Q. Given the fact that many Catholics do not go to confession regularly, why doesn’t the Church make use of “general confession?”
A. This is a great question which touches on our very identity as Catholics. I believe many people can identify with this question, especially why Catholics rarely go to confession. Thanks for asking it.
It was not too many years ago (40-50?) that many people went to confession quite regularly – at least once a month. Lines outside the confessional, usually on Saturday afternoons and evenings, would be long. By and large, that is not the case anymore. Yet almost everyone receives the Eucharist at Sunday Mass. Does that mean we just don’t sin anymore? I doubt it. It could be we have lost the sense of sin and the need to be sacramentally reconciled with our God. I believe it is also due in large part to the toxic culture we are immersed in that tolerates everything and forgives nothing.
If we are conscious of serious sin we should not receive the Eucharist until we are first sacramentally reconciled through the Sacrament of Penance, (confession or reconciliation). To knowingly and willingly receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin would be a sacrilege. If one has serious sin on their soul and would be embarrassed to remain in the pew during Communion, you can approach the priest and put your index finger over your lips, indicating to the priest that you are unable to receive Communion. That way most people won’t know the difference and you can go to confession at your next earliest convenience.
Now, about general confession. The church does allow this – in emergency situations only. For example, if many soldiers are about to go into battle or if an airliner is about to crash, a priest can absolve a large group of people at once with the understanding that if they survived that event, they must make an individual confession, if they have serious sin, as soon as possible.
I know there are priests and other parts of the United States who practice general confession regularly in their parishes. They should not do that because it is against Church teaching in that situation and denies an individual penitent the personal encounter with Jesus. As Catholics we are bound to confess individually every serious sin in its type (what kind of sin it is) and, as best as we can remember, how many times we committed it. We also cannot or should not hide any sin out of shame or because of embarrassment.
Catholics are also bound to what is called the Easter Duty – that is, we are bound to make a confession and receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter season.
Again, if we are conscious of serious sin, we should not receive the Eucharist until we are first sacramentally reconciled. I know some people who have the oil changed in their vehicle and see their doctor or dentist more frequently than they go to confession. Isn’t our soul and our eternal destiny worth a great deal more? A great rule of thumb for confession is at least once a month or whenever we need to.
Now, for those who find confession difficult, talk to your pastor or a priest you are comfortable with about it. Every priest I know is a great, gentle and understanding confessor. If you have questions about confession, contact me here at: Ask the Register, 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln, NE 68506 and I will help you. I know your question resonates with some readers. Thanks for asking it.
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.