I had a little look around at the confessionals when I arrived in Mt Merrion. In my previous parish, when I started, there were four massive confessionals, we had two dismantled and disposed of, we used another and the fourth was full of chairs and boxes of candles. Here there are a couple of functioning, but little used confessionals and another one that has been converted into a very discreet cupboard for the altar servers albs.
If you tuned into ‘Confessors’ on RTE on Monday evening you will have seen that this story is replicated all over the country. The rather engaging documentary gave many insights, it showed some beautiful and immaculately kept parish churches, it made light of the many and varied ways that redundant confessionals are now
Then little by little it allowed many ordinary, decent priests speak about their experience as confessors, as they mildly administered the sacrament of reconciliation. In their commentary, they chatted about the history of the sacrament in their own life time and down through the ages, and in the conversation the image of God moved from stern judge to loving father.
The first confessions of those preparing for their Communion allowed the viewer to compare the contemporary experience with their own and many will have registered the comfort and ease of the little ones and the supportive encouragement of the confessors.
When the programme moved into the period of Covid 19 it left the churches and entered into the priests’ kitchens and parlours and porches, and the ever-cheerful fathers fiddled with the iPhone, lights and internet connection so as to stream the Mass. Confessions were not only out of the box, but out in the fresh air, with due social distance.
My personal memory to take away was the image of the celebrant, looking out from his makeshift altar in a doorway, to the people gathered in their cars, and all extending a hand from within to wave a salute of friendship and solidarity with each other. It was an insight into the smaller, more humble church to which we hope many will return and encounter their God and brothers and sisters on the journey to holiness and peace.