Saturday, February 15, 2014

Random Thought on Lent & Confession

In a recent meditation on the 'gesima season before Lent we discussed illumination in Christ and Baptism, the end of Lent for catechumens and in some sense for all the faithful. When going to Confession today I had occasion to consider what the architecture of the Church says about Confession and Baptism.

In the parish where I confess, near to my temporary housing, the confessionals are in the back of the chapel near the door. Many churches built centuries ago placed the confessionals toward the back, although less considerate architecture also placed confessionals in the side aisles of the nave and in the transepts. Personally I find the back of the church, or even in the narthex, the appropriate place for Confession for the same reason the back of the church, or a separate room off the nave, is appropriate for Baptism: the church represents heaven, the New Jerusalem, and progression toward the altar is progression toward the Divine. The back of the church, or even the narthex, is earth or close to it. It is where those new to God stand. Approaching the altar is approaching God and leaving it is distance from God. When someone is baptized he is plunged into Christ and made pure, perhaps purer than any other man in the parish at that moment. During the Paschal and Pentecost Vigils this point is made especially clear as the neophytes approach the front of the church after their Baptisms with the Church and Saints praying for them, a point muddled erased in the Pian rites. Is Confession not the same thing?

The Confessional is in the rear of the church because the sinner ought to take a spiritual bath before approaching the Divine in the Sanctuary. Many line up at the rear and pray at the rear of the church before approaching the Sanctuary. Much like Baptism we plunged into darkness and emerge in light. Water is like darkness, as St. Augustine says at length in the last book of his Confessions, in that it is uncontrollable, chaotic, and in need of "form," that is Divinely assigned meaning and purpose. Water is creation. When water is blessed it becomes a new creation. When one is baptized (baptizo = "immerse") one enters a new and renewed creation, the creation renewed in Christ's Resurrection. Our immersion in the darkness of Confession follows the same pattern and, unlike in Baptism, we can directly confront our demons and vices. In Baptism the Lord immerses us in His mercy while in Confession He speaks it. At the end of both we may approach the Sanctuary and altar with confidence and in purity.

Not quite on message.


  1. Have you read Bouyer's 'Liturgy and Architecture'? If you have not done so you would enjoy it. Bouyer makes the same point about the placing of confessionals.

    How inappropriate is the modern 're-ordering' scheme where the font is stuck to the side of the sanctuary (c.f. Pacelli's Easter Vigil blessing of water) rather than in its proper place at the West end.

  2. Dear Rad Trad. Excellent. This is another post that is worth saving and emailing to family and friends.

    I'd like to read your opinion about the word, reconciliation. I recently heard a Priest deliver a sermon about the etymology of the word and how it, essentially, refers to that spiritual process whereby we are returned back to see God eye-to-eye.

    I found a similar explanation online:

  3. Byzantine confessional practice (which seem to be the same as medieval Latin) takes another view of the matter of architecture, no?

  4. Very interesting- going through a cleansing as you move to the rear of the church.

    You should do a post about going to Confession- like the discussion we had yesterday. If you have already done one, LINK ME PLEASE!