proper confessional with a screen between confessor and penitent, but it should also be without any possibility of recognising the penitent by his or her voice.

Hence the various outings I have made in recent years. A couple of times to the Birmingham Oratory, but it's two trains from here, followed by quite a long walk from Five Ways station. I haven't been there for four or five years.

Once to Birmingham's St Chad's Cathedral, where the then-incumbent, Archbishop Nichols, offered the Mass, and then disappeared into the confessional. I was a bit intimidated at the thought of confessing to him, but he was kindness itself.

Mostly, these days, to the grand Georgian church of St Mary-on-the-Quay, in Bristol. A hassle-free train journey through delightful countryside, to Brunel's great Temple Meads station, and a bus that runs every few minutes from the station forecourt to the church. Couldn't be easier.

The church appears to be staffed mainly by overseas priests: from the Philippines, I think, and from the Sub-Continent/Sri Lanka. The priests are very good, and always give words of encouragement and advice. Yesterday was a little different: an Irish priest, also very good and kind, with his own style of guidance. All most edifying.

Confessions take place during the daily half-hour of Solemn Exposition, and this is followed by a lunchtime Mass at 12.15, ideal for the local office-workers. Naturally there are quite a few pensioners in the congregation, but yesterday I particularly noticed that there were a number of young and youngish men. I thought that was really impressive. And for the first time I saw a woman wearing a mantilla. I wore a headscarf, and this is another of those things I rather like: when I am in a strange church in a different town, I don't feel at all embarrassed about covering my head. There's a feeling of being able to express one's devotion freely; none of this fear of being thought to be posing as an ├╝ber-Catholic.

Images: Confessional, from Fr Z's blog; St Mary's, from geograph.org.uk. Both via Google Images.


Victor S E Moubarak said...

"Confession must not only be in a proper confessional with a screen between confessor and penitent, but it should also be without any possibility of recognising the penitent by his or her voice."

You make a very valid point. Especially these days when priests are under pressure regarding the Sanctity of Confessions.

The new trend in churches is to have mass Confessions at Christmas and Easter. The whole congregation repents together then they file towards two or more priests sitting around the Altar and spend a couple of minutes to receive absolution/penance. So everyone can see you confessing sitting near a priest and if you have a loud voice ...

God bless.

Dorothy B said...

Oh, that’s awful! A few years ago the church where I used to go for Confession was being refurbished, and the confessionals were out of bounds. The confessor sat at the far end of the sanctuary, and the combination of visibility and the risk of voices drifting toward the nave caused me to search elsewhere.

Then I found a church where the priest went into the sacristy after Mass, announcing that he was ready to hear confessions. I asked a woman if there was a screen, and was told: “Oh no, you sit with him; it’s just like talking with a friend”. Once again, I chickened out, but I told that very kindly woman my reason, and perhaps she passed it on to the equally friendly priest. I hope so. It was after those experiences that I made the rather long trek to the Birmingham Oratory.

If the prospect of face-to-face Confession does that to a run-of-the-mill sinner like me (I hope that’s what I am) how off-putting must it be to someone who wants to unburden his soul of great sins, and be healed, and to return to the Lord and His Church?