A few weeks ago, there was a story making its way around the internet about a priest who was taking Confessions via Snapchat, a popular app that allows users to send pictures and video with captions which disappear after a few seconds. There has been no concrete confirmation that this priest is a Catholic priest in good standing with the Church, but nevertheless it made me think about the concept of receiving Confession in non-traditional ways. At first glance, the idea of Confession via Snapchat seems like an interesting idea - for priests to meet young people where they are and making an often overlooked Sacrament readily available. But this type of Confession diminishes the Sacramental importance of receiving absolution, and also has canonical implications as well.
For a priest to offer Confession via Snapchat makes the Sacrament invalid, as the Code of Canon Law clearly states that “the proper place to hear Sacramental Confessions is a church or oratory” and that “Confessions are not to be heard outside a Confessional without a just cause” (CIC 964 §1, §3). For a valid Sacrament to take place, the priest and penitent must be physically present in the same place. With the advent of technology, the Code ensures that the Sacraments are still celebrated properly, and that we aren’t receiving absolution by email, telephone, text, or Snapchat!
Going to Catholic schools my entire life, the seasons of Lent and Advent were popular times for schools to offer Confession. Typically, we would be shepherded to the Church or Chapel during theology class and given the opportunity to go to Confession if we wanted to. However, one time I received a knock on my door and was told that if I went to Confession, I would receive a cupcake. It seems silly now to basically be bribed by a cupcake, but not one to turn down free cupcakes, I happily obliged. Technically, this also is not a licit celebration of the Sacrament. To go to Confession, the Code also tells us that a person must be “properly disposed” which means not coerced by another person (CIC 962 §1).
Although these canonical distinctions might seem like trivial technicalities, they ensure that we enter the Sacrament with an open heart, ready to receive the gift of God’s love and forgiveness with no reservations. For a good part of my life, I was uncomfortable going to Confession, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to become less afraid of this Sacrament. One of the best experiences I had with Confession was in college when priests would come to our residence halls to offer the Sacrament. The residence hall lounge had been turned into a casual Confessional and I had a wonderful discussion with the priest who was there. I realized that going to Confession doesn’t have to be a big scary endeavor and the feeling of grace when I received absolution was incredible.
This past Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. At the end of this week we will celebrate the Easter Triduum. Going to receive the Sacrament of Confession is a wonderful way to prepare yourself spiritually for Holy Week. From Palm Sunday, throughout the Triduum, and on Easter Sunday, we journey with Christ as he sacrifices himself for our sins and rises again. Confession prepares our hearts for the joy of Easter morning, allowing us to begin the season of Easter with a “clean slate.”
Haven’t been to Confession in a while? Check out our Lenten Resource Page which includes some great resources on the Sacrament of Penance.
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center