Thursday, February 20, 2014

Men and Confession

Hours did I spend in this Confessional.... without the tree
Often have I been thinking about Confession in these recent days, both because I realize how often I need it and how annoying the wait is at the local parish. Generally I find that there are two kinds of parishes with regard to Confession:
  1. Parishes that have Confession for about an hour on a Saturday afternoon prior to the "vigil" (and it is not) Mass of Sunday. These places invariably have open rooms for Confession with two chairs, a table, and some tissues.
  2. Parishes that have Confession on a daily basis, usually prior to the Mass of the day. These places often, but not always, have intact Confessionals.
Why bring this up? I notice that the demographic of people going to Confession varies between these two types of settings. In the former the penitents are usually women middle aged or older, often married. In the second setting I notice that half, or more, of the penitents are men and that age, particularly among men, is diverse. So why the difference?

I write about this observation because at the local parish, which falls into the first category, I had to wait the better part of an hour for the eight or so ladies ahead of me in line, whereas when going to parishes in the second category I see a dozen people absolved in half an hour.

At parishes where the ladies are the main penitents the priests tend to be very chatty and interested in a prolonged discussion, either by nature or through cultivated habit. The arrangement of the chairs, the face-to-face set up, and the tendency of ladies to discuss whatever is on their minds with prolixity rubs off on the priest. There is nothing wrong with a woman talking to her priest about a serious matter at length, but in my mind this in some way drives away the men. How?

Gentlemen, let us be honest: we are biologically programmed towards outward strength and hubris which is essential to surviving in our originally brutal, tribal environment as did the Israelites and the descendants of Abraham. Getting on our knees and accusing ourselves of deep, distressing faults is difficult for us and turning that vulnerability into a therapy session dissuades us from returning. We tend to want to minimize the pain and [self-]embarrassment of calling ourselves sinners, which is I think why we prefer more expedient priests and conventional Confessionals. Sins, penance, absolution, done.

The best confessor I ever had used to speak at length in the Confessional with me, from the other side of the veiled grille, but about things strictly relevant to the matter at hand: Have I returned to old habits? How have I been praying recently? Have I considered that God may want me to do something differently than I am? He would dig far deeper into me than the average priest, certainly, but he talked, he never chatted. I find men do not mind priests who talk, but we do mind priests who chat. I know some ladies do as well, but every parish seems to have a few ladies who tie up the priest for quite a while and put him in a chatty mood.

Am I just ranting or am I on to something?

I think men like to Confess on weekdays because parishes that have daily Confession usually schedule it around lunch hour. This means expediency, but also a focused priest. Again, I may be wrong....


  1. RT,

    You're definitely on to something. I often joke with the men, or even women in line, "We need a men's room, and a ladie's room." I always get a chuckle of agreement.

  2. Dear Rad Trad. You're precisely on point. When I find myself at Confession with women in front of me I know it will take longer than if it were just men in front of me.

    Not infrequently, as I begin to head into the Confessional, I will say to the women behind me - This is how it is done and I exit within five minutes meeting their eyes with a smile.

  3. No more fussing about what to call the new mass -- Novus Ordo, Ordinary Form, reformed liturgy -- how about the Liturgy of St. Paul VI?