Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dorothy Day on Going to Confession

From Dorothy Day's autobiography, The Long Loneliness, published in 1952.
WHEN you go to confession on a Saturday night, you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with the smell of wax and incense in the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of a great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness. There is another sound too, besides that of the quiet movements of the people from pew to confession to altar rail; there is the sliding of the shutters of the little window between you and the priest in his "box."

Some confessionals are large and roomy-plenty of space for the knees, and breathing space in the thick darkness that seems to pulse with your own heart. In some poor churches, many of the ledges are narrow and worn, so your knees almost slip off the kneeling bench, and your feet protrude outside the curtain which shields you from the others who are waiting. Some churches have netting, or screens, between you and priest and you can see the outline of his face inclined toward you, quiet, impersonal, patient. Some have a piece of material covering the screen, so you can see nothing. Some priests leave their lights on in their boxes so they can read their breviaries between confessions. The light does not bother you if that piece of material is there so you cannot see or be seen, but if it is only a grating so that he can see your face, it is embarrassing and you do not go back to that priest again.

Going to confession is hard--hard when you have sins to confess and hard when you haven't, and you rack your brain for even the beginnings of sins against charity, chastity, sins of detraction, sloth or gluttony. You do not want to make too much of your constant imperfections and venial sins, but you want to drag them out to the light of day as the first step in getting rid of them. The just man falls seven times daily.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," is the way you begin. "I made my last confession a week ago, and since then. . ." Properly, one should say the Confiteor, but the priest has no time for that, what with the long lines of penitents on a Saturday night, so you are supposed to say it outside the confessional as you kneel in a pew, or as you stand in line with others.

"I have sinned. These are my sins." That is all you are sup­posed to tell; not the sins of others, or your own virtues, but only your ugly, gray, drab, monotonous sins.
The sacraments and the deep spirituality that flows from them are made up of the simple stuff of the earth. It is organic. This is grace.


Alejandro Valencia said...

Thank you for sharing, Alan! Personally, I don't get scared or fear going to confess my sins, so, I take other's words for it. Reading accounts like this remind me of a recent commercial with the phrase, "you have it made". A confessional booth today has a door and sound proofing. In Ms. Dorothy's account, the confessional had a curtain. In earlier times, confessions were made publicly!

Alan Phipps said...

Thanks, Alejandro! Exactly. There was a time when I went very infrequently and was very intimidated by confession. I tried to convince myself I didn't need it. Yet, I don't know who I would be or where I would be without it today, and I am grateful it is available and that I can go frequently.


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