Rambling on the Repentance Room

In the elder days before the Second Vatican Council they were called confessionals. These tiny cubicles had a spot for the priest to sit and, on one side or both of his chair, was a booth where one knelt and confessed sins hoping for the priest’s absolution, or forgiveness in the name of God. The penitent was separated from the priest by a grate and/or curtain that almost assured anonymity. Almost is the key word here since in small rural parishes the confessor (priest) had voice identification down to a science. “Bobby, after you’ve said your thirty Hail Marys penance please pick me up a pack of camels at the bar.” Rural Nebraska had different social mores then and now.

After Vatican II Reconciliation Rooms came into fashion. These were larger more comfortable rooms with two chairs facing one another with no screen or anonymity. There was supposed to be an option for traditional confession but that often got left in the debris of historical curiosities. They were all decorated much the same, a small table between the chairs with a Bible, a candle, a box of tissues and a radio, in case of inclemete weather or college football. There could also be a Penance Ritual there with a copy of the latest Act of Contrition that begged God to heal Mother Earth from the sins of pollution and capitalistic greed.

There was universally in each of these rooms a poster or banner proclaiming something of Jesus’ forgiveness of the repentant reprobate. Often Jesus would be hugging someone who was always crying and holding their head in shame. For some odd reason, Jesus and the guilty scamps were always white. Sin comes in a variety of colors, as does the Savior. No matter, this was to be the positive approach to confession; not threats of hell and damnation but a reminder of God’s unwavering love that the priest would beat into you through the sacramental socket wrenches of repetition and fervor.

Also, the individual confession became longer time wise. There were not Catholics queuing up in hopes of finding themselves worthy of penance and absolution because if the Lord REALLY loved you that much, He’d let you off the hook of aural admissions of guilt. Some priests compensated by turning the sacred forgiveness space into a “one stop shop” for spiritual direction. The days of “I heard sixty confessions today in a half hour” morphed into “That was a solid two hours of Reconciliation; I hope both those people appreciated it.”

All of this space, time, decoration, etc., is only a distraction from the core of forgiveness–the love of Jesus for His people. Why can’t I just go to God directly with my sins? You can but Jesus said to His apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive are forgiven them; whose sins you retain are retained.” Divine forgiveness is not just a vertical transaction, it also involves the horizontal; Jesus and me, Jesus and we.

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