Questions Answered – May 2021

Question: Why do priests hear confessions during Mass? Doesn’t this detract from the spiritual involvement in all the aspects of the sacrifice?

Answer: The questioner seems very upset that two sacraments are going on at the same time and confessions during Mass distract from the attention needed to participate in the Mass fully. This was long a difficulty after Vatican II and many liturgists were completely against hearing confessions during Mass. The practice has been revived in the last 20 years. This is perhaps for two reasons.

The first would be that the times offered for confession are inconvenient for the laity. I wished to go to confession in a parish about 40 years ago and was told I had to come back for the penance service and I was a priest. I finally refused to budge until someone heard my confession and was told the priests were at dinner. This was a good reason but I waited until they were finished. Auricular confession is still hard to come by in places. When one is at Mass, it seems a convenient time to also hear their confessions if possible.

The second reason is because of Church authority. In 2001, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification in the June/July issue of Notitiae concerning the time for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation/penance: “Reconciliatio penitentium omni tempore ac die celebrari potest” [Ordo penitentiae, 13] (The reconciliation of penitents can be celebrated at any time on any day). The clarification goes on to permit celebration of confession during Mass and even recommends that this most fittingly occurs during large celebrations such as pilgrimages.

In 2002, John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter entitled Misericordia Dei seeking to clarify certain aspects of the celebration of reconciliation or penance. He directly taught there: “Local Ordinaries, and parish priests and rectors of churches and shrines, should periodically verify that the greatest possible provision is in fact being made for the faithful to confess their sins. It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present at the advertised times, that these times be adapted to the real circumstances of penitents, and that confessions be especially available before Masses, and even during Mass if there are other priests available, in order to meet the needs of the faithful.” So this practice has Church sanction.

One author who reflects on the practice warns that the two sacraments cannot be combined, so hearing confessions during Mass presumes two priests, one celebrating the Mass and the other hearing confessions. He states that, though this principle should go without saying, in his personal experience a priest was hearing confessions from the chair in the sanctuary presiding over Mass as the readings were being read.

Hearing confessions during Mass may not be the most ideal way to do it, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the practice and at times it may even be helpful and effective.

Question: How can I reflect on the Ascension of Jesus? Can you put this in simple words?

Answer: The Ascension of Our Lord is the final consummation of his life on earth. Before he leaves his earthly mission and ascends into heaven, he leaves the great commission with the Apostles: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28: 16-20) His work on earth is now complete.

His exaltation and glorification began with his resurrection, which was the opposite of his death. Now in response to his burial and his submission to wicked human judgment, he takes his place in heaven in his human nature. He sits “at the right hand of the Father” in his human nature because all judgment has been given to him. Just as he was judged unjustly, so now all judgment is committed to him to judge the entire creation justly.

From heaven, Christ beckons to us. When we contemplate his ascended body, we are invited to see what the final perfection of human nature is. The body is made for the soul and the soul is created for God. Christ in a sense says: “Behold the man.” This is the answer to Pilate exhibiting him humiliated, mocked and scourged to the crown saying: “Behold the man.” (Ecce homo.) When man sees God in the face, which is the direct knowledge of the divine essence without medium or concept, then human nature in its potential is fulfilled. In this very light of glory, the capstone and completion of the light of reason and faith concerning God then overflows into the resurrected and glorified body. Christ goes to heaven to “prepare a place for us.” (Jn. 14:3)

From heaven, the Lord sends the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Church on Pentecost. He also is not just present in heaven but by the Real Presence on the altar interceding for us and offering us a share in his life every time the Mass is offered. Contemplation of these mysteries is essential to keeping our pilgrimage going to the right destination. We need to keep our eyes fixed on the goal of our journey.

All the same, contemplation on earth is not the most perfect way of life. The Church must share the fruits of contemplation with others. “Men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?” (Acts 11:1) When Jesus ascended, he did not leave us orphans. Instead, he not only prepares a place for us, but will judge our place in heaven depending on how much we have imitated his life on earth in the general judgement at the end of time. This is graphically described concerning both the just and the wicked in Matthew 25. The Liturgy of the Hours expresses these mysteries beautifully in the Magnificat antiphon: “O Victor King, Lord of power and might, today you have ascended in glory above the heavens. Do not leave us orphans, but send us the Father’s promised gift, the Spirit of truth, Alleluia.”

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Avatar angela says:

    Where do the people of non-Catholic churches go when they die?? They do not confess with the priests.