Sunday, June 13, 2010


Confession is good for the soul. Freudian psychology is replete with instances of patients recovering when they confront or at least relive deeds that they considered disturbing. Through confession, the church emphasizes that same dogma.
The Catholic Church accepts children into the church at an early age, usually seven years old or so. They call the ritual first holy communion. All children are instructed in the church laws and the teachings of the church. As a final ceremony, the children go to confession and then have communion. It is an awe inspiring event. Girls wear white dresses and veils as though they were brides, boys wear white suits.

For my first holy communion, my pants and jacket were used suits that had been passed around the neighborhood; the pants and the jacket were a little yellow from years of wear.

After the ceremony, we all were herded down to the basement of the Irish church and treated to a breakfast. Communion must be taken on an empty stomach. The breakfast consisted of cereal with spoonfuls of sugar scattered over the cereal and then milk poured over the mixture. It was inedible for a Polish youngster like me who would have preferred pickles and boloney. The nuns were concerned when I did not eat the cereal, but the cut up banana, a luxury item for me, was good and I ate that, assuring the nuns that I was not ill. I’m sure they were more afraid that I might throw up.

Confession was strange. I made a list of some sins from the ones the nuns talked about at Catechism school being careful to add a mortal sin in with a mix of some venial sins. The confessional is awesome. People line up waiting for their turn, rosary beads held in their hands, lips moving but no words spoken, footsteps on the hard floor and an occasion nervous cough the only sounds. You enter the confessional and kneel down waiting until the priest opens the panel between you and him. He is just barely discernible behind the screen. You confess your sins and are given your penance and it’s over, except for the penance, usually a list of prayers to recite, done in one of the pews. ‘Hail Mary’s’ and ‘Our Fathers’ were recited by the thousands quietly on Saturday afternoons with the light coming through the stained glass windows and the quiet broken by the occasional rattle of rosary beads. The church was somehow pleasant and calming, cool even in the hot summer.

One of my friends who is a Russian Orthodox says when he goes to confession, you kneel down in front of the priest and he covers your head with his robe and you tell him your sins. I told him I liked it better when the priest did not see you. Of course it was only later in life that I discovered that the priest has a full view of the confessor.

Frankie went to church most Sundays, his family was very religious. I did not go often; in fact I went very seldom. My mother never went to church; my father preferred to go to the Polish church several miles away and only seldom and reluctantly to the Irish Church. I asked Frankie about confession. Frankie said that he just says the same confession each week or whenever he goes. He said it simplifies things. I did not like his method.

Confession loses its power when it is routine. Like praying, it should be done in a contemplative mode and not by rote. And as Freud discovered it does well when it is done in honesty.

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