As the saying goes, confession is good for the soul, literally, and it is once again available as the diocese continues to resume the sacramental life of the Church in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to priests dated May 22, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone announced that the private sacrament of reconciliation could resume as of June 1. Like other sacraments, confessions were suspended in March because of the pandemic. General absolution was offered as an option for the faithful instead and will continue until the feast of Corpus Christi on June 14.
As with other Church activities in the COVID-19 era, resuming reconciliation must come with precautions. The bishop urged priests to move the sacrament out of confessionals into the main body of the church building and to ensure at least six feet between the priest and the penitent. Also, he suggested offering the sacrament while standing to ensure proper distance and minimize contact with surfaces.
To preserve anonymity, priests are asked to use screens. If a person chooses face-to-face confession, both the penitent and the priest are urged to wear face masks.
Bishop Guglielmone also urged the faithful to prepare their confessions at home and to keep them brief once they arrive at church.
“Please do not use this opportunity to seek counseling,” the bishop wrote. “If you need to speak with a priest for counseling on a particular issue in your life, please make an appointment to discuss this with him outside of the confession setting.”
People are also asked to leave the confession space as soon as they receive absolution from the priest, to do any penance they are given either at home or at another location in the church, to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer afterward, to wear a mask if they are able, and to not touch their faces.
Many parishes are still forming plans on how they will handle confessions in a way that both fulfills the needs of the faithful and maintains safety from the virus. As they did when Masses resumed, churches are taking innovative approaches.
At Corpus Christi in Lexington and in many areas, confessions will be held in locations inside the church but outside the confessionals. Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach plans to offer confession in the cry room. Prince of Peace in Taylors announced that the sacrament will be offered in the parish house and sometimes even outdoors, weather permitting.
Father Dennis Willey, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin, will hear confessions five days a week for the near future to accommodate demand. He said he will hear them while standing in the center aisle of the church behind a screen to protect the confessors’ anonymity. People will also have the option for face-to-face confession. Also, for the first time, the sacrament of reconciliation at the Chapin parish will be by appointment. It has set up a list online and parishioners will need to sign up in advance for a 10-minute slot.
“It’s something we need to do to make sure too many people are not arriving at once to stand in line,” Father Willey said. “We know people want to return to confession and we need to keep them safe.”