Which do you prefer for Confession?
Along with all the other upheavals in the Church of the 1960's and 70's that left people scratching their head, confused and demoralized, was the attempt to make Confession more relevant. Now, keep in mind, in my day, most Catholics went to Confession very regularly and a significant percentage went weekly.
No one was complaining about the Sacrament or the fact that as the penitent said the Act of Contrition in English or the vernacular, the priest offered the Prayer of Absolution simultaneously in Latin.
No one was complaining about the fact that one had to enter a darkened room and wait quietly until the door to the screen was opened so one might follow the formula for confession precisely and receive absolution anonymously .
No one was complaining about the long lines but those who wanted to avoid the long lines arrived early to be at the front of the line.
No one was complaining, and by that I mean the laity. The only ones complaining were a small, academic, clericalist clique of academic theologian who wanted to "renew and improve" this Sacrament.
In the 70's there was a back and forth renewal and it caused confusion. First we were told to make our Act of Contrition not during Confession, but either before we entered the "Reconciliation Room"or after. Then we were told, no, make your Act of Contrition during Confession, but before the words of absolution.
Then we were told a new formula and there would be a scripture reading (the reading of Scripture during private confession was short-lived, even if it was merely a verse from the bible. (How many priests or penitents hear a scripture reading in private confession)?
Then we were told that we were "Oh so pre-Vatican II and thus really, really stupid and backwards) if we called this Sacrament, Confession or Penance rather than Reconciliation.
Then we were told it was better to go to a Reconciliation Service.
Then we were told that it would be better at Reconciliation Services if general absolution was given without confession.
Then we were told that it would be better to have general absolution as a part of the Penitential Act of the Mass and then we wouldn't have to go to confession at another time.
Then we were told we could decide what was sin and what wasn't sin on our own.
Then we never heard anything about sin and damnation.
It kept changing and changing and then we were told that if we didn't go face-to-face, then we were anti-change and pre-Vatican II and you know, really, really, really stupid.
Then by the mid seventies almost no one was going to Confession, (no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that, don't chastise me for being soooo pre-Vatican II, it was only a slip, please don't hate me), no one was going to celebrate with the priest the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I doubt that any sociological studies were performed to determine why Catholics don't go to Confession any more (there I go again, I mean Reconciliation). There aren't too many studies from the 1970's to poll Catholics who left the Church in that period as to why they did.
We can only guess that Catholics became disillusioned and two types of Catholics, those who thought all the changes in the Church after Vatican II destroyed the identity of the Church and those who thought that the changes in the Church after Vatican II didn't change the Church enough. Both groups and rather significant in size became lukewarm or tepid and simply did not hand on the faith to their children (my generation of kids) either because they didn't know what to hand on or didn't like handing on what they were told to hand on. Then Mass attendance began to slide, my generation of children didn't have the same discipline as my parent's pre-Vatican II generation and things spiraled from there with subsequent generations of kids.
And now here we are with only about 20% of Catholics attending Mass on Sunday ( and lower in many other parts of the world) and even fewer than 20% going to Confession.
At Saint Joseph in the last 10 years we have seen a significant increase in the number who attend Confession regularly here. We usually need two priests hearing confession on Saturday beginning at 3:00 PM. This is what I account for the increase:
1. I and our parochial vicars have preached and written and taught about it regularly, but preached about it at Sunday Mass where the majority of our Catholics hear us and we teach about sin, original, actual and the two types of actual, venial and mortal and now we emphasize the step beyond mortal to corrupt as Pope Francis describes it.
2. I removed the option for face-to-face confession in our so-called "reconciliation room" and returned to calling it the confessional. I had a news article in our newsletter telling the reason why, that our confessional was secluded and no one could see the priest or penitent from the outside when penitents went face to face opening up the possibility of all kinds of pitfalls. Thus everyone knew that when they went to confession it would be behind the screen.
3. Once Catholics were assured that they wouldn't have to go to Confession face to face, even by accident, more began to come and the confessions were much more specific when the penitent was assured of anonymity.
4. We added more times for Confession, Monday through Friday at 7:30 AM.
Is the Confessional the way back to encouraging more of the 20% of Catholic who attend Mass to go more frequently? I report, you decide.
Finally, I continue to contend that when polls are taken as to why Catholics do not practice the faith that this is useless unless we go back to the immediate post-Vatican II period. We have to find out why Catholics who were reared in the pre-Vatican II period and thus had a cohesive identity, common liturgy and common spirituality, piety and ascetic penitential discipline were so radically changed after Vatican II and polarized, some leaving the Church over the loss of what they loved prior to Vatican II and some leaving the Church wanting more radical changes in the Church, especially after Humanae Vitae.
What happened in the priesthood and religious life of those who entered prior to Vatican II who experienced what many laity experienced as I describe above is cut from the same cloth.