Monday, November 17, 2008

Question: Behind the screen always??

A question from a Unam Sanctam Catholicam fan:

Thank you for your thoughts on behind the screen confessions! I have been recently contemplating changing to doing face-to-face confessions, but I fully agree with your reasons. I'd like to know your thoughts on this one- if the priest you are confessing to is your spiritual director, would you do face-to-face? Or, avoid going into his line altogether? Your thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks!

This is an interesting question. The confessional screen preserves anonymity, but need the pretense of anonymity be observed when the priest is your spiritual director and he obviously knows who you are?

Well, I would argue that though anonymity is a good effect of going behind the screen, it is not the exclusive reason. A few personal stories: as many of you know, I am empoyed by a parish. I got to confession to my parish priest sometimes. Often, I am the first person in line, so that he clearly sees me as he is walking up to go into the Confessional. I still go behind the screen anyways. Or often times I will go into the Confessional, kneel down behind the screen, then say, "Hey Father, this is Boniface," so that he knows who I am. But I still go behind the screen and wouldn't dream of doing it any other way. I met with my new Spiritual Director (a priest of Miles Christi) two weeks ago for the first time. We talked face to face for forty minutes, but when it was time for Confession, he gestured me to go behind the screen that he had set up.

Is this all just an elaborate farce, since the priest obviosuly knows who you are? I would argue that behind the screen confession has great value, even if the priest knows who you are already. Basically, the same reasons apply for this as when the priest does not know you, which I have elaborated here in this August, 2007 post. But let's look at a few of them that pertaint to this case:

1) Sign value: even if the priest knows you, there is a sign value in going behind the screen. It reminds us that sin puts us outside of God's grace, and that the priest (who acts in persona Christi) is separated from us by a division just as sin separates us from God. Only in the next life will we see "face to face."

2) Better preserves role of the priest: even if the priest knows who you are, when we go behind the screen there is still a theological anonymity. This is the same anonymity as, say, a priest offering the TLM. His personality means nothing. The fact that he is Father Bob and not Father John means nothing. His own quirks and foibles mean nothing, and we are better able to get down to the essense of the Sacrament itself. Sure, you will still know it is Father so-and-so, and he will still know it is you, but going behind the screen helps us to better get into the understanding that in Confession we meet Christ Himself and that it is from God that our forgiveness comes, not through a little chat with Father across a little table sitting in two office chairs.

3) Allows better confession: as I pointed out in my other article, even when you know somebody, it is hartder to fess up to something if you have to look them in the eye while saying it. When we injure somebody else and have to apologize to them, don't we have a tendency to look at our feet instead of the eyes of the other? I think people do not want to look into another person's face while confessing, and so behind the screen will make it easier to bring your sins to mind and say them. Also, it absolves the priest of having to figure out what kind of facial expressions to make in response to the horrid things you are confessing! Are there any priests out there who havehad a hard time with how to react in a face to face situation when a person is confessing? I'd love to hear from you!

At any rate, I think all of the benefits that I listed with behind the screen still apply, even anonymity, though it is a theological anonymity, not a literal one. Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the quick and thoughtful response! I don't mean to run this issue into the ground, but do you think it'd just be more appropriate [regardless of whether it's easier or more difficult for the confessee] to regularly go to another priest? Or, what kind of value comes from having your spiritual director as your confessor [as in your case]?

I'm a long-time Catholic but have only begun to practice my faith in a deeper and more traditional way within the past year. I very much appreciate your blog insights [which I stumbled upon a few days ago]. Thank you!

Boniface said...


I think that if you have a spiritual director, then his direction will be meaningless unless you can regularly go to Confession to him: how else will he know what you struggle with and where you need help?

That being said, if you fall into sin and need to go to Confession, I'd say go to whomever as soon as possible if you can't get to your dircetor soon. But even so, I would mention it to my spiritual dircetor in Confession next time anyway.

My Director wanted me to make a General Confession, even of things I'd already been sacramentally absolved from, just so he could see where I was coming from.

Anonymous said...

In that case, should I just go behind the screen and say "Father, this is _____" and go from there? Also, is it awkward that my spiritual director is my pastor? I had just recently moved to a new area and just don't know anyone else. Thanks!