Q. I have often heard priests encouraging Catholics to go to confession more regularly, and I’m wondering how often priests themselves go to confession. Is there a rule on this? And if there is no rule, what is the general practice? (Toms River, N.J.)
A. The church’s Code of Canon Law in No. 989 notes the obligation of Catholics to confess grave sins at least once a year. (Of course, if you are conscious of having committed a grave sin, you should not wait for an annual confession but instead confess as soon as reasonably possible in order to reopen your pathway to God and render yourself eligible to receive the Eucharist.)
Technically, if you are not aware of having sinned gravely (i.e., “mortal sin”), you are not obliged to seek the sacrament of penance. That having been said, it would be foolish to ignore this very helpful means of pardon, spiritual progress and peace. Almost universally, spiritual writers have encouraged Catholics to confess regularly, perhaps monthly.
Beyond that general norm, there is no specific requirement as to how often priests must confess, although Canon No. 276.5 urges the clergy “to approach the sacrament of penance frequently.”
At a weekly audience in November 2013, Pope Francis revealed that he receives the sacrament of penance every two weeks and considers confession to be the best path to spiritual healing and health. “My confessor hears what I say, offers me advice and forgives me,” said the pope. “We all need this.”
I’ve not seen any studies on this, but it’s safe to say that most priests do not confess their sins nearly as often as the Holy Father. Probably, several times a year would be a reasonable estimate, generally on their annual retreat, sometimes at clergy days of recollection or gatherings of priest support groups, or when time allows.
One of the sad consequences of the shortage of priests is that the frenzied pace of pastoral duties can induce us to ignore our spiritual growth. In this, as in many things, we would do well to look to Pope Francis as a model.
Q. I have often wondered why we don’t teach our children an act of thanksgiving. I believe we often forget to thank God for all we have. As children, we learned the acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition, and I still try to say each of them daily. Why not an act of thanksgiving? (Cumming, Iowa)
A. I think you’re on to something. Of the four main types of prayer (adoration, contrition, petition and thanksgiving), probably the one that is most neglected is thanksgiving. That may be because children don’t learn a short and simple way to say “thank you” to God.
Grace at meals, of course, expresses our gratitude for food, but what about thanking the Lord also for family, friends, teachers, fun, etc.? (I’m not forgetting that the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and the Mass thanks God for the greatest gift of all, our redemption — but we need a shorter prayer, too.)
Many parents have their kids kneel at their bedside at night and thank God for the blessings of the day, which, I think, goes a long way in helping them to live with an attitude of gratitude.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.