By Maria Cristina Beyra
Although having a day in Advent – and another in Lent – when churches are open in the different dioceses and everyone is invited to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation is a great idea, I cannot help but wonder if the need to have these extraordinary days is not the result of how almost inaccessible or forgettable the sacrament is during the rest of the year.
Of course, every parish has “Reconciliation Hours,” usually on Saturday afternoons, and a note that the sacrament is also “available at any time if an appointment is made in the office.” And that is precisely the point of this reflection.
As popular culture would say: Really? Do we really believe that by offering the sacrament in the middle of a Saturday afternoon we are making it easy for the faithful to approach the sacrament? When was the last time most Catholics went to church on a Saturday? Most don’t even go on Sundays!
A Gallup poll released in April, 2018, shows that an average of 39 percent of Catholics said they had attended Church in the past seven days, according to data from 2014 to 2017. This is down from an average of 45 percent between 2005 and 2008, and is a steep decline from 1955 when Gallup reported weekly Mass attendance at 75 percent.
Maybe back in the 1950s Saturday confessions were a good fit for the practice of the faith. But life has changed: Catholic schools have closed; parents work all week long; the social lives of most Catholics no longer center around church and in general, there are no external reminders. Hence, the view that Reconciliation Mondays is a good idea. Maybe in a perfect world we should be so anxious to receive the sacrament that we shouldn’t need reminders or Reconciliation Mondays. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The practice of Saturday-afternoon confession is a remnant of a different time that may no longer fit the schedules of present-day Catholics in the United States.
In his Lenten service of 2017, Pope Francis said that confession is a “pastoral priority.” He said, “Please, may there not be those signs (that say): ‘confessions only Monday and Wednesday, from this time to this time.’”
“Confess each time they ask you,” he told priests, and said that by sitting and praying in the confessional, “you are there with the confessional open, which is the open heart of God.”
In many countries, priests are in the confessionals before Mass on Sundays to hear confessions. That helps the faithful! In other local dioceses, priests go to the confessionals before or after the weekday Masses. That helps the faithful! The Church talks about how the sense of sin has been lost, and how Catholics have abandoned the sacrament of reconciliation. Maybe it is time to re-evaluate, not just the lack of practice, but the lack of availability of the sacrament as well.
Beyra is a former pastoral associate at St. Mary Star of the Sea-St. Gertrude, Far Rockaway.