Confessions from the confession line

So many people are being received into the Church this Easter! Congratulations, my new brothers and sisters. I’m so glad you’re here. Your new faith is wonderful, and soon you’ll see how liberating it is, how illuminating, and above all, how much sense it makes!

That is, unless you’re going to confession.

Oh, not the sacrament itself. The sacrament of confession is the greatest thing in the world, next to Cadbury eggs. Um, and the Eucharist. There is nothing better than going into a dark box all laden, dirty, and bruised with sin, and coming out lighthearted, clean and healed. Magnificent!

But the confession line.

Oh, the confession line.

I love my parish. But oh law, I hate going to confession there. It’s hard enough to snag whatever surly teenager I can find, examine my conscience in a way that even resembles thoroughly, and, when I arrive at the quiet church, to control the ragged panting of a fat old mother who can never remember that confession is at 2 and not—NOT!!!—2:30.

It’s hard enough, I tell you. But what makes it almost unbearable is what happens while we’re waiting in line. Here’s a typical scene: It’s a few minutes before 2:00. I open the door and scan the dim church for anything resembling a line. What do I see? An amoeba-like blob of penitents in the pews. Their formation is line-like here, but unintelligible there. Who is first? Who is last? Are some of them just praying, or what?

The old ladies twitter among themselves; the few solitary college guys are sitting with patient endurance, just itching to be gallant and wholesome at a moment’s notice. Mantilla-and-Denim-Skirt Lady is whispering furiously at her floppy sons, who are flopping around the pews; and the old men lean on their canes, openly glaring at the world.

“Well,” I think, “I don’t know what the order is here, but I’m clearly last.” So I tiptoe over to a fellow with a bristly beard and a posture of equal parts humble piety and pure rage. He sits far from the rest of the gathering, so I whisper, “Excuse me, are you at the end of the line?”

And he bellows back, in the voice of the reformer, “I am at the FRONT of the line. Confession will be HERE, starting today.” And he gestures at a brand new confessional, which I honestly had no idea was even there.

Everyone’s head pops up. Beard Man is first? This confessional? Starting today? Line??? Nobody knows what’s going on. The muttering begins. A few people slide uncertainly around on the pews, trying to assert their places. No one wants to lose their spot; but on the other hand, this is hardly the time to be pushy. No one wants to have to say, “Bless me father, for I have sinned. I knifed an old lady for cutting in line.”

Cheerful Practical Mom Type takes over, though, and somehow, through pure common sense and good will and a little bit of pushiness, she sets things aright. It looks like she’s got everyone straightened out, and no one is even mad—

but then the worst happens: Slowly, painfully the door swings open again, and a dark silhouette heaves into view.

It’s the Oldest Old Lady of Them All.

She has a walker AND an oxygen tank. All eyes are glued to her as she shuffles and groans on her wretched pilgrimage down the center aisle. Maybe she’s headed to the Sacred Heart altar for a quick prayer? Is she? Oh no. She’s headed for the confessional—straight for what most of us have now agreed is the beginning of the line.

One medium-old lady hisses to another, “She doesn’t know where to go. WE’LL tell her.” My blood runs cold. I’m going to have to prepare a statement for when the police arrive, and it’s not going to be pretty.

But before any old lady violence can break out, God be praised, the priest appears. Walking more briskly than a man with his workload has any reason to walk, he zips down the length of the darkened church, snaps on a few lights, and a sunny smile cracks his face as he faces the crowd of penitents.

“Good afternoon, everyone!” he says. “Thank you for coming. Now, about the seating.”

OH, HALLELUJAH! a nearly audible mental chorus responds. For we are broken. We are a shattered people. We came to be healed, but here was only more darkness, more confusion, more tangled webs of resentment, malice, uncertainty and despair. About the seating! This glorious man, this prince among priests, HE will show us the way. He will tell us where to sit, and then we will know if we are first or we are last. He has come to save us.

“The seating,” he continues. “Here’s what I’d like you to do, is just … just move back a bit. We don’t want to sit too close, because then we can hear each other. So, don’t worry, you can keep your places—just move back a bit. All right? All right.”

And he disappears into his box.

Ah, to be a priest. Ah, to have nothing but the petty cares of a thousand souls, a dozen antiquated buildings, an order of nuns, a bishop, a soup kitchen, and a million ministries and classes and organizations and charities and fundraisers and whatnot.

Is he overworked? Is he under-appreciated? Is he living the life of a martyr? Pish tush. A priest knows nothing about true suffering, and this is why: At least he always knows where he’s supposed to sit.


