Question: The mother of a deceased parishioner has had his writings bound in pamphlet form and made available to parishioners. In my opinion the writings are of questionable value. However, our pastor insists on touting these books for sale, and he reads excerpts from them, even reading them sometimes in place of a homily. He also uses them sometimes instead of Scripture. He has even gone so far as to refer to the man as “Beloved Firstname Lastname.” Surely all this is overstepping Church standards and breaks all kinds of rules?
— Name and address withheld
Answer: You are certainly correct in thinking that what you describe oversteps Church standards and breaks all kinds of rules. The fundamental rule being broken is that material unapproved by ecclesiastical authorities should not be introduced into the liturgy, with the exception of appropriate quotations during the homily (such as from poetry, etc.). The wholesale use of other people’s writings during the homily is normally an evasion of the duty of the homilist to prepare his own homilies, and certainly the use of non-scriptural readings instead of those prescribed from the Lectionary is completely unacceptable.
Referring to the man in question as “Beloved” is certainly over the top. The man may indeed have been beloved, but to use this in the liturgy as a title akin to Venerable, Blessed or Saint is highly inappropriate. It sounds like you have a situation that should be brought to the attention of your bishop.
Question: In our parish bulletin, we are informed that confessions are held on Saturday afternoons and at other times “by appointment.” I am not able to get to confessions on Saturdays, so I call the pastor for an appointment. I am uncomfortable with the fact that he hears my confession face to face in the rectory, and I would prefer to have my confession heard in a confessional. Should I tell this to the pastor on the phone? Are there rules about where confessions should be held?
— Name withheld, St. Louis, Mo.
Answer: You should certainly feel free to ask your pastor to hear your confession in the confessional. While in a confession “by appointment” in the church you probably cannot completely avoid encountering each other face to face, but the pastor should certainly respond to your request.
Regarding the place of confessions, the official introduction to the Rite of Penance states: “The Sacrament of Penance is ordinarily celebrated in a church or oratory, unless a legitimate reason stands in the way” (No. 12). The introduction allows bishops’ conferences to determine this norm in more detail. The U.S. bishops stated the following in 1974: “It is considered desirable that small chapels or rooms of reconciliation be provided in which penitents might choose to confess their sins through an informal face-to-face exchange with the priest, with the opportunity for appropriate spiritual counsel. It would also be regarded as desirable that such chapels or rooms be designed to afford the option of the penitent’s kneeling at the fixed confessional grill in the usual way, but in every case the freedom of the penitent is to be respected.”
Hearing confessions outside the confessional is a common practice, and there is no objection to it when the penitent requests it and the sacrament can be carried out with dignity.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.