Growing up in a pretty strict Catholic family, following Church doctrine was a big deal in our family. That being said, the ritual of Confession was high on the list of importance.
This entry is in no way meant to disparage or ridicule the practice of Confession, but I am confident that those of you who grew up Catholic, especially back in the day, will recall with fondness, a bit of dread and a dose of humor, what we all remember so well.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m speaking of, let me give you a crash course.
As in most Christian denominations, participating in the Communion meal/ celebration is a very sacred ritual which is frequently observed. Both Catholic and Protestants will agree that observing this rite is a central theme of their belief system. In a nutshell, participation in Communion is a remembrance/ celebration of the Sacrificial work of Jesus.The taking of the bread (representing the broken body of Christ) is not to be taken lightly by any of the main line denominations, Catholic and Protestant. This precludes no participation in Communion until all known sin has been confessed to God.
This is where Protestant and Catholic belief systems begin to differ, especially in the era in which my brother and I were raised.
In the Catholicism of the day, Communion was offered every Sunday and was a central part of the Mass.Catholic children could not participate until around the age of 10, after proper instruction on the significance of what was happening. Once this “rite of passage “has occurred, receiving/participating in Communion was expected on a regular basis.
This expectation was basically ensured if one attended a Catholic School, which I did and which we have talked about in other posts. The way it was ensured was that on Sunday morning, you were required to sit with your class during Mass and when Communion was offered you had better well receive it or Sister Margaret Marion would knock you senseless.
This brings us to Confession. As mentioned, one had to be sure that all sin had been confessed before receiving Communion and that was ensured via Confession.
Again, I am speaking of “back in the day” here, and, with that in mind, how Confession was handled was different in the Catholic faith than it was in the Protestant denominations. Both agreed that sin needed to be confessed, but the Catholics were somewhat more “controlling” in making sure it happened.
While Protestants confessed in prayer, privately to God. Catholics of the day were required to confess to a Priest, who, acting as Gods servant/ representative, would absolve the confessing person of their sins after they had performed some acts of penance…… and this is where the crazy memories begin.
For us attending Catholic school, there was no way of “skirting” the obligation of going to Confession as it was a part of the school day every Friday. All classes, both boys, and girls would be “marched” from our classrooms in the school to the Church building to participate in Confession. There were two positive things about this to us in the boy’s classes:
A. It got us out of class for at least an hour
B. We got to be in pretty close proximity to the girls, as all classes attended at the same time slot.
However, the negatives outweighed the positives.
Remember, being in the Catholic school, there was no choice: we WERE going to confession. If, however, you were not attending Catholic School, Confession was not as forced, so to speak. Yes, the Church required that members participate regularly in Communion, but it was not necessarily EVERY Sunday. Confession was “open” to the public every Saturday afternoon between 4-6 PM, allowing one to go in a more private setting without all of your classmates waiting for you to exit the confessional, speculating on what “you had done ” this week.
Once again, I have to assume not all reading this will know what I am referring to as the “Confessional” so I will try to explain. The Confessional was basically a booth with two separate compartments. Our Church had four Confessional booths, one at each corner of the church. The compartments were separated by a thin wall which had a sliding panel on it.
One compartment was for the Priest that was hearing the confession, the other for the one confessing. The premise was that the separate compartments, with the sliding panel, would keep the identity of the one confessing “secret” from the priest.
Of course, this was rarely the case as the Priest would recognize your voice no matter how low you whispered or how much you tried to disguise your voice.This contributed greatly to the stress of going to confession. The goal of anonymity was wonderful, but we knew that the Priest knew 90% of the time who was confessing to him and we knew we would run into him in the halls of the school or at church and he would look at us …. knowing what we had done. Not a good feeling at all.
Then there was the drama of knowing what Priest one would get as one’s Confessor. Some Priests had the reputation of giving lenient, easy penance while others would have you at the Altar for hours.
A brief description of penance: after one completed your confession, the Priest would absolve you of your sins. This was predicated upon you completing the penance the Priest would subscribe. It could be the one or two prayers at the altar…. or it could be tons of prayers at the altar. One dared not complete their penance because that would mean your sins were not absolved and if you were hit by a truck or killed by the Jane Street gang before your next confession, you would go straight to hell. Staying alive until you next confession was always a big deal to us.
So, if we knew Father C was doing Confessions that day, we breathed a sigh of relief because we knew our penance would be about five Hail Mary’s and one Act of Contrition: Very doable and we would be out quickly. However, if we knew Father S was hearing Confession, we were doomed. Penance would be 20 Hail Mary’s, 10 Act of Contritions and countless Lords Prayers. One could get old at the altar.
Another factor to consider; who went into the Confessional before you( remember, as Catholic School kids, we went as a group)
If Billy F went in before you, you were, again, doomed. This was, quite simply, because Billy had so shocked and pissed-off the Priest with everything he had done that by the time you got in there, the hammer was coming down. I remember one time I followed Billy in. My sins were not huge: there were only two.
I had “talked back ” to my mother ( which, by the way, my Dad had already made me pay dearly for), and I had an impure thought about Shelly Fabre from the Donna Reed show. That was it. Well, because I followed Billy in, I was given penance worthy of an ax murderer.
Added to this, because of the mass amount of time I spent at the altar, the other kids never stopped betting among themselves “what I had done “.
But, overall when the ordeal of confession was over, one felt a bit more secure crossing the street in front of trucks. You even felt a bit better about being in proximity of the Jane Street gang…..
Until next week, at least.