Image source

Liked it? Take a second to support simchajfisher on Patreon!

6 thoughts on “Confessions from the confession line”

  1. I have complained to my pastor about this more than once (he thinks it’s hilarious) and I am at the end of my rope.

    I am one of the army of Catholics who is semi-terrified of Confession. I literally have to force myself to go and try to do so monthly. I thought by going more often it would be easier, but I am still in a state of dread every time. I have to really concentrate ahead of time to remember what I need to say, and to pray for strength. Instead, I am constantly accosted by others who wish to educate me about my Confession shortcomings.

    Everyone lays around in the pews, and I, for one, have no clue where the end of the line is. Nor how many are ahead of me (which is important to know so we don’t keep Father in the Confessional too late).

    I approach the Confessional as I have been taught and stand underneath the First Station. Without fail, some geezer/non-parishioner rudely informs me that the end of the line is “back there” – vaguely waving behind him. I have no clue who is ahead of me because there are people there also waiting for Mass to begin. When I mention that, I am invariably told (usually by a non-parishioner), “Well, this is the way things are done at St. Bernard,” even though I am a lifelong parishioner and a member of parish council.

    I do not have a problem with someone on a cane or walker sitting – far from it. But that is not the case by any means. I have brought this up with my good pastor at least 3 times, and he giggles and guffaws. I am really out of ideas and do not know how to deal with this. I am pretty sure I am not the only one with this problem, and it really doesn’t encourage me or anyone else to seek Confession.

    1. I’m so so sorry that you’ve gone through this. I haven’t been to Confession for several months (nor received the Eucharist) for very similar issues. I’ve had a long history of feeling unloved by God and endangered from Him, which led to misusing the both Confession and the Eucharist for the vast majority of my life. I finally came clean in 2020, and made more of an effort to be truthful. But the same sense of dread kept coming back-along with my intense fear of abusing those sacraments again-and I knew that pursuing those sacraments without getting to the bottom of that mindset would not benefit Me or God. I’m making more progress on better understanding Him and respecting His boundaries, so I’ve at least made some progress, even though I don’t know when I’ll go to Confession again.

      My point is that you’re not selfish for not wanting to be vulnerable in a space where you feel uncared for. Maybe this is a joke to the priest and he’s familiar with this, but it also sounds as if he’s not respecting how serious this is for you. We’re not supposed to want intimacy with people who treat us poorly. That makes you even more likely to be dishonest because you don’t trust who you’re talking to. I would recommend trying Confession in another parish if you’re less stressed and the priest does a better job of listening to you, but for all I’ve known, you’ve tried that already. I hope you find a way to approach the Sacrament where you don’t feel disrespected. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

      1. Thank you for your kindness and understanding.

        Just to be clear, I really like my pastor. He is a peach. I guess for him, in the greater scheme of things (he is doing a wonderful job of running 2 parishes, a grade school, feeding 100+ street people daily, being chaplain to a busy Newman Center and Children’s Hospital, and far more), that my Confession problem is very minor. He has offered to hear my Confession any time, but, as I explained to him, it is rather difficult for me to Confess face-to-face – it just isn’t for all of us.

        I do know priests at neighboring parishes who I would be grateful to seek out for Confession. It’s just a hassle to figure out the scheduling and get myself there. And I do prefer my priests, so it is rather selfishness on my part. It just rides my last nerve to hear people who do not even belong to my parish telling me that this is how it is at my parish. I have even had instances when I was purposefully intimidated by “the pew people” into not standing while waiting. On several occasions I have simply given up and skipped confessing, and I am not pleased with myself about that.

  2. 😅😄
    The confusion and hesitation to add to the list of sins is real!

    I love when you write about Catholic culture. I feel even more a part of our universal family when I read these. Thanks for another great post!

  3. I’m very distracted by the whole premise. Is sitting in the pews until a priest comes a New England thing? I’ve only ever seen people who are waiting for Confession standing in a line outside the confessional. Sometimes an old person will sit in a pew but not until they’ve saved their place in line with the person who shows up behind them.

  4. Love the photo!

    Yeah, I totally avoid going to Confession at a particular church near me. The confessionals are in a small square chapel which I think used to be used for adoration. There are benches there in a totally nonlinear arrangement, and people sit (in no particular order) to wait for their turn. How is anyone supposed to know when their turn is? There are always too many people for me to be able to keep track of them. So now I always confess at the parish that has confessions half an hour before each Mass. I arrive at 7:30 before the weekday 8:00 Mass and there is little to no line! (Of course, I can only do that because I no longer have little
    kids at home.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *