Before Christmas, and before Easter, at St Chrysostom’s the priests announce special times of confession. It’s very much part of our Anglo Catholic tradition to do so. We encourage people to spiritually prepare for the festivals. Of course we have regular times of confession, and we make it very clear the sacrament is available to anyone. However to specifically prepare for a festival is a good, and helpful practice.
Before Christmas I wondered whether I should make this announcement of special times. We were in troubling days with the Coronavirus, numbers at Mass were, understandably, low. Would anyone actually wish to come and make their confession? Would it not be best to simply leave it and let people ask if they wished to come?
Something said to me – do it – people will not ask, they will feel they are bothering you at a ‘busy time.’ So I announced. Instead of a specific time I announced a day when a priest would be in church and invited people if they wished to make an appointment on that day or if they preferred simply turn up. I worked out how this could be done ‘Covid secure,’ and then simply waited for the response.
I am so glad I did. The response surprised me. First of all, despite the circumstances, more people than usual came to make their confession. They took care to arrange a time and were prompt in attending. People who had not made their confession before came, as well as one or two from other churches. (How had they found out the times, I wondered).
Secondly, I was moved, and still am as I look back, at how deeply many people had examined themselves and looked at their spiritual lives. There was a depth in self reflection that, through the years of hearing confessions, I had seldom heard. Many had looked at what they had done and looked deeper to see what underlying characteristic or impulse had led them to that point.
I had been aware that lockdown days, and the changes in life the days have brought, have led to an examination of priorities in life, and a spiritual reawakening and searching for many. My experience of listening to others confess that day re-enforced this awareness in me, and encouraged me in my own faith journey.
I am convinced that confession must never be a treasure hidden by the church. Let us announce it out! Significantly most of the confessions I heard that day, indeed I can honestly say most of the confessions I have heard throughout my priestly ministry, were from people under 40 years old from a range of cultures and social backgrounds. My experience in these strange days drove home to me just how much preparing for confession, and coming to church to confess is a wonderfully enriching time – a needed sacrament – for some, not least those who are growing in faith.
After I had heard confessions that day I couldn’t help but kneel in church, before the Blessed Sacrament, and say, too, ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…’
(This is an entry in Fr Ian’s series of ‘Lockdown Diary’ blog entries.)